What is it like to be a writer?
My adult son recently texted this picture during a Saturday morning family group chat that perfectly answered that question. It literally made me laugh so hard that my head fell backwards with amusement (and admittedly, some remorse) when I saw it. That picture SO captured my life as a writer… and also the life of a writer's child.
I've been a writer all my life, but I didn't write my first story until the early '80s. (Now scheduled for release in May 2020.) I began that book with pen and paper. The pages were filled with neat cursive penmanship which progressively became messier the more pages I wrote in a single sitting, until the scroll became so messy it was even hard for me to read. I then moved onto a typewriter. This transition made the work easier to read but the process was still cumbersome when mistakes needed to be corrected, or edits needed to be made. So, I bought a word processor with a memory of about 450 words. Again, this improved my writer's life because editing became a breeze. I could now scroll backwards, correct, delete or insert to my heart's content. But the trick with this dandy machine was that I had to remember to regularly save my work onto a disk or the memory would freeze up and I'd lose everything that I had written since my last save. (And that's the subject matter for a whole different blog! How not to rant and scream and cuss in front of small children!) Similarly, if the machine by chance became unplugged, or we lost power for some unexpected reason, everything still unsaved, would be lost.
This takes me to my first Writer's Life story. When my youngest child was a toddler, I was busy writing one of the books in my Enduring Love series (Bend in the Circle, the first book in this series, is scheduled for release in Winter 2020). The main male character in this series is named Sonny. So… one day, my toddler was crawling around on the floor with our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Tramp. I was deeply engrossed in Sonny's life when my daughter and her pup crawled under my desk to play. Aware of what she was doing, but only superficially, I continued typing while glancing under the desk to eyeball my child's play. I thought I was doing a pretty good job as a stay-at-home mom, but truth be known, there were times when I barely kept one foot in the house while I deep dived into some faraway world created on my desktop. And that became evident when my daughter and her pup moved closer to the socket on the wall where my unpredictable word processor was plugged in. As I saw them move backwards, I leaned down from my work to make eye-contact with my sweet little angel and in my dearest mommy loves you voice, I said, "Please don't let Sonny bump into the plug on the wall because my word processor will turn off and I will lose all of my work." My daughter looked up at me in visible confusion and said, "Who's Sonny?" I stared back at her, equally confused, and asked "Who's what?" I could barely process her confusion as my mind frantically raced through possible name choices for that dog… and her… Sonny, no; Alex, no; Jake, no; Sherelle, no; Jesse… oh, good grief! None of the choices matched the faces staring back at me, I knew that - and yet, no other names came to mind. Finally, in silent and remorseful defeat I just desperately pointed under the desk and gasped, "Him! Get that dog away from the plug on the wall!"
And this was how my children learned to answer to any name I might call them.
At some point thereafter, I moved onto a computer, primitive by today's standards, but so much better than that unpredictable word processor I had been using. Editing was easier, saving my work was easier (and faster), and the whole process was more secure from a writer's point of view. I no longer had to worry about regularly stopping what I was doing to save my work. I could just go and go… for marathon writing sessions. But… this presented a new challenge for my children. I could now deep dive into my characters' lives and leave the tangible world of my family behind… for endless writing periods… almost without notice. (Just kidding!) (Sort of!). And that brings me to my second Writer's Life story.
One day I was again deep in my Enduring Love series when my children began to clamor around my writing desk, asking about dinner. But before I go on with that, let me provide a little backfill for you on the "writing process".
Most people have heard of "writer's block". All writers experience it. When I experience it, I look at it as a sign that it's time for me to step away from my work and rejuvenate myself as well as my tangible living, breathing family, and also my fictional family. I use this time to let my characters breathe while I focus on my children and husband who have been patiently waiting for me to return to their world. Inevitably, the minute I return, the writer's block disappears, and I am slammed with new dialogue that I can't wait to unload. (A good writer always respects the gift of gab… you don't let it fall on the floor and leave it there for future retrieval. If you do, it will surely be gone when you return, and then – wham! The dreaded writer's block!)
So… back to my story. There I was, typing away at my desk deep in my characters' lives, unloading all that fresh dialogue while my three children clamored around me, begging for food. "Just a minute…" I told them in my loving but distracted mommy voice, as silent words flowed from my mind to my keyboard to my computer screen. My children became unusually insistent as my "just a minute" grew into multiple minutes with no ending in sight. "Mom… please! We're hungry," they whined. I calmly nodded at their interruption with dignified grace and maternal patience, hoping for a reciprocal amount of patience from them. "I know you're hungry. Just another minute, please." I continued typing as I offered them this flimsy reassurance. "I'm almost finished here. And then I'll make dinner." The kids obediently obliged me for another set of endless minutes, but finally, the wait became too long, the hunger too demanding, and much less patiently they began tugging on my sleeves, tapping me on the arm, and begging more insistently, "Mom, when are you going to make dinner? It's almost midnight…"
And that is the life of a writer's child, and the life of a writer. (And yes, I immediately left the rest of the dialogue on the floor while I quickly located a frozen pizza to jam into the oven for them to eat before midnight. Apologies, apologies, apologies!)