When I first told people that I had a book being published, the number one question people would ask me was, “Where did you find the time?” What I don’t even bother telling them is that I’ve got a computer filled with several other completed manuscripts that I hope will someday find a published home.
That question, where did I find the time, is a valid one that I’m sure many writers can relate to. With a full time job as a teacher and two young daughters at home, time is in short supply and high demand. So far I haven’t figured out a way to add more hours to the day. I don’t stay up till midnight writing every night. I’m usually in bed by nine. My only secret is this: being a mother has forced me to be disciplined about my writing in a way I never was before I had kids.
Let me back up. For years, I was a sporadic writer. I went to graduate school for creative writing, and I managed to get quite a few short stories written during that period, but I was never able to create a writing routine that was successful. I’d write for a few hours one day and then wouldn’t write again for a week. Sometimes I’d go months without writing.
This half-hearted commitment to writing continued while the rest of my life happened—I moved cross-country from San Francisco to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, got married, started my first teaching job, got a dog. I joined a writing group and eventually embarked on a bigger writing project—a novel that I’m pretty sure will never see the light of day. When I finished the manuscript, I went about the business of trying (unsuccessfully) to find an agent, and then somehow mustered up the energy to start another novel.
And then my first child was born.
And then I had to go back to work.
Suddenly I realized that if I didn’t make time for it, I was never going to write again. There were now a hundred other things that needed my attention. Writing was no longer another chore to be done, but it had become a luxury. With a job and a baby, my days were exhausting and overwhelming. To be able to escape, even for a half hour, was a gift.
Slowly I found slots of time I could carve out—an hour during nap time, two hours on a Saturday at the library, a half hour in the morning before work. I ignored the laundry that needed to be folded, pretended I didn’t know the dishwasher needed to be unloaded, and got out my computer instead. I resisted the desire to spend that precious forty-five minutes scrolling through status updates on my phone or watching TV.
While this required discipline, it was also emotionally fulfilling in a way that cruising Facebook, vacuuming the carpet or watching reruns of Law and Order was not. When my time was divided up into a long list of jobs to be done, writing became something I craved. I longed to get lost in the world of my characters in a way I never had before. By the time my second daughter was born four years later, I had made writing a regular routine and had three completed manuscripts as proof.
Being a mother has also influenced what I write. Many of my characters are mothers, often struggling with balancing career, family, and relationships. I put my mothers into situations I can relate to and into circumstances I hope to never find myself in. My characters must live through some of my own struggles and deepest fears.
My children are getting older. They no longer require my constant attention, and it is (occasionally) possible to disappear into my bedroom without anyone coming looking for me. I imagine that sometime in the near future, as my children become more independent, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to my writing.
While this should be good news for my writing life, there’s a tiny part of me that wonders—will I still want to write when it’s no longer my escape from chaos? Having children has forced me to be organized and focused about everything—writing, exercising, planning dinner, chores around the house. But I wonder about the slacker I could become if the pace of life were to slow down. I see glimmers of this over the summer when I somehow end up writing less than during the school year, when my pants get a little snug from all the burgers and ice cream I’ve eaten, and the receptionist at the gym doesn’t even recognize me. There’s something to be said about having a busy routine.
As I transition into this (slightly) freer stage of parenting, I wonder how else my growing children will impact my writing. Will I stop writing about mothers and mothering? Will I suddenly find a new theme emerging? Will my characters grow up with me? However, there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years. The story will reveal itself in time. Like my own children, I don’t know where my characters will end up, so I’ll sit back and follow them, placing my faith in the process, in myself, and in the people in my life, both real and imaginary.
Emily Cavanagh is the author of THE BLOOM GIRLS. Her next novel, THIS BRIGHT BEAUTY, will be published in 2018 . When not writing, Emily works as a middle and high school English teacher. She lives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband and two daughters.
A tender, heartfelt story of three sisters, their late father’s painful past, and the power of forgiveness.
When the news of their father’s death reaches them, sisters Cal, Violet, and Suzy Bloom have to set aside their own personal crises, and their differences, to gather in Maine. Responsible Cal, the oldest and closest to their dad, is torn between taking care of her family and meeting the demands of a high-pressure law career. Impulsive Violet, the estranged middle child, is regretting a messy breakup with a man she’s just now realizing she truly loves. And Suzy, the sweet youngest daughter, is anguishing over a life-altering decision.
Arriving in their father’s small coastal town, the Bloom sisters can’t help but revisit the past, confronting the allegations against their father that shattered their family nearly twenty years earlier. As they try to reconcile different versions of their childhood and search for common ground, they’re forced to look at their father’s life—and their own lives—with new eyes, or risk losing all they hold dear.
Category: On Writing