I didn’t make it to nearly as many Writer’s Track panels at this year’s Dragon*Con as I’d hoped to (I blame feeling all the mama feelings and coming home early), but I did manage “First Ladies of Fantasy” on Sunday morning. The panel featured Mercedes Lackey, Laurell K. Hamilton, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Sherrilyn Kenyon, and was moderated by Nancy Knight, author and director of the Writer’s Track. They were a delightful group, their answers to her questions candid and so very human. What inspires you? Describe your process? But then she asked, How do you balance your writing and your personal life? And it’s a question I’ve heard before, and the answers I’ve heard before, too. And they irritate the piss out of me, every time.
“What social life?” This from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, her sentiments echoed, in one fashion or another, by all of the panelists except for Sherrilyn Kenyon, who was emphatic about her days belonging to her family (I gathered that she does much of her writing at night). Laurell K. Hamilton bemoaned that any “mundane” interruption in the morning made it impossible for her to settle down to write for an hour or more.
Every writer has systems in place that work for them. And I don’t fault anyone for setting boundaries, having priorities, or cozying up to a garden shed. What I do take issue with is suggesting that in order to be a productive, successful writer, you can’t make time for friends. For family. For leading a full, rich life that involves more than writing. And while they certainly didn’t go so far as to lay it out so plainly, I got that impression all the same, and it’s the same bleak picture of the prolific writer I’ve read before. But I think it’s dangerous and unfair to suggest that there’s only one way to live as a writer, one way to write. I had a creative writing professor who told me once that you do whatever you have to do to write. If you drink a glass of wine to wind down, you drink a glass of wine. If you need to go for a walk, go for a walk. Run. Bake. Sew. Garden. Read.
I recently set up a writing desk in my basement, but I’ve yet to use it. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’m just coming to the realization that for me, right now, the notion of needing a “sanctuary” to work is the most convenient excuse there is NOT to write (on an unrelated note, Laurell K. Hamilton even suggested that this advice is only applicable to those writers who are introverts and thrive in solitude, which I found intriguing). I am more than guilty of lamenting the fact that my daughter doesn’t sleep through the night, and if I could just count on a solid six hour block of sleep I could routinely wake up before she does and get some writing in. Neither of those things has happened yet, but I’m adapting.
I write for ten minutes when she falls asleep in the car on the way home. I write for fifteen minutes on the couch in the living room while she constructs elaborate messes with toys, books, television remotes. Between cleaning up after dinner, bedtime, freelancing to pay the bills, and paying some modicum of attention to my husband, I write as much as I can. And I never feel like it’s enough. Rarely do I have an uninterrupted hour to do anything. Rarer still is my mind completely cleared of all of the things that want and need doing, the “mundane” demands of my life as the mother of a very young child, a good friend, a wife.
Writing has taken precedence when it comes to my creative energies (I don’t write music anymore, and play my guitar but rarely). But I never want to be the writer who gives up what they love for the sake of being more productive, because actually living is what drives me to write. I’m not suggesting that these writers aren’t living or even that they're wrong, only that it’s wrong for me, right now. Do I want to write more in the future? Absolutely. But two or more hours of quiet reflection is sometimes more than I get in REM sleep. So I’ll do what I can, when I can, as much as I can.
And I won’t feel bad about it.