Justine: When Family Doesn’t Understand Your Writing Life

eight ladies writing, justine covington, family work balance, writer's lifeLast Friday, while packing up the kids, dog, and husband for a weekend getaway, I phoned my mom and dad to see how they were doing on their trip to my sister’s house. What started as an innocuous conversation turned out to be a near hang-up on my part. And it started with a simple question my mom asked:

“So when are you going to finish this book?”

That was not the time to ask me about the book. I’d just come back from ten amazing days in England and was still jet-lagged, yet was so inspired and ready to do war with the problems I’d been facing in my story (and had been ignoring for no other reason than a sense of apathy that I’d never be able to solve them). However, on my return, I was absolutely barraged by normal family demands, which resulted in almost zero time to do anything writing-related. I knew this would happen, but it didn’t diminish my frustration that I hadn’t been able to work on my story at all. Everyone’s allowed to be frustrated, right?

You just can’t complain to my mom about it.

So when she asked the “when will you finish the book?” question, I ranted. I ranted about how school was out now for the kids and I had no idea what sort of predictable work schedule I’d have with them around. That I had some awesome ideas for fixes to make that would require some rewriting (“more rewriting? Aren’t you done writing? Aren’t you editing?”). That I SO WANT to finish this book, but that I can’t make predictions about when I’ll finish it anymore, because every time I do that, I am proven wrong. And I ranted about how, if I didn’t have a husband and children, I’d be working on my story all the time.

Well, that last one was the straw that broke my mom’s back. She said, “If you’re going to be this crabby about writing, and you’re going to ignore your family for the sake of it, then you shouldn’t be writing.”

Ouch. Stab me in the heart, why don’t you?

Upon reflection, I realized that she likely still regards this writing this as a hobby rather than a career. Perhaps if I were getting paid for it, she’d be less inclined to say something so downright mean to me. Perhaps.

But here’s the thing about writing…I’m not getting paid for it (yet). I do it because I love it (and yes, I do want to get paid for it someday). I love it more than anything else I’ve ever done. I don’t want to watch TV, I want to write. I don’t want to get a mani-pedi, I want to write. I don’t want to go shopping, I want to write.

I just want to write!

I realize I have to balance that with my mommy/wife responsibilities, which I know are important. But it doesn’t mean I can’t vent about it every now and then, right? How is me venting about being dragged away from writing any different than someone else venting about their shitty boss or their overtime? In both cases, we’re unhappy about something related to our work.

But my mom is overly concerned about me neglecting the family. I don’t think it helps that she lives 3,000 miles away and only catches glimpses of my day-to-day life.

It doesn’t help, either, that she doesn’t understand a writer’s life. Unless you’re a writer, I doubt you do, too. Which is why I’m fortunate for my fellow Eight Ladies. It really does take a village to navigate a writing career…the creative, business, and emotional sides of it.

I don’t think my mom knows how much her words hurt me, nor am I going to tell her (she doesn’t read my blog posts, so no worry about her catching it here). It’s kind of pointless. Mom has been making those “take care of your husband/family” comments since I met my spouse. Deep down, it’s her way of showing me she loves me (and loves what’s important to me). It’s her way of making sure I’m looking after what really matters. And my family IS important, more important than anything else in the world. I’m incredibly fortuitous to have such an understanding husband and children.

But I’m still going to write. I’ll figure it out, figure out how to keep my minor frustrations to myself, figure out ways to sneak in some writing time so it doesn’t impact the family too much (for example, I’m writing this blog post from a Starbucks across the street from our hotel at 5 a.m. while the hubby/kids sleep), figure out ways to just make it work.

Because I have to.

I have to finish this book. I have to start on the next one. I have to keep pursuing this dream. It’s part of who I am now.

Unfortunately, I just can’t talk to my mom about it. Right now, anyway. I hope someday that will change.

14 thoughts on “Justine: When Family Doesn’t Understand Your Writing Life

  1. Poor you, Justine. I know how you feel 🙂 But you will get there and every single minute of time you manage to write takes you closer to getting there – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

    Just remember that you are being a fantastic role model to your children in showing the perseverance to follow your dream and that’s a far more precious gift to them than having the laundry always done on time.

    • That’s exactly what Elizabeth said. That showing the kids how to work hard to achieve a goal is important.

      I’m glad that from the get-go, I’ve told my kids, “YOU do it.” They may ask me to get a juice box (like Michille said below), but if they can do it, they’re going to. I’m not their servant and I refuse to raise boys who don’t know how to do for themselves, or participate in the work required to keep a household going.

  2. I think you put your finger on it–only other writers understand the joys and frustrations of the writing life. If you’ve never experienced the rush of zone-time, where a scene flows from your brain and onto the page flawlessly, effortlessly, it’s impossible to comprehend the beyond-joy of that moment. And if you’ve never experienced knowing you could do that–you could sit down and breathe life into a scene if you could just get five freaking minutes to yourself–it’s impossible to understand how frustrating not having those five minutes can be. I’ve been where you are (ready to write, no time to do it)–it’s like when you’re in labor and you’re so ready to get that kid out of you and they tell you not to push. “Come on! I need to do this, just let me do this.” “Not yet.” Gaah!

    • Ha! I love the labor analogy! That’s exactly what it feels like sometimes! But yeah, that feeling when the words flow is pure magic and as addictive as a drug.

  3. Your mom sounds like an old school mom – it’s your job to take care of your husband and your kids (in that order) and your needs/wants take a back seat to theirs. It’s good to have the kids see that you have goals and you are working hard to get them. It’s also a good thing that they know that you love them and would do anything for them but you’re a person, too, and get to do stuff just for you sometimes. They will be more empathetic humans if they occasionally have to wait for something because mom is pursuing her goals. It’s not like they’d have to wait if they needed to go to the emergency room, but having to get their own juice box, making due with cereal instead of a cooked breakfast, or waiting until you finish a scene to get in the pool isn’t going to scar them for life.

    • Oh, Michille, I think you are completely right when you suggest she’s old-school. I was actually thinking about that when writing my post, but decided not to go there. She’s SO old-school. It makes me feel slightly better that she lectures my sister about the same sorts of things (although in my sister’s case, it’s about her teaching Zumba classes, which she just got certified to do).

      So funny that you mentioned cereal vs. cooked breakfast. My older son asked for eggs this morning and I said no. He asked why not and I said because I don’t feel like making eggs this morning (we were driving home last last night and I was simply wiped when I woke up). He started to complain and I said, “Look, if you want eggs, I’ll show you how to make eggs and YOU can do it.” He backed off immediately, saying a toasted waffle and yogurt were fine.

      The kids finished school on Friday, so it’ll be interesting to see how things go THIS summer. Last summer they were at camp a lot, but not so this year (a few weeks of half-day stuff here and there). They will have to entertain themselves much more this summer than last summer. But I remember my sister and I doing it when we were kids and we managed fine. I know these kids can, too, if I make them. And WITHOUT TV!

  4. That’s tough, Justine. As a person without husband or kids and sporadic work, I can tell you, though, that just because you have more time to write doesn’t mean your writing will flourish! I think sometimes if I delete any more crap I’ve written the previous day, I’ll paralyze my index finger.

    Who was that writer who said to her kids and husband, if it isn’t bleeding or on fire, don’t talk to me? I think it’s great that you’re looking to scale back on your optional activities.

    • I know there’s no perfect recipe here. There are definitely times when I DON’T want to work on the book, or it’s giving me fits, and that’s when I do something…either with the kids, with the husband, etc. I think my frustration lies more along the lines of what Jeanne said, and my mom not being a good ear (I know this, too…why I bothered venting to her is beyond me…I must have been desperate). It’s never perfect, no matter what the situation. What matters, though, is having great friends (like the Eight Ladies!) to be able to discuss these things.

  5. Your family is lucky you told them at all. My parents don’t know I write. They will never know. It wouldn’t matter if I wrote the next Great American Novel, they would have something negative to say about it and I don’t need to hear it.

    • Ouch. I’m sorry to hear that, Jennifer. I am fortunate that my family knows (in fact, they’re the ones who told me a few years ago, “You should start writing those romance novels you read so much.”), and my dad and sis are pretty supportive. Like Michille said, my mom is old-school.

  6. My family is completely supportive of my writing when it comes to the abstract. When it comes to the words, though . . . they are expecting polished novels instead of first-draft short stories and polished flash fiction. And, some things are said, and I am hurt, but it’s more about them not being my audience (which is sad) rather than them doing some false cheerleading routine (which would be even sadder! Because I don’t know if they can fake that kind of thing convincingly!).

    I think you’ve got an audience problem — you pinpointed it when you said you can’t vent to your mom. It sounds like what you CAN do is send her happy little stories about how Son #1 made his own eggs today, or the kids are off at summer camp and really enjoying crafts and making friends with other kids. What is not said is how you are recuperating from a stressful day, or how you are using camp time to steal off to the library and get some work done. Both parts are completely true; but only one part is what your audience wants to hear.

    Oh, and I think teaching your kids to cook is a brilliant idea! Kids here are cooking and learning knife skills from pre-school. Five-year-olds help make curry. My kid will make carbonara for me when she’s feeling starch-deprived, or I’ve had a hard day and just want to feed her rice and canned tuna. She feels good making it for me, I love the little break (and the love!) and it helps me re-set my attitude so I can be a better mom and worker the next day.

    Also, boys need to know how to cook just as much as girls need to know how to maintain a lawn mower. Basic skills which will make their adult lives a little easier.

    LOL, how did I get to this educational rant? Oh well, what I mean to say is that I feel for you. But don’t let your anger tie up your writing time (I do that a lot — an argument with my co-worker leads to imaginary discussions in my head when I should really be having imaginary discussions between my heroine and her love interest!). Put it in a box, and get on to the fun imaginary discussions.

  7. Pingback: Kat: Writing–The Beauty Way | Eight Ladies Writing

  8. Not only does the family not understand it, no one in my immediate circle understands it. Not that they don’t support it, but they just don’t get what it is I do when I lock myself away for hours at a time, and why.

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