As a writer, I dive into the waters of my imagination. I hold my breath and pull treasures from the depths. Eventually, I have to come up for air, and as solitary as the journey was, I’m not alone when I return to the real world. I have my family.
Writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely craft, but a writer still has their family. And writing has an impact on that family.
In my case, the impact is relatively small. Sometimes, I’m not available. It’s not much different than when I go to band practice. There are nights where I am obligated to take part in an activity. The difference between writing and most other activities is that if I don’t write, I start to get depressed. Writers that don’t write are unhappy people, and I don’t like being unhappy around my family.
I need to write, but I don’t always need to leave my family completely out of the activity. Sometimes, my wife goes with me when I go to Starbucks. She sits near me with her iPad and reads, drinking a fancy drink, and I hunch over my Surface and block out the world.
A couple of years ago, my daughter tried NaNoWriMo with me. I was so happy that I went out and bought laptops for her and her brother. Neither one of us succeeded that year, but she got a lot closer than I did. She opted not to join me in NaNoWriMo last year. I don’t think she’ll be joining me this year, either.
Both my wife and my daughter are voracious readers. My daughter treats books the way I treat them, in fact. She holds them carefully, so as not to break the spine. This is not a behavior that I taught her, and it drives her Mom crazy sometimes.
My son is not crazy about books. He doesn’t like writing, and he probably thinks I’m crazy for intentionally engaging in such activity. He doesn’t hold it against me. He just doesn’t participate.
The constant challenge is finding the room in my life for both writing and maintaining the relationships in my family. This goes back to why time management is so important, but it’s not just time. It’s also space. Where do I go to write in the house where I won’t be disturbed, and where I won’t be disturbing anyone else by trying to making the area a place I can write? I’ve mentioned before that the kitchen table is out. My bedroom is also out, because it’s just too uncomfortable.
That leaves the backyard and my garage. Both places are difficult to endure at different times of the year due to the weather. The garage is at least covered, and in the winter, I can use a space heater underneath my desk. But sometimes it feels like a dark and cave.
What is the lesson to take away from this? I think there are two things:
Communicate with your family honestly about your writing, what it means to you, and what you need.
They’re going to get it. My family has lived with me when I haven’t been writing for a while, and they’ve seen me miserable. They know that I’m a better person to live with when I’m writing.
What they don’t necessarily know is what they can do to help facilitate my writing. I’ve talked with my wife about the environment I need, and what it’s like for me. Armed with that knowledge, she’s more accepting of my Wednesday evenings at Starbucks. She understands why I can’t write when someone’s visiting me in the garage. We’ve talked about having a little sign that I can post, to distinguish between “Brian is writing at his computer” and “Brian is screwing around on his computer, playing games.”
Be considerate of your family, and recognize their needs.
I know that my wife wants to see me sometimes, and talk to me, and she wants me to listen to her about her day. She works just like I do, only she also does more around the house than I do. The least I can do is listen to her about her day, and ask how she’s doing.
My kids are teenagers, and they mostly just want to do their own thing and be left alone. Being a good Dad, I know that they also need to be checked in on from time to time, and encouraged. My kids know that I love them, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them from time to time.
It’s not always easy, but it’s important to find the balance between writing and family life. Sometimes, you have to go off and work on your story. Other times, you need to put the laptop away and take your family out. And sometimes, you can pack the family and the laptop into the car, and satisfy both needs. It takes communication, patience, and setting reasonable expectations.