Friday, July 25, 2014

I bet you thought this was easy!

I'm sure that to some of you, being a writer seems like an ideal way to live. I do spend my days in my own home, doing nothing but household chores, gardening, caring for family, and of course... writing. After all, the title of this blog is WRITING FROM HOME, isn't it? I'm betting some of you must be envious about what a peaceful and idyllic life I must lead, and would gladly trade places to get that kind of tranquility.

Please pardon me while I laugh uproariously.


OK, I got that out of my system.

No, it's not that simple, or peaceful, or anything like what you'd expect, though I really wish it was. Working from home can be a real pleasure, but most of the time its a royal pain in the butt. People outside the situation don't easily understand that just because I'm not commuting to some other building every day with a boss to report to, that it's really impossible for me to concentrate on what I'm doing if I have frequent interruptions. I've had to be rude at times in avoiding visits or refusing offers of outings, and cutting off long-winded conversations that eat into my working hours. I avoid lengthy correspondences online until my writing is done for the day. My time is very limited right now by a number of factors both in and out of my control. I have to cram in writing wherever I can manage, and a whole heckuva lot less is getting done than what I was accomplishing a couple years ago. So every moment counts.

Next, let me burst your bubble about how lucrative this writing life has been for me. Unless you are J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or George R. R. Martin, you're probably not making enough money writing to hire household help, a gardener, secretary, chauffeur, etc. So I'm still cleaning the toilet, planting potatoes, cooking dinner, opening my own snail mail, and wishing I could afford to travel to conventions. Big fat advances and regular royalty checks don't come my way. I answer my own phone, and personally update my social network sites and blogs. I get very little in the way of fan feedback, other than the occasional kudos online—which I am always grateful to see. There's nothing any author loves better than to know her work was read and enjoyed. Or at least read! We work so hard for that very reason.

Writing takes up a lot of time so I've had to prioritize everything I do. For instance, I have a vegetable garden, a big one, and have for decades. It produces a lot of food that my family and friends enjoy and depend on. I've stubbornly refused to stop gardening on that scale, even though we can afford to buy what we need for produce, but I can no longer take the time to raise my own seedlings, so I buy plants. I won't give up gardening, because there's something very therapeutically calming about getting your hands into the soil and encouraging green things to grow. I try and spend time out there as often as I can during the warmer months. Some days, when the words won't come, I have to get away from that evil keyboard and go touch the earth again. If I'm really frustrated, pulling a few weeds and squashing a couple of beetles tends to help. There are a lot of benefits to gardening, because it's gentle exercise and you soak up some extra vitamin D, plus you get to harvest and eat things like tomatoes, beans, and corn. Those items are perishable of course, and have to be cooked, eaten, given away, or otherwise preserved before they go bad. Which is another reason I'm so busy. My kitchen table right now has a bag of cucumbers and another one of summer squashes just waiting for me to notice them. My refrigerator has big bags of broccoli and cauliflower which need to be put up for the freezer. We have tomatoes and peppers in there to eat as well. If you grow it, you better do something with it afterward or it's a waste of time and effort.

I am a grandmother! It's a wonderful thing to be, because it means my family has grown beyond my children's generation, and my genetic legacy to the world is secure. As of this writing, I have a ten year old grandson, an almost 11 month old grandson, and a granddaughter due in November. I love those kids to pieces, and I have been helping out where I can, mostly by babysitting the little boy with the 6 tooth smile and a 10 word vocabulary, whenever I am needed. Since his parents both work days, he tends to be here right in the midst of what would normally be my most productive writing time. There's a lot of trouble a baby that age can get into, so he has my complete and undivided attention. He requires lots of loving, to be fed and changed, and someone to teach him things and stimulate his little mind while he's here. So I don't write at all while I spend time with Zack, because babies don't stay little forever. Those hours fly by, but I don't regret a moment of it. Family always comes first, and they have always been my inspiration.

There's a lot of other stuff going on too, because I have my elderly mother over here most weekends, and we have other family and friends who stop in. Holidays and special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries tend to pop up. I get regular phone calls from friends and relatives who want or need to talk, and I can't always say no or I'd soon be isolated and lonely. Bottom line is, it's getting harder and harder to find time to write. So what do I do?

I write anyway. I write in snatches whenever I can grab a few minutes. I jump on any chance to bow out of an activity I have no interest in and use that time to write. I've given up a lot of television, crafting, shopping, reading, and online cruising time to focus on simply writing. Newspapers, magazines, Facebook posts, books, emails, and online newsletters sit unopened and unread. I haven't picked up a crochet hook in months or a guitar in years. Housework and cooking are at bare minimum and I delegate when I can. I might have had to scale back writing time, but I refuse to eliminate it. It's just too important.

On most mornings, I do a very quick run through email, local news & weather, and social sites while I am eating breakfast at my PC. Takes me less than half an hour, because I skim and don't read everything. Then I get down to work. Depending on how well I slept the night before and what time I got up, as well as when the little guy gets here, I usually have 2-3 hours to put into a project. If the weather is inclement or too hot and humid to be tolerable (it's currently summer), or I'm dealing with some pain issues (chronic arthritis and a bad back = ouch!) I might spend whatever is left of the day after he goes home until evening back at work. That generally gains me a couple more hours, and by then my eyes have had it. On days when I have all the daytime hours to myself, I chain myself to the desk, only getting up for quick bouts of housework, refreshments, and bathroom breaks. All the while my mind is mulling over where the current story is going next.

Because my thought process gets interrupted so often, it takes a while to get my brain back into the writing zone. Lately I've had to content myself with daily word tally numbers in the hundreds rather than the thousands, like they used to be. I do have breakout sessions and days where there's no babysitting involved, and believe me, I make the most of them. Those are balanced by the times when I babysit at the kids' house all day long, and other days filled with appointments, shopping, and errands; which I tend to cluster into one trip. Weekends I leave open to whatever comes along. If I have a chance to write, I do. If not, I cope. Overall, it kind of balances out.

No, this is not the writing life I pictured years ago, but then, what fanciful notion ever turns out the way you dreamed it would? It's the life I have, and I'm making the most of it. I have learned to be flexible and self-disciplined, so yes things are getting done, albeit at a far slower pace. So far this year I've still managed to get several manuscripts finished and moved into editing, have written over 2/3 of a brand new novel, and have contributed to or written a few short projects. I've cut the editing I used to do way back, but do a little now and then for those friends who return the favor. I've written a monthly column for over a year now for our town newsletter without missing a single deadline—in fact I'm always ahead of schedule. So yeah, I still write, because I make sure to grab whatever time is available.

Still think this is easy? It's not. Writing is actually a lot of work, not something you do because you don't want to work. The stories don't fall out of your head onto the page, you have to scrounge for them, and stick with it even when you can't for the life of you figure out what comes next. There's often research involved, and tons of rereading and redoing entire sections. If I get stuck on one story, I save my day's work and go onto another one. 

I see results because I approach what I do as conscientiously as I would a job where I would have a boss to report to or a time clock to punch. Those little posts I make online at the end of a day are my incentive, as well as a statement to the world that I actually accomplished something today. I currently have two pages of work on Amazon that I have authored or contributed something to, and that makes me very proud. Others might have done more writing in less time, but I don't let that bother me. I'm not in a horse race, I'm trying to build an audience of my own. 

Writing is like any other profession; you have to learn your craft, pay your dues, and get your chops by actually doing it. You need to continually update your skills as you go along. You can't expect any big breaks or favors, you need to take whatever feedback you get and keep going. I don't spin my wheels wishing I had more time, I make the most of what I do have. Some writing is better than none at all. It is a rewarding pursuit in those scattered but precious moments when the words flow, the scenes emerge like mushrooms from the forest floor, and someone sighs happily over what you put on the page—hopefully taking the time to let you know afterward. I live for that, and I write for it too. That's why I'll willingly give up time for other things I enjoy to instead wrestle with an uncooperative muse for the next paragraph.

What I've shared here, and what I post online daily on Facebook and Google+, debunks the romanticized notion that writing is some mystical art practiced by only the most elite and talented of natural wordsmiths in some hidden garret where the real world never intrudes. Seriously, most of us everyday hacks learn as we go and do our writing around all the other things that put demands on our time—jobs, family, household chores and responsibilities—and we do it sick or healthy, early in the morning or up half the night, on the bus, during lunch break, or while the spouse is sleeping. The magic is that the ideas do somehow come floating down to us, that the words pile up on the pages like snowdrifts, and eventually build into a glittering new story. It's not the place, the time, the special hat or lucky pen; it's the will to get that writing done that makes books go from a daydream to a tangible reality. When I look at my own contributions to fiction, I see hours and hours dedicated to getting the right words on those pages. I really worked at it.

That's what successful writing is about—it's not hocus pocus, but good old-fashioned work ethics. 

Well... maybe just a little magic is involved...