Right now, my three-year-old son is really into magic. Sometimes he’s a witch, donning his $3 Target bargain witch hat and pointing my old Harry Potter magic wand at me. At other moments, he goes full-on Elsa, because Frozen is alive and well in this household. With his imagination, storytelling seems effortless. He can evoke a mood in a moment, switching gears so quickly from one scene to the next. He has never written a real word in his life, but he’s very good at making things up as he goes along.
I like to think he gets his wild imagination from me. Some of my earliest memories involve playing Heidi with my friend, usually as we listened along to the storybook-on-tape. We took turns being Heidi and Clara, and the most important scene to re-enact was the one where Clara falls on the mountaintop and there’s no way to get her back to her wheelchair. This was the dramatic climax, folks, and I was the boss. I made sure that we performed that scene exactly the way I envisioned it in my head, and my son clearly has the same intentions with his own daily play.
(We are a family of three headstrong firstborns. There is no shortage of figuring who gets to be in charge around here.)
I’m still good at making things up as I go along, but these days I’m drawing on that skill most often in the classroom. Today we start the fifth week of the school year, and my confession is this: in this first month of school, I’ve accomplished exactly NONE of the writing I had in mind a few weeks ago.
On the one hand, I’m entirely embarrassed to admit this, and I feel like a writing failure at times. On the other hand, I’m making peace with that and trying to figure out how I move forward.
This school year has been hard. I think that it’s easy to forget, each year, just how challenging the start of the academic year can be. Maybe it’s like that legendary thing where women forget how painful childbirth is and that’s how they can keep having kids (I’m not having more kids, and even I have to admit that the memory has faded a lot). I honestly don’t know what’s happened: each week has really just been a blur.
I’m on the go and on from morning to night. I’ve spent so much time during my commutes dissecting my days, and it’s not like I’m sitting around wasting my time on frivolous things. From the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed, there are maybe 4 hours of my day when I’m not doing something school-related. In those four hours, I’m commuting to and from work and I’m spending time with my son in the evening as the responsible parental figure. By the time he goes to bed, I’ve got emails to answer and papers to grade, and perhaps two hours to do that in, if I’m lucky (and if I actually want to get some sleep).
There is one thing that’s changed for the better: this year, I’ve been doing a great job at taking care of myself physically. I’ve started going to the school gym to work out for 30-45 minutes three days a week, and I’m taking a workout class at 5:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is an important change: every year, keeping myself fit is a challenge, and I think I may have found a better way this year. Is this the culprit, cutting into my potential writing time? Maybe, but I think this has to stay for my sanity.
The writing part of my life is struggling right now, and that’s the honest truth. Although I think it stinks to have to confess that, I think it’s far better to be completely honest with myself (and you) and admit that I’m still fighting to find space for this. I think about writing all the time. I even managed a little writing time this past Tuesday, before the week got insane with grading and Parents’ Night.
I’ve also started seeking sources of inspiration again. Bryna told me about Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast “Magic Lessons,” and I started listening to that a few weeks ago. Gilbert’s voice is so soothing and her laugh so comforting. I’m learning from her that it’s okay to be where I am right now, that the struggle is as much part of the writing process, perhaps, as the actual writing.
I’ve also picked up my copy of Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats, which I got the moment it came out earlier this year and haven’t had a time to look at yet. Gaiman always inspires me, and when Gilbert had him as her guest author on last week’s podcast, it really seemed to send the message to me that I’m doing okay right now, despite what I might think. This summer, I almost entirely stopped reading so I could focus on my writing. Right now, as I’m struggling to get into the writing, I feel like the reading might help.
So. Here I am, and I haven’t figured everything out yet. I have ideas, and here’s what I’m thinking:
- Maybe I try getting up at 5 on MWF to just write for 30 minutes before my day starts. (This scares and worries me, because last year I tried getting up at 5 to run and that didn’t last past October – but that would get me somewhere, yes?)
- Maybe I stop worrying about the articles I was thinking about in relation to my book manuscript. The practical part of me says “write them!” and the rest of me says “but I want to write THIS STUFF right now!”
- Maybe I make a list of all the things I think I want to write about, put them on slips of paper, and stick them in a bowl or a jar. Then, when I sit down to write, I draw out a topic and just write for a set amount of time.
- Maybe I do this in bed each night: I’ve gotten good at writing in a small diary daily; maybe I wrap up my day by handwriting for a few minutes on a topic.
I know there are no magic spells that can help me get out of this one. Hermione’s never going to loan me a time-turner, and my son’s magic wand may make funny noises but it doesn’t do much else. Yet if I at least write the words, I may be able to write something that can help me see my way through, like this. Let’s try this again.