When Winter begins it seems so relaxing. Dark comes early, children sleep soundly, families gather and fires are lit. Each New Year the whole world seems full of promise. Then our joints start to ache and the house fills with wood chips from the constant flow of logs through it. By the end of winter it seems we will never be free of walls, the woodpile is running low and everyone is getting on each other’s nerves.
As Spring bursts in all of her splendor we rush out of doors, turning over soil and searching for hints of green among the brown. What a joy it is to tend the soil, to patiently plant and weed and water as we anticipate the bountiful harvest to come. Suddenly eggs are abundant, baby goats are taking up our time and nature study is delighting our minds. New life is everywhere, and for a little while we don’t mind the increased workload it brings.
With Summer comes heat, boiling in waves around us and baking the earth until it cracks. We rush out of doors each morning but return defeated before noon, no longer brave enough to withstand the sweltering sunlight. We run barefoot, wearing our lightest cotton clothing and our hair piled high atop our heads. We’re far more likely to sprawl in the shade than snuggle: the heat from other bodies is well nigh unbearable. No one falls asleep before 9:00 at night, not even the baby. We’re exhausted from all the work, feeling discouraged as we slip further and further behind on the to-do list.
Then come first cool nights of Fall, my very favorite time of year. Suddenly touch-me-not children want tucked into bed again, and wrapping my arms about My Man feels soothing rather than sweltering. As the outdoor workload decreases I find renewed hope that I just might prove to be a capable human being after all. Strangest of all, I suddenly want to write.
It happens every single autumn, without fail. Words begin to echo in my head and flow through my mind as surely as the night falls earlier and the days turn colder. Inspiration beckons until I have a mind so full of plot lines, characters and introspective opinions that daily life no longer fits.
The first story I ever wrote was typed out while laying on the floor in my older sister’s room, using her old word processor. From then on I was hooked. Every fall I would fill innumerable notebooks with stories and character sketches. I spent hours explaining plot lines to fascinated listeners, long nights scribbling frantically as words poured through my mind. Many told me I had real talent, and I expected to write many books over the course of my life. But what I unknowingly lacked was discipline.
I have found, much to my chagrin, that the habits I utilized as a writer make me an awful mother. My ability to completely lose myself in the world of my own mind, to bring my characters to life within my soul; these things do not mix well with caring for a family and running a home. Shutting the world out for days on end while filling notebook after notebook is no longer merely selfish, now it is cruel and neglectful. No longer can I cry for a character’s pain, or my children think they have upset me.
For the first year or two as a mother I tried to do both, but that didn’t work well. I was used to disappearing whenever the muse struck, and now found myself incapable of focusing on meals or people until I had purged the words from my mind. So I stopped writing.
See, this motherhood thing, it’s more important than any desire to create stories and tell them to others. It always will be. Even when I FEEL resentful or angry that I can no longer devote myself to my writing, I BELIEVE that folding laundry and teaching children is more important. So I devoted my time and energy into changing my habits and learning to be a present mother, one who could switch gears when required rather than only when I felt like it. I went back to school, in a manner of speaking, and began to reeducate myself with greater humility as I learned how to be a more practical person.
But something else happened. As stories remained in my mind, unwritten, new stories failed to appear. This fall I was bitten by the writing bug, but there were no words. Try as I might, they stayed in my head and refused to leave. When I sat down to write, I was unable to focus on the page because of all the other things that needed done. No plot line fascinated me, no characters sprang to life within my imagination. Instead I feel empty and full of longing. I have lost the habit, but not the desire.
Can it be done? Can one be both a writer of great fiction and a capable parent? I’m not sure, frankly. I know my priorities now, and there is much that comes ahead of writing and will for many years. My God and my duty. Our home and it’s atmosphere. My children and their education. My husband and our friendship. Our farm and the animals. All of this must constantly take priority over the fiction worlds within my mind.
But this time around, I know the power of habit, and I believe that there is hope. Hope that I can learn habits of self-discipline before I lose the the habit of imagination all together. I know the habit I plan to work on this fall and winter. Writing. Only a little, but every day. I love my children, but I will not have them with me always, and when they are grown I know what I want to do. I want to write. So I will take moments now, and I will write. I will build a habit, so that the next time I offer to write an article for someone I don’t end up crying in front of a computer for 3 days straight because the words refuse to come.