Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Writer's Point of View

Springtime in my garden
As I mentioned in my last post, my netbook used to be very portable. I wrote wherever I felt like, on a couch, in the car, outside in a lounge chair. Since my battery is now defunct and my netbook is jury rigged into a permanent position with duct tape, I have only one place to write, and one view to see. It’s a pretty view out my back window with birch and spruce and cherry trees (that will blossom soon – I demand it! I’m tired of gray). But it got me thinking about where people choose to do their writing. And that got me to thinking about how, with everyone's crazy schedules, people can carve out space and time to write. I think I’m trying to give myself a pep talk here that writing and life together are possible, so I hope you don’t mind if I share a few anecdotes and observations about such things (in no particular order).

Jane Austen

Jane Austen composed many her masterpieces on the original kind of laptop, a portable slanted writing desk with an interior area to hold papers and writing supplies. I suppose I’d always imagined her working on her brilliantly witty dialogues undisturbed in a quiet room, but according to this website, she was anything but alone when she wrote.

Courtesy of the Jane Austen Museum
“[S]he had no separate study to retire to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors, or any persons beyond her own family party. She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper. There was, between the front door and the offices, a swing door which creaked when it was opened; but she objected to having this little inconvenience remedied, because it gave her notice when anyone was coming.”

Who knew that Jane Austen faced interruptions just like so many of us? And who knew that she was so secretive about her writing? Do any of you Austen aficionados know if this was because of the impropriety of a woman writing, a reticence for anyone to see early drafts or something else?

My Family

For over 50 years my grandmother wrote and published delightful children’s stories both in books and children’s magazines (she was a regular contributor to Highlights for Children). Later in life she was honored as a poet laureate of her state. I’ve always found it interesting that she did her best writing of these sweet stories in the dead of night in a little pitch-roofed attic room overlooking a golf course and a cemetery.

Food of the gods
My sister is a playwright. Each year she writes, choreographs, produces and directs an elementary school Broadway-like musical with over 100 children participating (she is simply, unbelievably amazing). She writes most of her plays in her car in between shuttling her kids from one sports practice to another. When she finds a (rare) few hours free she locks herself in the spare bedroom with a supply of chocolate covered cinnamon bears (if you haven’t tried these, you must – pure ambrosia) and binge writes.

Even though my sister and my grandmother’s writing schedules are about as opposite as can be, I’m inspired because they each found what worked for them and ran with it.

Shannon Hale

One of my favorite authors, Shannon Hale, has not only written some fabulous books (just finished Midnight in Austenland – superb), but on her blog she has also been very candid about what it takes for her to juggle life, motherhood, and writing.  As a mother of four (including twin toddlers) she’s so busy that she probably couldn’t find the time to write if she wanted to, so instead she makes the time. From her blog:

Oh man, I am so sapped. I am a Vermont maple in winter... Finding time to bathe and feed myself is an uphill battle every day. I had a couple of visitors coming over this morning, so I worked so hard to clean my kitchen and living room, trying to keep kiddos entertained for 3 hours while I cleaned non-stop between caring for their needs. And when my visitors came in, I looked around and realized that I had achieved Normal Messy, no more.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, I'm in no shape to be dolling out advice. I barely survive. I'm sure you know what I mean. This marvelous, marvelous chaos. But my center is my creative time. For 2 1/2 hours four times a week, I have a babysitter, and I close my door and write. Turn off the mommy craziness, turn on Writer Woman. It's not an easy transition, but I have to do it. I just have to.

Wow, she sounds so – human. And yet because of her discipline, in those mere ten hours of writing a week, she publishes at least one book every year (oh, and the movie for Austenland is in post production – squee!).

Wrap Up

 Henry David Thoreau said,  "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I used to think that there would be a magical point in my life where I would suddenly be endowed with time to accomplish Important Things. Maybe I could go on a pilgrimage of enlightenment like Thoreau (I like trees, after all, and cute little cabins in the woods). The conclusion I’ve come to, though, is that the choices I’ve made over the years have put me on a path where the essential things of my life aren’t found in solitude, but in the here and now of everyday life with family and friends. And that if I want to live deliberately in my goals to be a writer (or whatever else), it’ll have to be with them along for the ride. With Jane Austen and Shannon Hale and Sheena and MaryAnn and Sabrina and Sarah and Melanie, I think I’m in some pretty good company, in trying to figure out this balancing act.

~ Susan


  1. I hear ya! I'm the "breadwinner" in the family, and I have a high profile, high pressure job. Plus 3 kids and all of their fun activities.

    It's tough to find time to write.

    I do my writing in my office. If I could, I'd build a small cabin in my backyard and wallow in the isolation for the 1-2 hours a day I scrape together to write.

  2. First off, your garden is beautiful.

    I'm right there with you, Susan, it's hard to find/make the time, and then when I actually have the time, sometimes its difficult to put away the facebook, or email, or games, or etc...and transition into Writer Woman.

    Which sounds like a Superhero name now that I think about it.

    Maybe, what I need is a telephone booth to take off my glasses. Or maybe just some chocolate covered cinnamon bears.

  3. I love cinnamon bears and chocolate. How come I've never heard of chocolate covered cinnamon bears?

    I'm with Sheena. Your garden is beautiful. Not a bad view for writing. I write everywhere. At the kitchen table, on the floor, on the couch. I love laptops.

    I used to ditch the kids once a week and sneak off to the library in the evenings after my husband got home, but now our evenings are way too crazy with Karate lessons, dinner, homework, and bedtimes, and I like to try to get a run in if it isn't too dark.

    That is awesome how your grandmother and sister are writers too. That must be fun.

  4. I count myself very lucky among the writers I know, because focusing on writing and not spending time on other non-essentially things has always been more of an issue for me than finding time to write. This is particularly true now, in my current unemployed state but even the job I had (and will likely soon have again) was part-time and though sometimes tiring didn't make huge demands on me. I have no children or anyone else dependent upon me. So I have generally been able to write whenever I wish and I consider this a gift, and perhaps even a sign that that is what I should be doing.

    I also find myself wondering why I've never heard of these chocolate covered cinnamon bears of which you speak. I shall have to investigate this, perhaps with the aide of Steerpike's monkey...

  5. Do you make these chocoloate covered cinnamon bears? Or perhaps you can buy them somewhere? That's what I want for Valentine's Day. Steerpike's monkey???

    I love hearing about these busy people fitting writing into their lives. Sometimes I think being busy is the key! Then you have to fit writing in instead of trying to fill your time up with writing, if you see what I'm saying. I must think about this some more.

  6. @Jay - One of the things I left off of this post (maybe I'll do a follow up) are all the amazing writer's huts that people like Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Roald Dahl had. Do a google image search - it's pretty cool.

    @Everyone else - Chocolate covered cinnamon bears are to die for. We have a grocery store near our house that has bulk bins full of them. I try not to visit too often or I would be the one with most of the bulk on me. You can also get them through Amazon if they aren't available in your area.

  7. Wow - these women inspire me! Writing in a car? Writing on tiny pieces of paper you constantly had to hide? I feel so lame when I demand utter peace and quiet and a cozy fire and a visit from my muse to write :)

  8. On my birthday two years ago, my husband got me a weekend in a somewhat shady motel on the beach in Hermosa. (Even shady is expensive when it's on the beach.) My novel is set there, but even though it's only a few minutes away I hardly ever go. It was fantastic, sitting at the little table and having the screen door with the broken lock open while I worked on my laptop, felt the breeze, and watched the volleyball players.

    But that weekend ended and we haven't managed another one. Real life marches on, and you're so right - we have to let our families be along for the ride. I'm working on it. This balance thing is tough :)


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