It’s funny what we can learn about writing from other, unrelated activities. For example, I’ve found that canoeing, shopping and learning to play the piano have all informed my writing practice.
But nothing else in my life has taught me as much about writing as giving birth to triplets, twenty years ago. On the day my children were born, I was excited, terrified and exhausted. Little did I know those feelings would only intensify as the kids started to grow and we raced through the major milestones, times three—first words, first teeth, learning to eat solids, learning to walk.
Fortunately, I was born organized (even my spice rack is alphabetized) but having triplets helped me develop a healthy dollop of patience. Here are the insights they’ve given my writing life.
Writing Is Rhythmic
The date of August 10 is carved onto my brain. It was a warm summer evening and for the first time since their birth date (March 30, 1994) all three kids were, finally, asleep. I looked at my husband and realized that this was the first time we’d had a break since they’d been born five months earlier. Suddenly, there was no baby to comfort of feed. No diaper to change. Just blessed quiet.
Writing can also be relentless. It may not scream at you, but it can make you want to scream. Why isn’t there more time? Where are the words when we need them? Why does editing take so long? Writing anything – whether an article, a short story or a book – is a huge commitment. A bit like giving birth, really.
But what I’ve learned from my own children is that intensity is always followed by fallow periods. Kids can’t scream forever and writing a first draft can’t last that long either. As difficult or as horrible as one phase might seem, it’s only temporary. The process of writing, like the process of raising children, is rhythmical. Buddhists believe that everything is impermanent and expecting otherwise is what leads to suffering. Don’t suffer. Just know that what’s horrible today will change tomorrow.
Writing Is Rewarding
I was in my thirties by the time my kids were born, deeply into my career as a newspaper editor. I never anticipated how much joy these children would bring me. Even when they pissed me off (one of my daughters once locked me in the storage shed under our back deck) I enjoyed their sass, their spirit, their creativity. Now, when I see the polite and accomplished young adults they’ve turned into, I feel as though I’ve done a good job. Either that or I’ve been incredibly lucky.
Similarly, when I held the first copy of my book in my hands, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster Better, I felt a whoosh of pride. I’d done this! I’d spent nine months (the length of a pregnancy) getting up at five-thirty a.m. and working on the book for an hour every day, before I started my other work commitments, or even peeked at my email. I’d spent weeks logging corrections with my beta readers and, finally, with my copy editor. And here, at last, was the book — in the glory of its perfect-bound cover. Writing that thing was a mind-boggling amount of work and it took far longer than I’d anticipated but I’d done it.
Writing Is Astonishing
My kids stupefy me. My first daughter is athletic and smart and is planning on becoming a physiotherapist. My second daughter brims with empathy and compassion and wants to become a social worker. And my son is a powerful bass-baritone, studying to become a professional opera singer. Would I have been able to predict any of these careers twenty years ago? Of course not. The ideas wouldn’t even have occurred to me.
The writing life offers surprises, too. I now blog five days per week – a commitment I’d never have anticipated back when I was a senior editor at a daily newspaper. I’ve started work on my second book, a type of memoir. And I’m beginning to meditate on an idea for a novel.
If you have triplets, it begins to seem as though you can do anything. But here’s the secret: you don’t need to have triplets to feel that way.
What’s an activity in your life, unrelated to writing, that gives you special insights into your writing?
Think about an activity you enjoy or a life event you’ve experienced, unrelated to writing, and spend fifteen minutes describing the way it’s helped you learn more about writing.
When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section below. Be sure to take some time to give other writers your feedback on their practices.