I’m just finishing up Writing from the Center, a collection of essays from Scott Russell Sanders. In the chapter from which the book takes its title, Sanders seeks “to know where authentic writing comes from; I would like to know the source of those lines that are worth keeping, the writing that brings some clarity and beauty into the confusion of our lives.” (p. 149)
I’d like to know that source, as well. I’d like to discover where authentic writing comes from, in hopes of producing some. Has he found it? I’m not sure, so I read on.Back when the happily married Sanders was launching his writing life, he was disturbed to read quotes from famous authors advising that writers should avoid marriage. They claimed that it stunts talent and stifles creativity. To be a serious artist, many claimed, one must sacrifice everything else to your work. He summarizes some words from Tillie Olsen:
[She] argues that “substantial creative work” can be produced only when “writing is one’s profession, practiced habitually, in freed, protected, undistracted time as needed, when it is needed. Where the claims of creation cannot be primary, the results are atrophy; unfinished work; minor effort and accomplishment; silences.” It would be hard for any writer who has tried juggling job and marriage and art to disagree with Olsen; and yet her argument beings to sound ominous when she sums it up by quoting Kafka: “Evil is whatever distracts.” (p. 154)
Sanders suggests, however, that many influential writers must have had significant distractions. William Carlos Williams, a doctor, surely would have been distracted by his patients; yet, he managed to write poetry (on the back of prescription pads, if memory serves me right). Poets who had students (Sanders himself is a professor) would have been approached with concerns about semester exams and upcoming assignments, yet they captured meaningful poetry. I can’t help but imagine Pulitzer-prize-winning journalists of the past working in the bustle of a noisy newsroom with phones ringing, typewriters clacking, and editors shouting out, “Copy!” They managed to produce powerful prose in the midst of distractions. Distractions can’t be blamed for bad writing (or no writing), because beautiful work has been produced in the midst of distraction. This is a relief to me, a mom in a state of constant distraction.
Sanders returns to the question of marriage-as-distraction:
What writer, embroiled in family and household and job, has never dreamed of stealing away into seclusion? What writer of either sex has not sometimes yearned, as Emerson phrased it, “to be released from every species of public or private responsibility”? …If anyone out there has labored at writing without ever craving such freedom, please will your brain to science, so that we might discover the secret of your serenity. (p. 155)
Uh, yes. I’ve dreamed of “stealing away into seclusion,” you bet. For both prayer and writing, and just a little silence. Then I liked what he wrote here:
The goal of the writer’s practice is the same as anyone else’s: to seek understanding of who and where and what we are, to come fully awake. If you are well married, sharing a life and not merely a bed or a bank account, then family may become your territory for doing the real work–spiritual as well as practical–of being human. (p. 156)
One could argue whether or not our goal is to become fully awake, but I do love hearing someone whose writing I admire confirming that my territory for writing is motherhood, marriage, family—and that it can work. I can explore this territory in my writing. I’ve chosen this territory, this setting, in which to live my life. I’ve chosen writing, as well. They do more than coexist—family and writing for me are inextricably intertwined. My writing is influenced and even inspired by my life as a mom, and motherhood has become more meaningful as I explore it through writing. Much material comes from this territory, and much is lost while I’m busy living it.
In the final essay, “Letter to a Reader,” Sanders writes, “From the richness of marriage, its depths and delights, I have learned the meaning of commitment—to a person, to a place, to a chosen work. Outside of this union I would have written quite different books, or perhaps none at all.” (p. 175)
And finally, he admits that he does need to pull away in order to write.
I must withdraw into solitude, must close my door against the world, close my mind against the day’s news. But unless the writing returns me to the life of family, friends, and neighbors with renewed energy and insight, then it has failed. My writing is an invitation to community, an exploration of what connects us to one another to the earth. (p. 186)
This is interesting in light of blog writing. To think that our writing is an invitation to community…I think that might be part of what we’re doing out here on the worldwide web. We’re inviting others to join us, to think with us, be amused, ponder, cry, reach out to others. We’re exploring what connects us to one another to the earth. But we’re using virtual means to do so. Strange.At this very moment, my five-year-old son is making sounds like a parrot two feet away while playing with a Playmobil pirate ship. I’m finding it hard to focus. And he’s calling me to join him.
As a writer, I want to compose a few more thoughts.
As a mom, I must excuse myself.
Monica - books are our friends says
Well, as a married-with-children artist (ha. some days it’s junk), life with husband and little ones and homeschooling, etc., etc. is just more to write about. It makes my writing more real. And if you write humor, then it’s just tons of inspiration. As for seclusion: If I had it, I’m sure I’d goof off rather than write.
Karen Hossink says
I feel like my life has become one big illustration! When I was writing my book last summer, I was having a morning that would’ve typically put me over the edge. In the midst of it, though, I thought, “This is going to make a GREAT illustration!” Suddenly the frustration became humorous, and I added it to chapter four that evening.
Without my children, I would have nothing about which to write. Without them, I would remain a selfish, self-centered woman. Without them, I would have peace and seclusion whenever I desire.
Honestly, I would rather have the writing material and be transformed, and have to search out the quiet moments!
Monica & Karen: You speak wisely, fellow moms. I kept digging around in my files looking for a quote from a famous writer who said something similar, but I couldn’t find it. Then when I read your comments, I thought, well, you just said it as well as or better than she did. I do love a few moments of seclusion and solitude and do try to coordinate at least some, for my prayer life and spiritual growth as well as my writing pursuits.
Monica: What kind of art do you create? (I should nose around your blog some more to figure it out on my own.)
Karen: Life as an illustration! Makes me think of the pastor who survives some difficulty or struggle and tells the person he’s with, “Well, that’ll preach…that’ll preach.”
Monica - books are our friends says
Ann, to answer your question: go here.
Michele S. says
Hi Ann ~
Love your new look. Love your musings, too! May just need to put this in my favorites!
Michele S: So great to see you here! Thanks for taking a minute to read (and comment).
The new blog feels like a new haircut–an update, a fresh new “look.” It totally feels different than the other one, and for some reason it seems to affect my writing style. I feel, hm, maybe bouncier?
I stumbled upon your blog and this series caught my eye. I have a personal blog and a group blog http://writerinterrupted.com devoted to this entire subject!
Doesn’t life help you write? Without a family, there wouldn’t be chaos, and without chaos, there is nothing to write about. Some family stuff just writes itself, like when you come home from running errands and realize when you get home, that you forgot to close the door to the garbage closet and now it’s all over the floor, courtesy of an enterprising dog with too busy of a nose! LOL!
Or a kid riding a bike, forgets to pay attention to parked vehicles and cuts her chin, when she crashes into a parked pickup truck!
Erma Bombeck had plenty of chaos and her stuff was funny! Life is dull, when you are all by yourself.
I just discovered this series on our blog! I’ve visited your blog in the past for the Mega Memory Month, but this was the first time I’d seen this.
As a mom, writer, designer, and photographer, I actually feel like my creative life was able to blossom after having children! Yes, there are certainly distraction. But there were distractions before when I had to work a “real job” as well. If anything, my children have inspired me and expanded me, as has marriage. It’s all served to make me a better artist, not to mention stretched me as a person and grown me as a Christian. I look forward to reading the rest of the posts in the series!
Nandita Gaur says
Hi! Life has a different meaning after marriage and after having kids. I agree that your creativity blossoms when you try to balance the squeals of one and requests of other; suggestions of one and demands of other; driving one and singing for the other…hummm moms are creative and I am a mom of two boys, six years and one year young.