Writing takes up a lot of mental real estate.
You need room for characters to be born and mature. You’re always observing–people, the environment, situations–for beautiful descriptions, interesting turns of phrase, or plot inspiration.
If you’re outlining or revising a story, your mind is completely overtaken by the minutiae of perfecting your plot. Without warning, an idea will come to you–perhaps in the middle of a conversation–and you have to stop what you’re doing to write it down before if flies away.
If you’re a writer, you’re always lost in those made-up worlds, oft-times oblivious to the real one around you. And that’s why being a writer has made me suck at life just a little.
I’m an absentee wife. Neglectful dog mom. Distracted employee. And a really crappy housekeeper.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Your marriage! Care to join me?
People with busy minds need exterior calm.
Seriously–I have entire worlds unfolding in my head. Characters being born, then talking. To each other and to us. Works in progress, playing in my subconscious. Visions–of faces, or homes, or entire plots–that pop in and out like intrusive neighbors.
So when my dear spouse has a story to tell, or a problem, or simply wants to go do something, I may not be in any condition to listen, advise, or leave the house.
Of course, the natural state of the writer isn’t a comatose, selfish, and temperamental pain in the ass. That’s just how we feel when we’re in revision mode. Or waiting for our editors to return a manuscript. Or trying to work through a thorny plot issue.
So just don’t just burst in, interrupting my characters’ very important conversations. Wait a minute. Let me take a breath, calm my mind and prepare myself for real-world activities.
Given this preoccupation, I simply may not be emotionally available at a moment’s notice. And that’s not very convenient, nor does it make me a very good partner. But of all the shortcomings I try to mitigate, this is the one I work at the hardest.
‘Want to play mom?’ the dog pleaded. ‘Just one more minute!’ the writer answered.
Violet, the redbone coonhound, is just over a year old. When she was little, we spent our mornings in my office, where I write. She was a rambunctious, very energetic and mischievous puppy. She’s still all those things, but now thirty pounds heavier.
She went through this phase where she wanted to play but didn’t know how to ask. So she’d sit in the middle of the floor and stare at me while barking incessantly. Or she’d tug on my clothes–sleeve, hem of a dress, pant leg.
That phase has passed. She asks to place nicely now. But it’s often when I’m writing, since that was the routine from her puppy days. We’ll tug, we’ll play catch. I’ll indulge her for maybe five minutes, then I’ll turn back around to my computer.
If it’s not enough, she’ll ask again and again, until she’s all played out.
I never say no to play time. But I always stop it before she’s ready, because I’m on a deadline, self-imposed or determined by my editor. I write in the mornings, and need a break before I go to work. This writing time is precious, and I only have so much left over to play.
And every time I cut fetch or tug short, I feel guilty.
Writing, then work
My day job is perfect for writing.
It’s easy. It requires little mental energy. It’s (usually) stress-free. I work at the family business, a very busy restaurant that serves pizzas, subs, and wings. I run the kitchen, manage the employees.
My mind is able to wander while frying wings or rolling pizza dough. I can mine the customers for character quirks, and use their personal stories for inspiration. And it gets me out of my head and into the world, doing something physical. That’s important for a writer.
I work with my husband and in-laws. I’m allowed to be on my phone, which is the life line to my creative world. I can jot down ideas that pop into my head. Receive emails from my editor. Do some quick, furtive research.
My job is second in my list of professional priorities. I’m never fully present when I’m there–I always have one foot in my imaginary world. I care about my job, in so far as I appreciate its value in supporting my writing career. Though I enjoy it, immensely, I’d still rather be writing.
Writing comes first. It’s a good thing I work with family, because chances are, anyone else would fire me.
Move over life, I’m trying to be creative
Here’s a list of things that need to be done in my house.
Clean the fridge. There’s some sticky stuff on the shelf. It’s been there for a long time and I have no idea what it is.
Organize the cupboards. They’re full of crap I don’t remember buying.
Clean my office. It’s a mess; there are piles and piles of random stuff everywhere. I wonder what’s hiding beneath them…
Sweep my floors. The aforementioned redbone is expert at making messes. I need to start cleaning them up.
I could go on, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a hog. I’m not. I keep my house just clean enough. That’s what I have time for. It doesn’t stink, I keep up with the dishes and cleaning the bathrooms. It’s fine.
But could it be cleaner? Yes. Absolutely. Do I have time? Maybe next week…
Despite all my failings at life, I’d argue that it’s a small price to pay for what I’ve achieved. Three books under my belt, soon to be published, and I think they’re pretty darn good.
And after all the damage I’ve probably done, my husband and dog still love me for some reason, and the house will get cleaned.