by Vanessa Shields
I know there are many of us who are writers and parents. This is a wild duality to live. My intention with this column is to write about the challenges of being a parent and a writer. I aim to share stories that reflect both the difficult and the extraordinary experiences of striving to balance the creative and the caregiving mind, body and spirit. Find the first Writing Parent column here.
(I started writing this article on March 9th. These notes in italics communicate all the interruptions that happened as I was writing. And how long it [can]take to get one piece of writing finished. This article is about process – and sometimes – the process of writing one thing that could probably take two hours to finish, turns into something that takes weeks.
I can’t remember what time it was when I started writing this. I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night…or when I showered last. What I can tell you is that since I started, the children have finished school and we’re into March Break. I had two meetings with my editor about my forthcoming book of poetry because we had to choose a title. I did two major literary events – one was out of town – and I wrote close to 25 poems. This article is always waiting patiently for me to come back to it.)
One evening after school, my son Jett said he had homework – to finish writing a short story (genre: fairytale). He’s in grade four. I felt a surge of pride rustle in my chest. My child is writing! Maybe he’ll be a writer like me! I kept my thoughts to myself so as to not freak him out with my extreme excitement (after all, it was homework to him). He was sitting at the dining room table (the Grand Central Station of our home…yours too? Interesting!) with my laptop open to an internet page.
He knew how to find the site. He knew how to sign in. He knew how to sit at the table and, well, think. I watched him, and he got the face he gets when he’s not telling me something. After a bit of explaining, the truth snuck out – he’d left his rough, hand-written draft at school. Hmm.
“But don’t worry,” he told me, “I remember every word! I’m allowed to just type it right in the program.”
Okay. I tilted my head to the side and made the face I make when I’m being a ‘mother’.
“So you forgot your rough draft at school then?” I asked him.
His face fell – literally. It fell into a red sadness and he started to cry.
“But it’s not important,” he urged, “I would have had to type it out anyway. But I feel nervous and…” He gulped in some air and coughed. “I feel like it’s gonna be hard to finish.”
I hugged him tightly. “Oh son,” I whispered, “I know exactly how you feel!”
It’s amazing how our children mirror our
(Monday, March 14th – Wrote this half sentence while sitting at the dining room table. 3pm. The girls (my daughter has a friend over) come to the table and tell me they’ve found a video on youtub e(the safe youtube on her tablet! Otherwise, youtube scares the hell out of me) about how to make playdoh. Can we do it too? Can we please? So I stop writing to gather ingredients – thank goodness I have them – and help the girls make playdoh. Then, the boys (my son has a friend over) hear all the squees of joy and they come and want to make playdoh too! Now all four kids are rolling balls of coloured dough around. And my laptop is somewhere under all the floury mess!
Get the kids/table/me cleaned up. Tell the kids to go play outside. Wash the dishes because this stuff will never come off if I don’t do it now. Go to throw mucky garbage out but the garbage is full. Empty garbage (recycle too!). Bring bags outside. Put empty garbage cans away. Go back inside. Wash hands. FINALLY sit back down at 3:40 to continue working on this!)
It’s amazing how our children can hold up mirrors for us. As Jett is learning about the importance of the rough draft, writing free-hand (thank goodness he is still taught cursive) and remembering to bring his work home, I too am continuously learning about how to navigate the changing waters that are ‘writing process’. Yesterday (or was it two days ago? Who knows anymore…) I was out working and I forgot my laptop plug. A necessary piece of technology when the computer’s not charged, but luckily, there was enough power for me to get my work done.
(Stop. Hubby arrives home. Gotta make dinner. Eat. Clear the table. By the time this is all complete, it’s after 7:30pm. Freakin’ daylight savings. It’s muddy outside. The dogs are filthy. Give the dogs a bath. Bath night for kids as well. Oh dear… stumble into bed at 9:00pm. Binge-watch 3 episodes of House of Cards. Read a manuscript for a friend who wants an advance review/book blurb.)
(It’s March 16th now. 12:06pm. I’m at work. Like, work-work. Not writing-work. Using my lunch hour to finish this article. I have to pee and my mouth feels fuzzy because I just ate a banana. Sushi has been ordered for eats. Pick-up in t-minus 30 minutes.)
I have no idea what I was going to say in the previous sentence – “As I”… lose my mind, maybe? This article is an exercise in reflection on my writing process. I remember being in university, high school even, and leaving major projects and papers to the night before. I remember spending so much time worrying about doing the writing/work, but not actually doing any of it. I remember believing that the ‘rough-draft’ wasn’t super necessary. That’s all changed now.
When you have a family, and family and child-rearing, and working a ‘not-writing’ job to keep the bank accounts flush is your priority, your writing process changes. I don’t have time to worry about getting the writing done (although I still always worry about it – that’s another article) and I can’t leave it until the night before because hell and high water does come. Writing happens in the in-betweens. As the kids get older and can amuse/keep themselves safe on their own, more time to write opens up. I have more time now than I’ve had in 10 years, but it’s still a very hairy schedule.
I believe in mirrors. In stopping to pay attention to reflections. And our kids can offer these moments to us. My kids see my writing all the time because I do it in the open, at Grand Central dining room table. They see me worry, and even cry sometimes when my rough-draft isn’t going well or when I’m struggling to complete
(12:30 comes too fast. Friends stops by. Talk too much! Get sushi. Eat too much! Share with co-workers. It’s 1:11pm. Lunch hour technically over but…I’m finishing!)
…or when I’m struggling to complete a sentence. It took me many years to not beat myself up about the challenge of ‘fitting’ writing in. Now, the fitting is clear. It’s understood. It’s just wild. This is no typical puzzle we’re putting together here with words. Mostly I feel like I’m this close to breaking down, but then I get the writing done. I feel good about it. Years of practice writing in this way, in this shifting ‘process’, has eased the madness of it all. I hope you’re figuring out your process madness too. You will. Now, stop reading this and get back to the writing!
(PS. My son finished his story. It was so great! He did very well on the assignment, and he very much enjoyed the writing process. He also got a good sense of how much work it is!)
Vanessa writes in the in-betweens of a busy life as a parent, producer, photographer and poet. (That’s a lot of Ps!) She lives in Windsor with her hubby and two kids, Jett and Miller. Her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press) was published in 2014. A forthcoming book of poetry will launch this fall. Shields created and hosts a storytelling series called Mouth Piece Storytelling. For all things Vanessa, visit her website www.vanessashields.com.