‘I would find it hard shutting the door on my husband and children, saying I needed time to write,’ a woman once said to me, when I was giving a library reading. She longed to be a writer but didn’t honour herself by protecting her writing time.
This is so often a problem for woman, and I suspect men, as many are homemakers and care givers. When we take time for ourselves, we may feel guilty and sometimes use this as an excuse not to follow our dreams.
When our daughter was born thirty years ago, my husband gave up work to be a full-time dad. He never went back to work, through choice, and I have been the sole wage earner for our little family. It worked for us and I have no regrets. However, when I was working I felt I should be with my daughter and when I was playing with her, I felt guilty for not catching up with work. I was always weighing up my time, believing that I had failed at both.
Then, a wise woman told me to give myself 100% to whatever I was doing at that time. It was a challenge and I didn’t always succeed, but I have carried that mantra with me. When I am writing I close my door and switch off from the outside world. That’s the easy part, as I can lose myself for hours and often have to set a timer so that I don’t miss a yoga class or forget to prepare dinner.
It goes both ways. When I’m with my husband I try to be 100% present. If I’m with him in person but my mind is working on my next chapter or mulling over my protagonist’s motivations then I’m not truly with him. Of course, that doesn’t mean he always reciprocates. For example, when I’ve just finished telling him about our plans for that weekend, he may respond with, ‘what are we doing this weekend?’ And I know that he was thinking about guitar chords or mentally playing his piano.
It’s not easy to always be 100% present but you do get more out of each activity. You know yourself that when a person is truly listening to you, and not thinking about something else, then you feel valued and the quality of your relationship is strengthened. And as writers and artists, we absorb more from our experience of the world to later draw upon when we return to our craft.
Not everyone has the luxury of dedicating two hours or more to an uninterrupted writing stint. This need not be a barrier. I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy of pouring sand into a jar full of pebbles. The pebbles are the must dos that get in the way of writing. But, if you pour a fine sand into the jar it fills the space between the pebbles. Sometimes, a little and often is all we can manage, the fine sand finding a space between our other commitments.
When I was torn every which way caring for a parent with dementia, working, and managing household stuff, I found twenty minutes here and there throughout my day. I scribbled notes of the next scene I was going to write. My mind must have been working without me being aware, because whenever I sat down to write the words came. When time is precious, you perhaps write more freely. Just write without worrying about grammar and spelling. By the end of the day you might well have five hundred to a thousand words from several short writing bursts.
Honour yourself and that heartfelt wish
I always divide and weigh my time, trying to get the most from each day. Maybe all working mothers get into that habit. But, I have learnt to focus one thing at a time and no longer feel guilty or torn by competing demands.
If there is something that you want to do, a heart-felt dream, then find the time. It may mean giving up something else, but if you don’t honour yourself and carve out a little sacred time, then one day you will regret what might have been. I don’t know whether the lady in the library started to write or not. I hope that she did. Seeds are sown in our heart, but they can only grow and blossom if we feed them, nurturing them with patience and our time.