“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4, New Living Translation)
If I waited for the perfect conditions to develop my writing life, I’d still be waiting.
Back in the early 1990s, I did manage to explore writing as my work, as a way of life. I wrote and submitted a few magazine articles and met with businesses to launch a career in corporate freelance writing. Then we started our family. Our first three children were born within four years of each other (the fourth came along a few years later).
Consumed by the demands and intensity of young motherhood, I could have shoved my computer screen, pen and notebook into a closet for about twelve years and waited until the conditions were right. I could have waited until my oldest two girls were old enough to babysit the younger two. I could have waited until I had a little office or study or library or nook to call my own. I could have waited until I had long chunks of uninterrupted time.
Instead, I wrote.
I wrote when the kids were napping. I wrote late at night. I wrote in my head when I took them for a walk to the park and scribbled down my ideas when they were eating a snack.
I stole time.
Sometimes I wrote well, but most of what I wrote served as compost, breaking down in my mind, heart, and spirit to feed new and potentially better ideas. Regardless of the quality of what I produced, I wrote. I practiced. I learned.
And I read. With a book tucked in my diaper bag or purse, I could steal a moment now and then to consume some new thought written by authors I respected, whose information I craved, whose ideas would feed the glowing coals of creativity that glimmered softly inside of me as I changed diapers, swept Cheerios and scraped hunks of banana from the high chair tray.
I kept the energy of writing alive during those hectic years, and when the flame flashed, I’d try to grab something on which to write, even if it meant borrowing a crayon and scribble pad that the kids were using for stick-people adventure stories.
This made for a spontaneous, messy writing life. Scraps of paper strewn on the kitchen table or nightstand represented that flash of insight I managed to scratch onto the back of an envelope. Life with newborns and toddlers required tremendous focus and energy, leaving little chance for a regular schedule. I grabbed opportunities when I could, leaving a trail of pens and paper throughout the house and shoved into cup holders in the car.
I identified with other writer-moms, such as Barbara Kingsolver. She would read about rituals of other authors who had seemingly endless time to create the writing mood—hours of photography or flower arranging before sitting at the desk to compose one word. She quoted one author who described his muse at length. Kingsolver, a busy mom with no time for flower-arranging, had to write with the time she was given. She described her own muse:
My muse wears a baseball cap, backward. The minute my daughter is on the school bus, he saunters up behind me with a bat slung over his shoulder and says oh so directly, “Okay, author lady, you’ve got six hours till that bus rolls back up the drive. You can sit down and write, now, or you can think about looking for a day job.” (p. 96, High Tide in Tucson, Barbara Kingsolver)
Kingsolver understands the limitations of motherhood and the challenge of writing in the midst of it. She quotes Lucille Clifton responding to the question “Why are your poems always short?” Ms. Clifton replied, “I have six children, and a memory that can hold about twenty lines until the end of the day.”
Clifton encouraged me to plan out my work mentally while I’m on-the-go, storing up thoughts until the end of the day, when the kids were in bed and the words could spill out.
My kids are much older now; my conditions remain imperfect but are much more conducive to writing. My children are more independent—my oldest has her driver’s permit. But it seems I still have to steal time.
Apparently the conditions for writing will never be perfect.
I need to be reminded of this again and again. Julia Cameron, in The Right to Write says:
The ‘if-I-had-time’ lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment. Enough stolen moments, enough stolen sentences, and a novel is born–without the luxury of time…
Yes, it is daunting to think of finding time to write an entire novel, but it is not so daunting to think of finding time to write a paragraph, even a sentence. And paragraphs, made of sentences, are what novels are really made of. (p. 14, 15, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron)
This reminds me of a quote I heard at the Festival of Faith & Writing in 2010. Author Parker Palmer said:
If you can’t write a book, write a bunch of essays. If you can’t write a bunch of essays, write a bunch of paragraphs. If you can’t write a bunch of paragraphs, write lines. If you can’t write lines, write some words. And if you can’t write some words, write your truth with your own life, which is far more important than any book. (Parker Palmer at the Festival of Faith & Writing 2010)
Poets, bloggers, novelists, creative nonfiction writers, essayists, letter writers, journalists, composers; we must all get to work. Write a book, essays, paragraphs, lines, or just write a few words, but for heaven’s sake—be sure to write with your life.
No matter what complicates schedules—whether you have a full-time job or you’re a full-time caregiver—write what you can, when you can. Because the conditions are never perfect.
52 Creative Writing Prompts: A Year of Weekly Prompts and Exercises to Boost Your Creativity
Sure, you can poke around the Internet collecting writing prompts and creative writing exercises.
Or you could buy an ebook that collects them for you in one place.
L.L. Barkat says
Delightful. I’m glad you’re still a writing criminal. ; – )
Desperate times call for desperate measures….
Not sure if this is the right place but here is my contribution to your Mother’s Day project:
Got it, Maureen! Thanks so much!
Aubree Cherie says
Very cool! I’ve never officially written anything, but this is so applicable to any of line of work I think! To make my own time is a lesson I’ve been learning everyday – although I fail a lot. Finding brain space to be creative is such a challenge. I’m inspired by your obvious success in this though 🙂
I agree–slipping in time for whatever matters most to us (or whatever we need) is critical. “Finding brain space to be creative is such a challenge.” It’s true that when I’m thinking about dinner plans, I’m probably not composing a blog post simultaneously. Or maybe. I guess it depends on the dinner. Such great thoughts–thanks for commenting.
Nancy Kourmoulis says
Oh so true. As a mom to write, to do anything apart from parent really, we must “steal time”. This quote especially got my attention as a mom to six also, “Why are your poems always short?” Ms. Clifton replied, “I have six children, and a memory that can hold about twenty lines until the end of the day.”
Isn’t that Clifton quote great? I’ve used it so many times, retelling it (paraphrased) even to bloggers, inspiring friends to compose during the day, in the midst of motherhood, and post something short at night.
Michelle DeRusha says
I love this — you really nailed it. It’s all so true! For the longest time, I didn’t consider myself a writer. I was a “corporate writer” yes, but not a creative writer. When people used to ask me, Oh do you write creatively on the side, too? I would always say Oh no no no, I’m not “that kind” of writer; I’m not a creative writer. Then one day I just started. And now I can’t stop! But it all happens in snippets — a few lines or paragraphs here and there until I can get seated at my computer late at night or very early in the morning. I carry a lot around in my head during the day, too, which I have to admit, makes for some distracted parenting! I love that Lucille Clifton quote about her short poems — that’s a classic!
Ann, such treasure here, beginning with that tidbit of truth from Ecclesiastes. This post is filled with inspiration. I am finding that just thinking about stealing moments gets me in the mood 🙂
I, too, am grateful that you entered into this life of crime! And ever so excited to be sharing this book with you.
I LOVE THIS. SO true.
Lynn Hopper says
And now maybe do you understand your own mother better? (All those trips to parades, etc..)
Lyla Lindquist says
I’ve always presumed there are a very special few who get to reserve large chunks of their days just to write. It’s always been a little here, a little there, and mostly either in a room full of noisy family or on the bleachers. Have to take it and run or it’s gone… So you are right, the conditions are never perfect.
mothers day project: http://idontbelieveingrammar.blogspot.com/2010/04/mother-mother.html
this was a great assignment for me….I am not especially close with my mom but still really wanted to honor her with words. I’m not sure I would have done this without the prompting.
Got it, Michelle!
n. davis rosback says
good post on not waiting for the right time!
Thanks–I’m glad to jump into the book club this time around. Cameron stirs up a lot of ideas.
This is so encouraging Ann. After reading these chapters, I began to understand that waiting for the conditions to be just right is my way of putting off starting at all. Then I wouldn’t face the prospect of more of those rejection letters 🙂
I am in the season of life when I thought I would have all the time in the world. The nest is empty. However, my days always seem to fill up in spite of myself and there is little time left to sit and write for hours on end.
If I really mean to write, I just need to do it.
Thank you for this.
You are welcome, dearest Linda, and your own story here offers further evidence that the conditions are never perfect…it assures me that I just need to keep slipping it in; that I’ll always be slipping it in.
A Simple Country Girl says
A few things…
– Will you please come to my house so I can show you some real clutter? 😉
– I am glad you didn’t wait for the elusive condition of perfection to write right.
– That Parker Palmer is good. I must look into that mind some more…
– Here is my criminalistic HCB mom’s day contribution: http://aspiretoleadaquietlife.blogspot.com/2010/04/ode-for-moms.html
deb @ talk at the table says
You know, I’ve been trying very hard lately to maintain focus even though.
I always seek solitude, and quiet, and am a slow to process, slow to create, person.
I realize that life will never offer the perfection of this, if indeed that ‘s what it is.
Unless I went off to a secluded cottage for a year or something. One can dream..:)
This is a very inspirational post. Thank you. It is timely and helpful and real.
I wouldn’t trade being in this very busy life for anything of course. Living in my head so much is lonely enough.
Love this post. In the bottom of my purse right now I have so many pieces of papers with my thoughts that I just jot down…someday to be a post or something more interesting. Thanks!
Charity Singleton says
I know I am so very late to comment on this . . .but I just made my way here from Laura Boggess’s comment on HCB today. I have an entirely different set of circumstances, but I needed to read about making time to write today. Thank you.
Cheryl Smith says
I’ve copied the Parker quote, and your own as well, to post over my desk. Thanks for the much-needed inspiration. And for the example.
Thank you so much for you blog! I am so happy to disover it! Especially those texts on contemplative motherhood 🙂
Blessings from across the Ocean!
Andrea from Slovakia
Ann Kroeker says
Andrea, what a treat to hear from you–I’m glad my words connected with you in your stage of life!