Lea Wait, here, writing this blog after I just sent the manuscript of the eighth book in my Mainely Needlepoint series to my editor. I have two other books due later this year.
And, as many of you know, during the past year I’ve been taking care of my husband. When we were first married, fifteen years ago, he pledged to cook, clean, do errands, drive me to appearances, be my first reader, and above all, be a shoulder to lean on both in joyful moments and in times of discontinued contracts, crotchety editors and plot exhaustion.
And he did all that. But now, although he is still with me, loving me and encouraging me, he can’t do those other things. I’ve doing the day-to-day chores. And, somehow, I have to keep turning manuscripts out.
When I first started writing I read an article published in Writer’s Digest, May 1998, titled “Of Time and the Writer” by Sharyn McCrumb, whose books I very much admired. I still have a copy of that article. In it she wrote that, simply, anyone who blamed their failure to write on not having enough time was “Crap.” (Direct quote.)
When her first four page proposal for a mystery was accepted by a publisher, the stipulation was that the book must be completed and submitted in six weeks. At the time Sharyn worked full-time, taught a university course at night, and was taking two graduate courses. Her husband was also balancing a job and graduate work. They had an eight-year-old daughter — and Sharyn was pregnant and had morning sickness.
Bottom line: She wrote that book in six weeks, which led to other contracts, which ended up with her being a New York Times bestselling novelist. (I strongly recommend all her work, but especially her Appalachian novels.)
How did she get that book written? She didn’t sleep much. She “sat at the keyboard and cried.” She didn’t clean her house, or watch televisions, or spend time with her family. The book came first.
I’ve often thought of that article, and read it again, to remind myself that writing, especially writing under contract, has to be a priority, even when making it a priority is painful. Writing is a job.
The manuscript I just handed in was seven weeks late. (With my editor’s permission.) It was written between my husband’s needs, which were frequent and critical. It was edited by his bedside at home, and in the intensive care unit of the hospital.
During the past couple of months I was seldom on Facebook, and ignored most emails unrelated to writing or publishing. We did not eat gourmet meals, and our housekeeping was neglected.
A few people have suggested I stop writing while my husband is ill; that I should be spending all my time with him.
That solution would be simple, but not practical. I will not neglect my husband. But writing is my job. I have commitments, to my editors, publishers and readers. And, I have bills to pay.
When I was a single parent raising and supporting four daughters, my mother and, at times, a granddaughter, I worked full-time. Sometimes I had to make hard choices about how I spent my time. But my job enabled me to adopt those children and take care of my family. Too often, it had to come first.
Now I’m caring for my husband. But I re-read Sharyn McCrumb’s essay, and I know that, even as I cut back other parts of my life. (Facebook, vacuuming, CNN, lunches with friends,) now is a time to focus on my husband, and on my next book.
We’re taking life day by day. But, at least for now, he understands why I’m continuing to work. And, somehow, that I will find the time for the essential parts of my life, now and in the future.
My next manuscript is due July 1. I haven’t started it yet. But, somehow, it will be written.
And my husband will continue to be loved and cared for.
Just don’t ask me about dust in our living room, or dirty dishes in the sink, or the stacks of newspapers and boxes of bottles that need to be recycled. Because those chores aren’t my priority. Right now, my husband and my books are.
There will never be enough time to do everything. But, when necessary, hours can stretch to cover essentials.