Writers with Responsibilities: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Children_about_to_board_the_school_bus_(Thibodaux,_Louisiana)Perhaps, you’re one of those people who cry on the first day of school. For those of you putting your eldest on the kindergarten bus for the first time, I’ll give you a pass. For the rest of you, get real! The first day of school should bring the same wonder and joy you experienced traipsing down the stairs in your feety pajamas to see what Santa left under the tree. The endeavor warrants nothing less than a small jig.

A word to the wise: Your exuberance must be internal, lest you be accused of not truly loving your brood. (Been there, done that!) Those of you that home school, I admire your dedication and question your sanity, but this is a joy you’ll never know. And I am sorry for that.

Each school year marks the passing of time—small-kid problems get bigger, life gets more complicated. For me there is also another clock. It began ticking when my daughter, Claire, was in third grade and lamented the fact that her parents weren’t cooler. “Finn Haney’s mom is an artist and his dad makes movies,” she said. Claire felt more than gypped.

I told her I was a writer and that could be cool. “Well, when you write a book,” she said.

“Fair enough,” I said. “I promise you, I’ll write a book by the time you graduate from high school.”

She looked at me the way only 9-year-olds can and said, “Have you ever heard of the Nike ad, Mom?” She rolled her eyes and harrumphed. “Just do it.”

I’ll show her, I thought.

Well, here’s the rub: She’s a junior in high school now. What once seemed like an eternity is down to two years. I wonder if the ultimate deadline is your children’s disappointment? Or not–I disappoint them daily, and it builds resilience.

In Claire’s eyes, I get no points for the MFA, or attendance at exclusive writing conferences or jobs at literary magazines. That’s all process and she could give a wit about it.

My kids want product. Mostly, because they think that involves large book advances, movie rights and ultimately large shopping sprees which include things like ponies and cars. I haven’t had the heart to give them a tutorial on publishing in the new millennium. That would come from the cynical me, and it’s easy to laugh and brush her off.

The harder bit to shake is that I want it and my kids know it and they want it for me. I’ve set my mind to a lot things, and have been able to plow through despite upset and uncertainty. This task, however, seems elusive. But Claire was absolutely right all those years ago: Just do it. Put your butt in the chair and write.

In my last post, I advised everyone to take the summer off, read, revise, and fill the tank. Well, people, rest hour is over, and it’s time to get down to business again. I’ve been a proponent of “do what you can do and don’t beat yourself up,” but now it’s time for tough love.

As September approaches, we all get that back-to-school feeling–so channel that into something powerful: start accumulating pages. The only one in your way is you. (I’m speaking to myself here.)

With the school bus comes space, so use it wisely. Make your writing worthy of all your spare time–which I understand is minimal. To be a writer, you must do more than want to be a writer. You must write.

256px-People_on_the_first_day_of_school_3_happy,_1_grumpy._(6170254996)Tomorrow, I bring my eldest, Jack to college. As I was scouring the linen closet to find my most unwanted towels to send with him, I found a small paper bag. In it was a set of knitting needles and the front piece of a very small navy sweater. I started that sweater when he was four and wanted to put a secret pocket inside, imagining that he would wear it to kindergarten. It was a great idea, but there it sits, forgotten and unfinished. Don’t let your novel face the same fate. It is worthy of your time and you are worthy of your writing.