This is quite possibly one of my most favorite comics by The Oatmeal. He’s hilarious and I love pretty much all his work, but that particular series is something to which I can completely relate (click the link and read the whole thing–so worth it!).
Recently, my little corner of the interwebz has been all a-twitter with writers talking about creativity and the challenges that come with it. For instance, Sue Kay Quinn did a blog series about the trials that come with a creative career and our very own Kristin McFarland recently posted about how it’s okay for writers to take a break.
I wanted to put in my $.02 about the whole thing—from the point-of-view of not just a writer, but also from that of a mom. Moms have some pretty big challenges, even in the twenty-first century, when they try to balance a career with the needs of their kids. A creative career is an especially challenging thing because there is no start or stop time. There is no definitive beginning and end. There’s no line in the sand. There is only an internal voice that speaks to you, and it’s entirely up to you whether that internal voice is a gentle soul or a beast with venom-dripping fangs.
For the longest time, I didn’t get this concept. I thought I had to race toward that distant horizon, the ultimate prize. The horizon changed all the time, of course. At first the horizon was just “published author.” Then it changed to “published novelist.” Then it changed again to “published novelist with more than one novel under her belt.” And so on and so forth. I kept racing, kept working harder and harder, until I realized that I wasn’t being productive at all. I still enjoyed writing but when I wasn’t writing—when I spent time with family or painting or decorating the house—I felt this immense sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough to further my career.
And I realized that was bullshit.
There’s no reason creative people—who frequently work for themselves—should ever feel guilty for taking the time to recharge their batteries. Speaking for myself, having a variety of life experiences to pull from only makes me a more productive, focused writer.
Taking a break is easier said than done, though, I know. I recently lost my babysitter. She used to come every weekday for three hours in the mid-morning, which is my prime writing time. I tried a variety of things to get that precious three hours a day in after she was gone: getting my kids to amuse themselves, writing with them around, writing in brief spurts while they played. What invariably happened was that I got interrupted. And when I get interrupted while I’m writing, I morph into a demon, the likes of which aren’t talked about in polite society.
So after a couple of weeks of this, I decided that, no matter what, I wouldn’t feel guilty about not working during the weekday. My new goal—a much more doable one, in my opinion—was to get ten thousand words written on the weekend when I was actively working on a novel. Anything else would be a bonus.
This new goal has helped me immensely. I think mothers are a uniquely guilty creature anyway: we feel guilt when we don’t spend time with our kids (we’re awful moms; they’ll forget what we look like in the hour we took to chat online), and we feel guilt when we spend too much time with them (are we making them little narcissists? Oh no, we’re neglecting our careers!). I had to tell myself to stop it.
With my new, saner schedule, I take the weekdays to do all the things my kids and I love to do together—get a milkshake, run errands, go shopping—and the weekends to work. It’s a set schedule, and my husband, being the incredibly supportive guy he is, takes the kids to go do stuff with them when I’m working on Saturdays and Sundays.
I had to repress the guilt I felt about this because society says moms should be the primary caretakers, right? But I have a career, too. I’m a mom, but I’m not just a mom. And my husband’s a businessman, but he’s not just a businessman—he’s also a father, a role in which he takes great pride and joy. So, everyone was happy once I let it go. See?
If I’m making it sound easy, that’s not my intention at all. It is a hard choice, and one each and every person should make for themselves. Even having made this choice, I still feel guilt about my husband doing childcare on the weekends, about not seeing my kids that much on Saturdays and Sundays, and about closeting myself in the office to write. But then I tell that annoying, beastly internal voice to STFU and carry on. Because at the end of the day, how I feel about my creativity is my choice. And I choose to feel empowered.
What about you? Do you balance writing or another creative pursuit with family? How do you do it?