A Writer First?

In Marion Winik’s book, Rules For an Unruly Life, she writes that she finally got to the point in her life where being a writer wasn’t her be-all and end-all. (pp. 86-88) She actually took a four-year hiatus from writing. She ended up going back, but with a different perspective: people are more important than any achievements, even as a writer.

I, too, took a hiatus (except for writing in my journals), but it wasn’t by choice. It was during the years when I was having and raising children (four in six years, before I was 28). I’ve often said that having children is like having ADD: you can’t keep your mind on what you’re doing for two minutes at a time. If I tried to write, something always came up with the kids. I finally gave up.

It wasn’t until I was forty that I found real chunks of uninterrupted time to write again. My then-husband bought me a Brother word processor for my birthday, bless his soul. It changed my life. Most of my submissions and acceptances (and just a few rejections) took place in the three years afterward. But then I got waylaid by my parents’ deaths, a divorce, and a “breakdown” and I found myself in another hiatus. After that I went back to school, where I finally got my bachelor’s degree. I did a lot of writing in those three years, but it was for school, not publication.

I’ve been struggling ever since I finished school to “get my groove back” as a writer. I’ve found that I’m not the writer I used to be. I don’t have the same perspective I had when I was forty, let alone when I was twenty. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that writing is still more important to me than anything else on earth (except for reading).

I feel terrible admitting that. Don’t get me wrong: people mean a lot to me. But without writing to help me sort out my feelings and my actions, I don’t think I’d be worth all that much in the people-department. My writing keeps me from going crazy. And yes, it gives me a sense of accomplishment (on the days when my writing goes well, I’m much happier). In fact, I would love to achieve some level of fame, as a way of validating–and perhaps justifying–all the time and effort I put into writing.

But at the same time, without relationships in my life, what would I have to write about? Part of my problem in finding things to write about is that I write too much about myself and not enough about and for others. That’s probably why I get so bored with what I write: I’m not that fascinating of a subject. But it’s more than that. I need interaction with others to give my life real, not artificial, meaning. My essays and stories tend to be dry and intellectual. I live too much in my own head.

What I know about life I get from my reading. Oh, some of it comes from my own life, as I’ve lived it. But I don’t often make the connection between my truths and universal truths. Or maybe I do too much of that instead of using my writing to open up the worlds of others.

If I were to describe myself in order of importance (to me), I would say that I am a writer first, a mother second, a wife third, a Christian fourth, and a friend last. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value my friendships, just that I don’t spend as much time cultivating them as I do my writing. It doesn’t mean that being a mother doesn’t define so much of who I am, I can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. Nor does it mean that I don’t know that I owe my very life and well-being to God. And as for husbands, well, I’ve had four: I’m still not sure that I’m getting that part of my life right. (Just kidding, hon!)

I guess I don’t want my tombstone to say: “Beloved writer, mother and wife.” Or do I? Okay, maybe not in that order. But it would mean everything to me to know that my words and my love of words left an impact on people’s lives. To do that, though, I need to have a better idea of what others’ lives are like. I need to work on this.

Realizing that I put writing first is quite a revelation to me. If that’s true, then I need to be taking it even more seriously than I already do. I need to allow myself to put it first in fact as well as in my heart. Writing every day is one way to do that. Opening my heart is another.