Circumscribed passions

I’ve been thinking recently about my early days of writing, in the late eighties and early nineties before I was published and I had to carve writing time out of life.

My kids were young. I started writing when my second child went off to preschool three mornings a week, although I did manage more hours than that, most times, because my parents lived on the same property with us and my mother would take the boy pottering in the garden (the kid hasn’t pulled a weed since he was five, which may tell you something about the difficulty of infecting a kid with your own particular love.)

Back then, I would do the school run, then sit down and plunge into my ongoing fictional dream, coming out reluctantly when the clock nagged me to leave for pickup duty. Then when the kids were old enough to start in on after school sports and piano lessons, I would take my oversized clipboard and my legal pad, prop it against the steering wheel, and write for an hour in the afternoons. It isolated me against friendships with the other parents, but it got the books written.

Later on, I was a published author, with contractual obligations to produce words. This was great, because I actually had an excuse to do what I wanted to, and didn’t have to justify my addiction to the clip board and writing pad. But it also meant that my passion became a job, which inevitably took a little of the sparkle out of it. A superb job, and it was still occasionally a battle to work the writing life in and around the rest of life (Summer vacation is coming—aaugh! Or, I have to finish this first draft before school lets out on Dec 17th or my kids will hate me forever!)

Back then, it was the kids who set the boundaries on my writing life, because kids have to be fed and transported and noticed. And now I find I’m in an oddly similar situation with a husband (who is doing really well, thanks for asking) whose mobility problems mean that he needs someone around to do things for him and listen to make sure he’s not headed for trouble, like when he sees the massively heavy rechargeable lawnmower sitting out and tries to be helpful and put it away, leaving his walker behind to do so…

So I’ve arranged with his assistant and general factotum to come in full time, a thirty-five to forty hour week, and that’s where my life is, during those hours. I shop, I go to the gym, I see my dentist, and I write, because I cannot focus on two places at once.

The downside is that I have this massive rewrite pressing down on me, despite the generosity of spirit exhibited by Bantam when it comes to deadlines. But the upside is, I’m rediscovering the thrill of writing within limits. If I only have thirty five hours a week to focus on the book, by God it’s a tightly focused thirty-five hours. I break to make tea, eat lunch, and answer the phone, maybe half an hour total throughout the day, and then it’s back into the book.

I’m finding that, as happened back then, I tend to think about the book more. I always think about what I’m writing anyway, especially a first draft, but this is more like actual writing, but just suspending the part where the words are being set down. And there’s no delay and dithering, no taking leisurely side-trips into other peoples’ books (novels or research) while I’m at work. The car comes up the drive, I take my coffee and have my shower, walk into my study, and flip the switch.

I’m probably being the world’s worst Pollyanna, seeing the bright side of a black hole. On the other hand, there may be something to this nine-to-five business. I’ll have to try it in the future, not permitting myself to write to my heart’s content.

But now I have to go, because it’s time to make the coffee, eat the breakfast, and get ready for the car to come up the drive.

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  1. Anonymous on April 5, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Good for you, Pollyanna! It is so much easier to find a way to wallow in what we can’t get done and why we can’t get it done. Much better to be Pollyanna than to let the black hole swallow you up too. See you when you punch out at five.


  2. Roxanne on April 5, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    I’ve been wondering how your husband is doing, but hated to ask. Thanks for the update!

  3. Anonymous on April 5, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    My mom cared for her father, a stroke survivor, for about two years. It was difficult, but it focused her drive to do the things that mattered to her in the little time available. It was a good thing for her–as I hope this will be for you. My thoughts for your family!

  4. Ann on April 5, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    Glad to hear your husband is doing better. I can sympathize with your circumscribed writing schedule. My dayjob has been leaving me with little time to write and no energy with which to do it. But I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel (stubbornly ignoring that annoying whistle).

  5. Carlina on April 6, 2007 at 3:55 am

    I am also glad to hear your husband is doing much better. After reading your blog today I am even more grateful for the time out you take for us your fans with that busy schedule.

    I am trying to get my dissertation done and currently have no time for leisure writing, which has become my escape…hence no escaping reality for me for a while.

    Thanks for sharing with us! I still think you have the coolest job in the world playing with people like Russell, Holmes, and Kate…wow…I trade those for my skeletons anyday! Plus to stimulate peoples’ imaginations…now that’s a topper!

  6. WDI on April 6, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    It’s kind of amazing what we can accomplish when boundaries are forced upon us. I know I learned to study and write efficiently and effectively in graduate school in large part because that’s when I had my daughter. And now that I have strong passions outside my job, I find that I get my job done more quickly and efficiently and, yes, with much more pleasure in the tasks.

    So I think the Pollyanna attitude makes perfect sense and is well worth celebrating. Thanks for sharing it with us, and for sharing the great news about your husband.

  7. delia on April 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    What a fantastic posting. You are so generous to let us into your life and see the inner struggles of a successful (very successful!) writer and a great human being. May God bless you and keep you writing and caring. May you flourish in your many tasks.

  8. Gail on April 6, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    I thought of your words Laurie, when I read these lines on a website speaking of Easter. They are from a poem by a Welsh poet, Saunders Lewis and are quoted by Mary Earle:
    Cherish the dark’s obscurity
    Look for the diamonds in debris,
    Thank God for all His mystery
    And LIVE.
    Along with Russell I might change “His” to “Hers.” You are an inspiration for the rest of us trying to pluck out the diamonds in our debris. Happy Almost Easter!

  9. L. Crampton, LAc on April 6, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    I can’t draw or paint at any more than the most amateurish stick figure level at this point of my life, but I had a big revelation twenty years ago when attempting some water colors for ‘self-expression’–I was trying to use only happy, cheerful colors, and all of my paintings really sucked. A compassionate friend suggested that by avoiding the use of black (a ‘negative, dark’ color to my limited thinking then) I was leaving out the very contrasts and definition that would give depth and shape to my efforts. Sometimes circumscription is the very vessel that gives form to our passions and lets them burn brightly. Thanks for reminding me of this truth. Blessings to your whole family, and to each’s expression of themselves in the world.

  10. Roxanne on April 6, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Happy Easter, Laurie.

    And Happy Easter and/or Passover to your blog readers as well.


  11. Carlina on April 7, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Ditto Roxanne!

    Happy Easter Laurie and Happy Easter or Passover to everyone else! May you all have a good holiday!


  12. 2maple on April 9, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    I’m a die hard optomist too. When things don’t work out the way I wanted them to, I can’t sit and cry about it. I just move on to plan B.

    I had a nice surprise on Easter morning when I was really missing spring (the foot of snow we got last week set us back a bit) — We had a some swallowtail butterfly cacoons the spent the winter tucked in on of the plants on my kitchen window. One hatched Easter morning while I was making breafast. We put it on this beautiful bouquet of flowers my daughter got from a friend for her birthday. Somehow adding a butterfly to the flowers on a snowy morning brought smiles to all…the symbolism was a nice touch too.

    Glad to hear your husband is doing well…

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