When Do You Find Time to Write?

January 26th, 2009

Balancing being a mother and a writer.  Or not.

It’s one of the most common questions I get asked when I actually poke my head out from under my shell (which is as seldom as possible these days):  “How do you find time to write when you have four kids?”

Right now I want someone to ask me that question, just so I can grab that person by her prissy little starched collar (because in this fantasy, that’s what she’s wearing) and semi-throttle her as I scream in her face, “I DON’T!  I have no time to write!  Do you understand me?  I.  DON’T.  HAVE.  TIME.  TO. WRITE.”

It’s been a tough couple of weeks.  Make that months.

Right before vacation, I was in the zone.    You should have seen me, zooming around in the mornings, packing school lunches with effortless expertise, getting all four kids off on their way with energy, cheer, and, yes, even a certain amount of calm, despite plenty of days when library books and homework had gone missing.

No matter how hard that half hour from 7 to 7:30 am was, I knew that it would end well: the kids would get off to school.   And as soon as they had, I was barreling through e-mail, racing through some exercises (I multi-task and throw the ball for the dog while I do squats and plies) and then, after showering, throwing my laptop in the car and driving to the Palisades where I’d park and walk a quarter mile to Starbucks (see?  squeezing in some extra exercise) and then WRITE for almost two hours straight.  On the way back, I’d stop at the grocery store and grab whatever we needed. 

On those days, by the time noon rolled around, I felt like I’d accomplished enough that, no matter what the rest of the day threw my way, I was solid.  I mean, I was writing 10 pages in those two hours at Starbucks.  The rough draft I’m working on was moving forward at a fantastic rate and the end was in sight.

I knew I was coming up to Christmas break, but that was okay: nothing wrong with taking off a couple of weeks to be with your family. I was looking forward to it.  And it was glorious.  We traveled, we ate, we visited with family, we ate, we celebrated holidays, we ate, we saw friends, we ate . . . 

And it was fun being lazy and not working, since I knew that the second vacation ended, I’d be right back where I was, pounding out those 10 pages a day at my Starbucks.   

Only it hasn’t worked out that way at all.  I can count on the fingers of one hand–maybe even the thumb of one hand–how many mornings I’ve settled down and gotten a lot of work done since vacation ended.

Part of it is me: it’s like I lost the rhythm of writing and I can’t get it back.  Part of it is weird stuff beyond my control, like not being able to find an empty table at Starbucks on one of my few free mornings.  Part of it is a lot of other stuff needing to be dealt with, like replenishing empty pantry shelves and cooking and planning for some big parties.  But the largest part of it is those #$$%$# viruses that have been seriously altering life as we know it here on the west side of LA.

I already wrote about the stomach flu that made its way through my family.  That was one week GONE, lost to kids being at home and being sleep-deprived from being up all night with sickos.   (And then those nights of sleep deprivation led to more, as I’d lie in bed thinking about how desperately I needed to catch up on my sleep, thus making any kind of nourishing sleep an impossibility.)   Plus I didn’t feel great–maybe I had a mild version of the flu, maybe I was having psycho-somatic symptoms out of sheer panic that I might get it.  I’ll never know.

And then once the stomach flu passed on, my daughter got a cold and kindly shared it with her brother–who’s home from school today.  And round and round it goes.   Did I mention that even the DOG got sick for a few days and I lost a morning to taking him to the vet?  See what I mean?

Then again, maybe it has nothing to do with the circumstances, viral or otherwise.  I mean, in the past I’ve written large chunks of books in tiny bits of free time, and I’ve also frittered away whole days of freedom just because I couldn’t get my brain to settle down.  Maybe it’s a bio-rhythm thing: sometimes you can be efficient and get a lot done and sometimes you just can’t.  Or maybe my muse is on her vacation or maybe she just got grossed out by all the vomit in my house last week and headed over to cleaner, greener pastures.  (Betcha John Grisham doesn’t clean up vomit.   No wonder his muse hangs around.)

Whatever.  I want my groove back.  I need my mojo.  I crave life in the zone.  I want to be the best that I can be. 

But first, I better go check on Will.