The Ultimate Sacrifice

This was so much easier when I lived alone.

It took six years for Enchanted to go from being a published short story to a faced-out hardcover at Barnes & Noble. I had the luxury of dropping the manuscript whenever I wanted to write a short story in Excel, or scold Dark-Hunters, or help my friend Janet with an art show. But when I finally made the push to finish the novel, I drove to Starbucks every evening after work and didn’t go home until I had written at least 1000 words. Some days, I only had coffee for dinner.

That doesn’t really fly when you have a family.

First of all, the only decent Starbucks with a sitting area is 5 miles from the house, and it is PACKED night and day. Going there is a commitment in which I must stalk one of the oversized chairs by the fireplace, and then pray that whoever sits next to me is not of the Very Loud And Keeps Looking At You To See If You Also Think Their Story Is Amusing Because Doesn’t Everyone variety.

(I know what those people are like. I’m one of them.)

My apartment complex has a “clubhouse”, which includes a fairy large room with giant windows where people generally wait before the apartment folks to drive them around in a golf cart. Of course, 1.) they just remodeled it so there’s a good chance it looks nothing like the lovely faux-Victorian sitting room it used to and 2.) My apartment complex was sold to a new company and they’re running it into the ground. Not sure that’s the best option either…but it’s an option.

Because writing AT HOME is virtually impossible.

Ideally, when one writes at home, one has an office. It is possible for one not to have an office if one has a room with a decently comfy sofa (for the laptop) and a side table (for your drink of choice). (Don’t write at the kitchen table–it’s ergonomically disastrous, and your body will not thank you for it.) This room must also be decently tidy, or else every time you look up from the computer to finish a sentence, you will be DISTRACTED BY EVERYTHING.

Because the Fairy Godboyfriend and I share his daughters with their mom half the week, it’s a bit easier, but they’re still teenagers and therefore still pack the entropic force of an F5 twister. When one lives alone, one’s mess is one’s own. When one lives with three other people, this mess is compounded four-fold, and is somehow still your responsibility to clean up, as you are the one who works from home (and has yet to make as much as your SO’s dayjob).

And because you’re not raking in the dough yet, you don’t have the luxury of that huge house on the water with a skylit room over the garage. You are stuck in a one-bedroom apartment that is in a constant state of post-apocalyptic disaster.

What you must–MUST–train yourself to do is IGNORE THESE THINGS.

“Oh, I’ll just hire a maid,” you say. I said that too. But the house actually has to be CLEAN before the maid comes. Yes, she can dust and do the toilets, but she can’t vacuum if you have all your book tour stuff strewn all over the living room floor, and she has no idea where (or if) the piles of books all around the room are meant for the bookshelves, giveaways, storage, or sales. She doesn’t know which swag goes in which box, or which pens she should never put away because those are your signing pens.

But you are not allowed to drop everything and clean your house, because you have a book to write, and NOW YOU HAVE A DEADLINE, a real one, and you need to crank out some words. But the boxes from publishers don’t stop coming, and the teenagers don’t stop eating, and the mess is being made faster than you can clean it up and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Ignoring your house is one of the most difficult things a writer must do.

You need to have three things in your house for your family at all times:
1.) Clean laundry (which is the easiest thing to do, since you can throw in a load and see how many words you can write before putting it in the dryer)
2.) toilet paper
3.) bread and cheese for sandwiches

The rest of it, you simply have to accept, is going to look like hell for…well…as long as it takes. Your family will probably not eat a healthy meal on your watch. You have to be okay with that.

The coping mechanism I’ve used most recently is to pretend that I am under the weather. When you’re sick, nothing gets done, right? You let yourself off the hook. Well, it’s the same kind of thing here. You have to let that part of yourself off the hook while the writer part of yourself reigns free.

Beware of two dangerous things:

1.) The “pick up one thing per day” deal. You may make this deal with yourself, but it’s a dangerous one. Because there is SO MUCH to do, and one thing can EASILY turn into twelve when you’re trying to distract yourself from Chapter 9.

2.) “But my kids and significant other can take care of things while I can’t.” That way lies madness. Especially when you have teenagers. Do not set yourself up for disappointment AND the hurt feelings of your family members, because that only leads to a stressful environment you won’t be able to write in at all.

You have to be zen about this and let it all go. You will clean the tub when you get in it one morning and it looks like a horror movie, and you will throw away the green thing in the back of your refrigerator when you’re foraging for something to distract you from Chapter 12. But you MUST LET THE HOUSEWORK GO TO HELL.

This is the ultimate sacrifice.
The penultimate sacrifice: EMAIL.


You guys got any other excuses/coping mechanisms/magical spells/suggestions you’d like to share that might help?

9 thoughts on “The Ultimate Sacrifice

  1. Oh dear Sis of the Sea…I feel your pain. And yes, the kitchen table/chairs is not a good ‘health’ choice for writing. (Last year’s bout with a bulging disk proved that for me.)

    I have two (older) teenage/20 yo daughters who I try to get a few chores out of. One takes care of dishes/kitchen for help with a few expenses. The other I have taking care of trash/recycling and a few odds and ends around the house. Both take turns cooking at times and hubby likes to cook (as long as I have something thawed for dinner). And laundry is my constant but yes, like you, I try to get writing inbetween the buzzer on the dryer.

    My biggest drain is catching up on emails (my hubby is agog at how many come through for me a day) and the piles of paperwork consisting of notes for stories, critiques, magazines for character ideas, recipes I may use one day and misc. stuff. (My one good thing is my system for the bills! Otherwise it could be disasterious.)
    I try to clean my bathrooms once a week when I am getting ready for the day but dusting and vaccuming may not get done but once a month. I am anal about making my bed every morning and putting dirty clothes in the hamper. It’s just my OCD kicking in.
    What I need is someone to help me organize my paperwork for maximum storage and efficiency–or heck–who am I kidding–get rid of half the crap I think I’ll use one day!I’ve lived with my disease for over 40 years–not much is going to change that now though.
    Hugs and love to you!

  2. Hi Alethea,

    I get up early, before the nice people I live with wake, to write. I look at the house as ‘what can I do in ten minutes?’ All I allow for housework on a daily basis. Right now, I’m waiting for the washer to finish.

    Mary Jo

  3. And what is it with Starbucks lately! I can’t ever get a seat either. When did coffee shops start requiring a reservation. Jeez! Lame-sauce!

  4. It’s plainly obvious I need to come live with you and be your secret Cinderella, keeping everything tidy and organized. I don’t take up much space so I can just curl up on the floor somewhere at night and cheese sandwiches sound fine since I have horrible taste, I don’t know much about fine food. And I would NEVER put away your rainbow signing pens! NEVER!

    Of course you could always take a page from Zarek’s book and go all isolated in Alaska style!

    1. Carlene – you can come live with me!!!!!! I’ll even make you nightly Shirley Temples!

  5. Oh my, sounds like home. I do the ‘one thing a day’ thing. Actually, I’m doing the ‘throw one thing out a day’ thing, so I won’t have to ever pick it up, wash it or dust it again. If I miss a day, I look for two things. I’m actually getting pretty good at it. Everything counts, everything that is that wouldn’t normally be removed from the house anyway (such as food packaging). That hair clip I haven’t worn in ten years…gone! That cracked dish I won’t use but hang on to because I might need it some day…gone!

    I’ve got three kids (all under 14) to help me mess up. My plan: I promised myself I’d have the house cleaned by the time the youngest is 19…I have ten years to go, so there’s no pressure.

    I agree, as long as there’s clean cloths, toilet paper and quick-grab foods to eat, I can keep writing.

  6. I have a dream. My dream is that Alice from the Brady Bunch will magically appear in my kitchen. She”ll watch the kids, clean the house and cook dinner. I dream of Alice.

    Hugs Alethea!

  7. I agree with so much of this, Alethea. The dining room is my office, BUT I moved my favorite secretarial chair in a couple of years ago. That’s it for now, but I have my eye on Young Son’s room – he of 24 years, who has Moved Out. Once the loft bed in gone, I’ll sequester the junk and take over…. heh heh heh. Although, I’ll miss the easy access to food and the view of the BackDeckPark.

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