World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Too Much Work in Progress: Juggling Life and Writing

on October 9, 2013

WIP It Wednesday: Works Not-So-Much in Progress

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I should be writing.

I should be working on the WIP that I haven’t touched in a week.

I should be typing the revisions to the sequel to Snark that I promised an editor and spent the weekend making instead of making progress on the WIP.

I should be outlining the other projects, or getting ahead on blog posts, or working on the scavenger hunt with my Indie Ignites friends to promote PRIDE AND PREP SCHOOL, or compiling that list of interesting facts about me for the guest post feature on someone else’s blog.

I AM WRITER. HEAR ME WHINE.

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This is, of course, a paraphrase of Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem that rocked the Women’s Movement and was part of the soundtrack of my life as a child of the Seventies. And as a Seventies girl, I grew up, thanks to women like my mom and Helen Reddy and Gloria Steinem and Billie Jean King and

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Marlo Thomas and her Free to be You and Me, believing that I would have a full-time fulfilling job as part of my life as an adult woman. And I do, as a professor of writing and literature at a New England university.

So let’s add to the above list:

I should be reading student papers.

I should be reading revisions of student papers.

I should be reading and preparing lecture notes and discussion questions for tomorrow’s classes.

I should be checking in with some students’ advisors to see why they are not attending class or handing in assignments or keeping up with the material.

And don’t get me started on what I should be doing as a wife and mother, like the laundry and mopping the floor and buying onions and figuring out the source of the vaguely unpleasant smell in the living room, all before I pick up the kids, feed the kids, take them to various extracurricular activities and help them with their homework (true confession: I am actually relieved that I cannot be called on to help with some of the homework now, as algebra mystifies me as much now as it did in eighth grade).

This is the universal lament of all writers and all working women (and men, probably) everywhere: I don’t have enough time for it all.

When I was studying nineteenth-century women writers as a grad student, I was struck by the number of those women writers who were unmarried and childless, because it seemed so impossible at the time to be able to be both writer and mother.  The list of those who did’t live long enough to even consider undertaking that juggling act, or lived but did not even attempt to perform it, is pretty impressive: all three of the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Florence Nightingale, Christina Rossetti . . . (the list goes on). Author Elizabeth Gaskell did juggle both jobs, and her journals are filled with her worries about failing at both of her duties as writer and wife/mother – as well as some pretty disgusting sounding recipes for puddings that could be left in the hearth to cook all day and allow Gaskell a little writing time (she may have been the unacknowledged master of the Victorian “crock pot.” And as a child of the seventies, I know about the crock pot).

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I don’t know any writer – especially women writers – who doesn’t feel this way, especially since most of us have to work at other demanding jobs in order to have the luxury of writing (in the hope that one day we will be able to sustain ourselves on royalties from that writing). It’s especially hard because by its nature, writing is a pretty solitary job that requires long periods of uninterrupted time to think, to imagine, and to wander around in a completely made-up world until we get our bearings and can render what we see there to others. And that’s hard to do when you have to squeeze it in between your day job, drives to and from dance classes, and all of your other responsibilities.

But I don’t post this just to whine (though thanks for letting me do this a little).  I wrote to ask those of you who find yourselves in this category – trying to write while maintaining another job in or out of the house and trying to be a parent/spouse/partner – if you have any survival strategies you’d want to share.  How do you carve out work time? Keep your sanity? Manage to be the “good enough” mother and writer and worker, to borrow DW Winnicott’s phrase from object-relations theory (psychoanalysis)?

I’ll leave you with one strategy of my own: Have a support network. Mine is the virtual mutual admiration/talk-me-down-off-the-roof society that is Indie Ignites.  Just this morning one of us was freaking out on Facebook about not getting revisions done quickly enough, and within hours we were online offering support, wisdom, cheerleading, and bad jokes when appropriate. Even if we never see each other, we know what it’s like to juggle all of these concerns so we can empathize, sympathize, and even apply a kick in the pants when necessary. It’s amazing how far an online pep talk can go toward keeping you writing and functioning.

Please post your suggestions and strategies in the comments below.  It would be nice to think we’re in this together, wouldn’t it? (How about a little Seventies’ style solidarity? :))

What I’m reading:

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What I’m listening to:

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One response to “Too Much Work in Progress: Juggling Life and Writing

  1. We hear about a whole lot of “I shoulds” and way less “in the moments”. I choose to enjoy those, to move with them and feel them and go with the rest that is involved in going with life’s flow. We are really good at imposing deadlines on ourselves, but the fact of that matter is, those deadlines (big or small, dishes or actual “work” work) get done in a more relaxing (and many times, more time utilized & productive) way when we aren’t imposing stress upon ourselves. Guilt does no good and it most often comes from goals we put on ourselves! Why do we do this? Instead, let us embrace whatever it is that we complete every day. In a week’s time, we can look back and see a whole lot more WAS done than we’d even realized. Those moments of doing what we enjoyed doing most at that moment in time melded into completion of tasks without us even realizing. (I mean it’s a whole lot better than running around frantically in circles, not completing anything, don’t you think?)

    Also, I think us writers should strive to see many of those checked-off items AS our validation, instead of looking to see how others do things, trying to apply it to our own lives, and getting down when we don’t “measure up”. We’re all different! What works for them may not work for us, and that’s okay. 🙂

    Comparison can lead frustration, which brings the guilt when we don’t follow through, which harbors a whole lot of other issues like resentment and can also take away our drive because we feel like “what’s the point?”. We don’t deserve that! And I feel that that’s where Indie Ignites comes in and makes a big difference. Hearing “this is a normal feeling” and “I’ve been through this, too” is quite reassuring. Not only that but we accept each other as we are whatever stage we’re at. That’s the kind of validation that gives us the energy to go back an do what needs to be done!

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