by J.L. Powers
Madeleine L’Engle was one of my favorite writers as a child, and I remember being startled by an excerpt in her memoirs when she remembers the time her family gave her a standing ovation when she actually cleaned the kitchen floor.
This made a huge impression on me–the knowledge that one thing (writing) could be more important than another thing (a clean house). It was Madeleine L’Engle’s ability to prioritize and let some things go that allowed her to write through years of rejection letters when she had three kids and she and her husband were running a country store. She worked full-time, she was a full-time mom, and she wrote. Her husband was the one who got up early with the kids and got them off to school so she could stay up late and write.
I could tick off a whole list of things I’ve given up, partly for my writing career and also partly because these things happen naturally when you dedicate yourself to a life of the mind, to a life of creativity. It’s all part of carving out more time for myself and also carving out a life of stillness amidst the noise of modern life and motherhood.
- Without a doubt, housework suffers. While I would love to be more organized, I am not willing to spend my writing hours keeping the clutter at bay or cleaning toilets. My house isn’t a wreck but Martha Stewart would definitely have a heart attack.
- I do not go to parties. I will not use the word “never” here but it is just about. The last party I went to was over a year ago, and it was a gathering of writers, so I can justify it as work. But I am selective about those types of parties, too. Networking is important, and having good writing friends is also important, but most good writing friends understand when you beg off the party in order to write.
- On the weekends, when my husband is home and hanging out with the baby, I catch up with writing–not with housework and not with friends.
- I watch very little television and we don’t go to the movies.
- Most significant, I have given up a full-time job with health benefits, job security, and a good salary. I might add that, until this year, my husband didn’t have those things either.
The hardest thing I’ve had to give up is more recent, and it has everything to do with being a writing mom. A nightly glass of wine has been my habit for the last decade but recently I have given it up. Why? Because I need to work after my son goes to bed, and I don’t feel like working after a glass of wine.
Most of this happened gradually. I used to go to parties, but over time, it got easier to say no, until that was just second nature. I used to be more organized, but then I married Chris and he isn’t the most organized of people. I quickly decided that I could spend all my time picking up after him…or I could let it go. I chose the latter. This has translated into laxness with housework overall, and it has bought me more time to focus on writing.
I don’t think you have to give up everything to be a writer. And I don’t think everybody has to give up the same things. This is what has worked for me. But what about you? What have you given up for your art? Or what is one thing you are willing to give up?