On the (ig)Noble Art of Sacrifice

My clever friend, Kim Wilkins (beautiful talented successful writer, academic, award-winner, mother of two – hate her yet? http://fantasticthoughts.wordpress.com/) made a comment today that got me thinking (sometimes it happens, me thinking). On FB last night, I said I was going to bed with the editing, and she commented that she sometimes read my status updates and imagined me with 18 month old twins just to make her feel better[i].

Essentially it’s about the tension between writing and life. The idea of being a writer with no children and nothing to distract you from writing (the sing-song of ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy’ can make a psycho of the best of us) is very appealing. I am in charge of my time. I don’t get hijacked by nappy changes, feeding requirements, bath times, or a husband who cannot find his socks[ii].

I am amazed and awed by writers like Kim who manage to be productive, successful writers and productive, successful humans with families. Having to balance ‘life’ with writing is hard. It’s forty-seven different kinds of hard. It’s hard on top of the usual hard associated with writing – finding inspiration, getting it onto paper, editing, revising, organising submissions, approaching agents and publishers, doing readings, promotional tours – as well as ‘minor’ things like finding time to eat, sleep, bathe, and make coffee. If you’ve got a family, you can add these to your task bar:

  • spending time with your kids so they’re not raising themselves (because remember: they will select your nursing home);
  • spending time with your partner so they don’t forget who you are and start shagging the nanny/manny;
  • contacting your parents and siblings to assure them that you’ve not been eaten by German Shepherds this week;
  • talking to your friends so they don’t start conversations with ‘Angela? Y’know, I once had a friend called Angela, tall woman, existed on choclit and whisky. Grumpy – veeerryyyy grumpy. Disappeared one day carrying only a laptop, a marked-up manuscript and a red pen. Was muttering about serial commas.’

In order to write you try to fit things in the cracks – whether you fit your life in the cracks your writing leaves, or your writing in the cracks your life leaves depends on you. As a writer, you make sacrifices – because, let’s face it, something’s gotta give if you don’t.

Things that sometimes go include:

  • Relationships. It’s hard to be in a relationship with a writer – we naturally want to spend time on our own; we’re nature’s hermits. We want to love you, indeed we do love you, but we still want and need to spend time on our own playing with people who don’t exist.
  • Children or the chance of them (eventually the ovaries give up the ghost and turn into raisins).
  • Money. Having a high-powered, high-paying career generally doesn’t facilitate an easy writing career – you may have the money but you don’t necessarily have the time to write. I embraced poverty when I stopped fighting the urge to write – I only wish I hadn’t French kissed it coz now it won’t leave me alone.
  • A social life. The pull of the pen is very strong. Writers tend to walk around with notebooks in their pockets/handbags and are likely to begin scribbling in said notebooks (or on cocktails napkins if nothing else is available) in the middle of movies, parties and, yes, dates. Some of us also talk to ourselves and this can be disconcerting for the more normal (i.e. non-writing) members of the universe, and can cause social awkwardness.

All of these sacrifices hurt. They are not things we throw away easily. We write because we have no other choice – I’ve said before, if I don’t write, my head will explode. Okay, maybe not literally, but if I don’t write, I will get cranky. There are all these stories bouncing around in the rubber room that is my brain and they need a way out. I fear that my sacrifices are based purely upon my own selfish need to write.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife has a section on sacrifice and it’s a great dissection of the choices writers make, the things we lose and leave behind, what we’re willing to give up and what we, in the end, have no choice about giving up. So, what do you give up to write?

If it’s any comfort to people who are balancing family and writing and think my unencumbered life is perfect for a writer, well, yeah, some days. But chances are I probably will be eaten by German Shepherds.


[i] We should all note that Kim just finished yet another novel, which will rock just like the rest of them.

[ii] It should also be noted that I generally cannot find my own socks.

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