Writer X is working slowly on an extremely good book. It’s extremely good partly because the writer is taking the care to research everything, and though that is no guarantee of a good book, other writers in X’s circle are in admiration of the excellence of structure and prose. X’s goal was to get a certain portion of the book to their agent by the end of winter, and felt especially driven because there are several fine books that kinda of relate to their project recently hitting the mainstream in a big way (I say “they” to avoid gender, because this is not a gender issue, but a human issue, and though I know it’s grammatically wrong, Jane Austen did it). The is the beginning of the subject’s wave, and Writer X quite naturally would like to net a decent advance to buy some peace of mind for a time, as they are the stay-at-home parent in this particular family.
But Writer X’s dear spouse, and I say that without any sarcasm as they are a friend, too, has been fretting about the garage looking worn and tacky, and what will the neighbors think if it’s not repaired and repainted? Now, this is not as frivolous as it may seem—they lucked into a better neighborhood than they could normally have afforded, and all the surrounding houses are kept shipshape due to the owners being a few notches higher on the economic charts. Writer X’s spouse is therefore apprehensive of neighbors driving by said garage and murmuring and sending wry looks…and maybe even complaining to the homeowners’ association, which could net them a fine–or get them thrown out.
Writer X: if I can finish my project, my agent can maybe get a decent advance, and we can pay professionals to attend to the garage repairs.
Writer X’s spouse: When? When will that be? How much? You know I can’t do it, as I go in at seven five days a week, and come home at six, and weekends I try to spend with the kids.
Communication stops there because the implication lies so heavily between them: You’re the one home, therefore you’ve got the time.
Too often non-writers, even the ones who are closest to our hearts, simply cannot understand that writing takes time–just as work does. And we’re not even going to go into the agony of editorial and production and payment waits that bleed away our lives because that’s after manuscript leaves our hands. No, the subject here is making that manuscript in the first place. To non-writers, writing just does not seem to equate with work–it looks like we’re just sitting around, staring at the screen, or waggling a foot, or wandering around in a circle, occasionally diving for the chair and clattering out a sentence or two. That can’t be work! Therefore writing time is time that easily can be postponed for those important chores that must get done now, and “you can write when you’re done.”
This conflict can also exist inside of us, especially those of us who have dependents. We want to be with them, we have to see to their needs, we try to wrest time for family activities outside of the demands of the household . . . what we are trying to do, really, is live two lives. The writing life—the watcher at the window–and the life of a human in this world.
But that’s strategic thinking. Tactical thinking keeps our anxious eye on the clock, our anxious mind running at two a.m. against the inevitable short, sharp shocks that life deals out, that wrench time away from us. Sometimes forever. So, yeah, my rational mind extended due regard to Writer X’s spouse who worries about the neighbors, because that’s what people do. But my real sympathy lies squarely with Writer X, and I, too, would argue passionately (and probably equally futilely) that the garage can look weatherworn one more year, the front yard can wait to be redone, the bathroom floor can wait to be fixed, and the car to be washed, because I desperately need to finish this now.