To Create in Bedlam

It is 5:30am. I may have thirty minutes, I may have an hour. Whatever I’ve got, it’s quiet.

To immerse oneself into a story world takes concentration and peace of mind. I get this from music, which is why I write of it so often. Unfortunately, I am not allowed the aforementioned tools much throughout the day. Why? Hellspawn!

Well, children, to be more accurate.

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Many writing books and author biographies I’ve come across don’t mention these glorious people doing much until their kids were in school. As I have three children ages 5, 2, and 2, I can see why they waited that long. Four years may not sound like much, but that’s an eternity to a kid.

Some of us grown-ups can’t afford to wait that long, either.

It’s not that we have agents and publishers banging down our doors. It’s the monsters that are crawling up our insides, up from the gut, along the spine, and scraping, scratching the fibers of love in our minds until only self-hate and despair are left.

Postpartum does not simply stop when babies become toddlers.

I have written about this before (See “The Machete and the Cradle”). If I go for a few days without writing (like last week), I can feel It pull me downward. I hear only my children’s screams, not laughter. I see only failure, not work in progress. I feel only worthless, not worth my family’s love.

That’s when Bo forces me to sit down. “Go write. NOW.

Some of us need to create. Be it writing, art, music, model trains, whatever—we need a say somewhere, cuz it ain’t in our houses. Children dictate what stores we can visit without incident, what food we buy, when we can be out of the house (God help the parent who interrupts the nap schedule), etc.

To create is to finally be in control.

~*~

It is 8:22am.

Blondie enjoyed her first year of pre-school so much I thought it a shame she’d spend all summer at home. Shuffle that kid off to summer school, and I’m down to two little ones in the morning. How to distract toddler boys? Two words: Thomas. Television.

Never, EVER be ashamed of using your TV to give yourself a kiddo break.

Granted, I can’t expect them to leave me alone. If Biff calls out a name to me I must repeat it immediately or he will start screaming. Once Bash knows the laptop is on the table he will decide all the trains must bash into it, onto it, and so on. Now is not the time for creation.

Now is the time to review and plan.

When your children are conscious and mischievous, you can’t afford to tune them out with headphones. I prefer this time to plot out where to take things next. I may also work on maps, character garb—anything that does not involve a complete shift out of Mommy-mindset and into my characters.

Aaaand Bash has arrived with his trains.

Just because one has small children doesn’t mean one has to put the creative life completely on hold. Some can be content with just a few sentences’ work here and there, since that does add up. But when you’re impatient and determined, you’ve got to MAKE the time.

But how to do this when funds are limited?

My sister-in-law once asked me if I was going to use daycare to have time for myself. Um, Wisconsin is one of the most expensive states with childcare. How could I possibly justify paying someone to watch children outside the home when I’m still in it? Even capable baby-sitters are by no means cheap.

So how?

Bo knows I still fight postpartum, and is not afraid to take the kids after a long day of work so I can have an hour of uninterrupted writing. Every month he takes the kids so I can go off by myself and have an entire day to write, recharge. He will find books I need for research to save me time.

He never reads my stuff, though.

Lesson learned: relish the support your partner can give you, but don’t ask too much of him/her. Bo is not a fiction reader, let alone fantasy. I tried to get his input on a synopsis once; after three paragraphs he looked up and shrugged. “I am sooo not the audience for whatever it is you’re saying.”

Find the friends who are capable of decent feedback, and ask them to enforce deadlines.

If one’s emailed me her thoughts, I won’t open the email until this time in the day. Revision requires careful planning to ensure consistency, and planning is what this hour is all about. By allowing myself to think through the coming events in my story in the morning, I am ready to write in the afternoon.

~*~

It is 1:00pm. Naptime for the twins. The most bittersweet part of the day.

Blondie: And here’s the Hall of Justice, and Superman with Green Arrow. Who’s this?

Me: Not now, kiddo, I’m working.

Blondie: Can you play James? He’s my favorite engine because he’s red. Can you play James in the Hall of Justice?

Me: Not now, kiddo, I really need to work.

Blondie: That’s the button with Aquaman’s pool, and there’s—

Me: KID-DO. I reeeeeeeally need to work. I’ll try to play later, okay?

Blondie: When you’re done working you’ll play?

Me: Yes. Just, please, let me put on my music and work.

Sometimes I remember to play, sometimes not. Sometimes I can silence the guilt. Usually not.

~*~

It is 8:30pm. I have about an hour before complete mental shutdown.

Unless a major deadline or inspiration looms overhead, I do nothing with my own story. After hours of reading truck books, walking through letter words, scraping pasta off the table, roaring like dragons, and so on, the last thing I want to do is deep-think.

Time to explore.

Bo sits contentedly next to me unwinding his own way with a Dirty Harry flick or some such thing. I wander through blogs and Twitter to see what epiphanies other writers have uncovered, or reviews on books I may want to read. I was never much for platform-building before. I still don’t think of it that way.

Writers need readers. I want to be read, so I shall read in return.

I may review the events of the day, especially if there’s a bruise on my face from Biff’s latest tantrum. I nearly cry when I talk about refusing Blondie. Bo never chastises. “We’ll make it up to her,” he says. “You can’t not write, so don’t beat yourself up over it.”

Which is, after all this, my point.

You can’t not write, so don’t force yourself to stop. Bury your passion alive, and it will decay before its time. Monsters are born this way, and they feed upon bitterness and resentment. Let yourself create, and your worlds both real and imagined will thrive.

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18 thoughts on “To Create in Bedlam

  1. Wow – what a fantastic post! I relate to it so much despite the fact that my two girls are a little older than your children. (7 & 10)

    I have a book deal and a deadline, and while my deadline isn’t until next year, the time passes by so quickly. This morning I had scheduled some child-free writing time, but it was not to be. My older girl woke up sick with a sore throat, and she needed me. I couldn’t focus and I gave up trying to write.

    I wish I could wake up early and write before everyone else gets up. I used to wake up @ 4:30 a.m. weekdays for two years, so I know I could do it, but I haven’t gotten to that point of total desperation yet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your piece of writing life. I know that once the boys cease to nap I will have to be writing by 4:30am to stay involved in my story worlds. Congratulations to you on your book deal, and I look forward to reading more of your work!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much!

        To be honest, I doubt I could ever return to arising at 4:30 a.m. – I was able to do that solely because it was long before I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder at age 37. I currently take two medications with side effects including morning grogginess. 😦 I need to figure out a better routine somehow. I’ll be blogging about it all this summer!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d be up a creek if I didn’t fall back on DVDs every once in a while. I can often plot and plan while doing housework and responding to emergencies. Once in a while I’ll get a few words down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • No kidding! I don’t understand why people shun tv so when there are some lovely educational programs that emphasize music and such. We need a moment to breathe- let them learn something during that moment. Kudos to you for finding every minute you can to write!

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      • You’re right. There is a lot of good stuff out there if you dig even a little. The amount of noise has increased but the signal is better!

        Liked by 1 person

      • (or if we ignore toddler antics) When my son was younger he would go out of his way to get my attention. But, we must feed ourselves and give ourselves a creative or intellectual outlet.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. My mood always sours when I don’t write for more than a few days. It’s not the children’s fault, yet they receive the brunt of my negativity. That’s why, though it hurts, I must ignore my daughter when my sons nap. I can’t be the mother they need me to be with a divided focus, or worse, a resentful one.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes. Even with graduate school, I easily had two to three hours a day where I could have been writing, yet there was always something to distract. I’m rather ashamed that my motivation was easily overcome so often.

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  3. Wow – so nice to read someone who ‘gets’ it! I have four on my own and as they slowly grow their ways toward independence here and there a few hours might open up, but with no one to help and no funds for care – it’s been a 2-3 sentence-in-exhaustion path for me for 20 years! So glad you insist on writing (I quickly depress if not) – and have some moments…I appreciate your work here very much. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading! It’s quite true that, unless you have someone in your home who requires the constant care ALL the time (because kids who leave the house for school no longer count), you really cannot understand how hard it is just to finagle an hour free of distraction. God help me when the boys outgrow naps…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You know, despite thinking you are in bedlam, you have this nailed. Totally and utterly. And never feel guilty re ‘Thomas’ and ‘Television’. You’re a lot better to you kids IF you can write. We’ve all done it, all been there. You are the kind who will succeed, talent, drive, ambition and need. Oh, also organisation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading! It certainly doesn’t feel that way some days, but then there are days like today, where Thomas plays and I’m able to check up on this blog. 🙂 One major point I must harp on myself is not to OVER-do it. I signed up for a writing camp (https://campnanowrimo.org) to help myself move forward, but I got to remember not to beat myself up if I don’t finish projects in a month. Life doesn’t think too much of deadlines…

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  5. Pingback: Presumptions – Jean Lee's World

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