Too Busy to Write?

Life has had me caught up in it of late, a whirlwind of activity — you know about the graduations, the party — and this week, worries about my mom and visits with my wonderful sisters and their families. More is on the way, as it’s birthday month at our house. “I haven’t written in a month,” a friend said at Writing Lab last Wednesday. Another: “I’ve got that beat — I haven’t written in years!” I suspect this is an exaggeration, but I get it: too busy to write; too many other things to do.

No matter how busy I am, I write every day. Even back in the day — when on top of everything I deal with now I was teaching full-time — writing every day kept me grounded. I did not always write anything of substance, but every day I opened my notebook and I wrote. I wrote letters to God. I wrote about my headache or my heartache. I wrote down a tantrum some charming little person had whipped up, or the adorable thing some other little person had said. I wrote about what a terrible mother I was. I wrote teen-tiny encouragements to myself. (You are not a terrible mother; wanting to be a better mother is a great goal; look at you, despite everything, writing!) 

Writing every day is what brought me out of that wilderness, and, as I know from long experience, it will lead me through this wilderness, too.

I am a great re-reader of books, and one book that I reread almost every year is Louise DeSalvo‘s Writing as a Way of Healing. 

Recently I misplaced this book. I saw it in a used bookstore, didn’t buy it (I was sure I’d find my copy soon), had to go back (to two different bookstores) and search for it. Found it, bought it. Later that day my old copy turned up. Interesting, how that works.

I suspect that it’s time to revisit the book. I open it and I find these questions, which lead me…back to my journal.

  • What else can I say?
  • What else am I feeling?
  • What else might have been happening?
  • Why did this happen?
  • Why else did this happen?
  • Is this really how it happened?
  • Is this really what I was feeling?
  • Is this really how they were?
  • Can I say even more here?
  • Would someone who didn’t know me or what I experienced understand this?
  • Is this as clear as I can make it?
  • What [other] connections can I make here?

In my journal from last year — which I’ve been thumbing through because I just know I wrote down a story there — I found this scrap of poetry. Something else that shouted out loud to me.

I had the idea that the world’s so full of pain
it must sometimes make a kind of singing.

Robert Hass, “Faint Music”

A Writer’s Alchemy

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

-e. e. cummings

Do you dream of being a “real” writer?

  • Do you have a compelling story that you’re dying to tell?
  • Would you like to write your stories down for your children and grandchildren?
  • When you brainstorm what you’d most like to write–what you’d most love to write–do certain ideas turn up, time after time?
  • When friends ask you what you’re working on now, are you embarrassed to have to admit you’re still working on the same piece of writing as when they last asked you, a few years ago?
  • Do you dream of being a more productive writer, a writer with a habit of writing that helps you to finish what you begin?

I too have lived with these questions. Although I knew, even as a kid, that I was a writer, somehow life kept getting in the way. As a young adult I waited tables, I went to school, I got married. My beautiful daughters came along. I found a full-time teaching job. Through it all, I never stopped believing that I was put on this planet to write. And through it all, I found ways to write. That journey and the lessons learned are part of what I want to share with you.

At the same time, I always knew that there was so much more that I wanted to accomplish in my writing life.

After retiring from full-time teaching a few years ago, I discovered that having a day-job is not the only way to keep your dreams on hold. Your kids don’t go away, even though they get older. Your parents become frail. You work in your yard. You volunteer. You say yes to lunches out.

No matter where you are in your life, if you want the writing to survive, you have to be intentional. You have to develop a habit of writing. That’s what this blog is all about.

My former blog, A Writer’s Alchemy, has been transported to this site (all posts are available–back to 2012!). As you’ll see, I’ve posted a few times here in May, and I’ll continue at a pace of two or three posts per month while writing my little heart out on all of my other projects as well.

I’ve also cooked up a little collection of previous posts for new followers to sample (and for my “old” followers to enjoy again). Leave your email and I’ll send you the download!

These last few months (okay, years), I’ve been digging deep, trying to find out what’s stopping me from becoming myself, the real, full-meal-deal Bethany. I’m excited to tell you all about it.

And thank you for being part of my journey!

Your Inner Anthropologist

Imagine that an anthropologist is studying your life.

Based on the evidence, what will he or she infer is most important to you?

1. Subject is devoted to Spider Solitaire. (That would be me.)

2. Whenever the cellphone beeps or pings or kaboodles, subject picks it up as if it were  a fussy baby and soothes it.

3. Subject watches television for several hours every evening.

4. Subject devotes substantial amount of income to espresso drinks.

And so on.

Not that any of this is necessarily bad (and maybe “creates beautiful family dinners,” or “knits sweaters” is what your anthropologist discovers), if these activities are what you wish to spend your life on. As Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”

But here’s the real question for anyone reading this blogpost: Would your anthropologist infer that you are a writer, based on the evidence?

This idea doesn’t apply only to writing. A few years ago when I read Jeff Olson’s The Slight EdgeI realized that despite my flaky youngest daughter’s difficult behavior, if she was actually a priority for me (and she is), then I needed to find a way to have at least one positive interaction with her every day. Once I made that a priority, we began to make a little progress.

I asked a boyfriend of one of my older daughters what was most important to him. He got all glowy (it was kind of inspiring!) and went riffing off.

Anything outdoors!



He made his ideal life sound like it could be profiled in Outdoor magazine.

However, anytime I see this young man, he’s staring at his cellphone (one arm wrapped around my daughter) while watching television. Or (no arm around my daughter) he’s playing a video game. As far as I can tell, he spends most of his income on games and tee-shirts.

Bless him for highlighting a lesson for me. And of course it isn’t just him — we all spend inordinate amounts of our time doing what is not important to us.

If writing is important to you, you should write.




Laissez Faire, anyone?

The Artist’s Way just dropped a new insight into my in-box.

For years I’ve been proudly describing myself as a “laissez faire” parent and teacher. Friend. Spouse. “A policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.” I do it in my writing life, too, and I’ve written about it before. I’m not that unusual — most of us do our very best in our lives to avoid confrontations. But a story without confrontations would not be a story. And a life without confrontations? Hmm. Who wants to stay on the ocean floor, a spineless mass of jelly?

Why is it so hard for me to set boundaries and enforce them with my daughters? (Why do I think silence is a good strategy when Emma and I don’t agree on how she ought to be spending her time?)

Why am I not submitting my finished stories and poetry? (Why am I so reluctant to call any of it “finished”?)

Part of this insight, I can chalk up to my daughter Pearl. After taking some time off from college classes, after spending last quarter (finally enrolled again) taking choir and yoga, this quarter she enrolled in Math 90 and in — Journalism.

Journalism? I was shocked. She explained that all the English 102 classes were filled, and that journalism was equivalent, so why not?

I was shocked because, years ago, I wanted to take a journalism class, and I was afraid to. I didn’t label it as fear. I found other ways to rationalize not registering for it. But when it comes right down to it, I know that the thought of writing for a college newspaper, submitting articles for a college newspaper (being rejected!), writing under deadline, interviewing complete strangers — all of that just wigged me out.

Not Pearl. She decided to write her first article about President Obama’s State-of-the-Union idea to make two years of community college education free. She interviewed a classmate. She did an email interview with her favorite teacher. She read the State of the Union address (out loud, to me!), and she did some research via the college website on the number of students enrolled, the number already receiving financial aid, etc.; and she wrote the article! I sat up with her (Sunday night, until 1 a.m.) when she told me she needed moral support (she ASKED for moral support!). I even typed it for her. She submitted it to her journalism teacher, and (as required) to the Edmonds Community College student newspaper. We went to bed. No big deal.

This week she has to write another article. We had a homework date last night (Emma, too), and Pearl went back to the college website, picked out the blood drive scheduled for next week, and wrote a list of who she might interview. And, for the day, she was done. On to math homework.

Okay, okay, I know that from the outside it looks like I get a lot done. But there are also a lot of things I avoid. Why do I avoid them? Why do I make excuses (too busy, too old, must watch 3 episodes of The Blacklist, not polished enough yet, not good enough yet…)?  Today I realized that it is just fear.

Among the most helpful exercises in The Artist’s Way, for me, has been simply writing lists. Have you ever had that experience of learning a new word — kerfuffle — and then suddenly seeing it everywhere? The word existed before you were conscious of it. Presumably, it did not suddenly begin appearing everywhere. It’s just that it has now become visible to you. That’s what making lists does for me. Things that previously resided in an amorphous heap titled, “stuff that makes me nervous,” become visible.

Write down 10 things you would do if you had the money…if you had the time…if you weren’t afraid. Make it as simple as possible, fill in the blank and repeat:

If I had the money I would ______________________________.
If I had the time I would __________________________.
If I weren’t afraid I would _____________________________.

10 X each.

Now, pick one thing (just one!) and do it. If that’s too difficult, pick one aspect of one thing and do it.

What are you afraid of?

If what you’re avoiding is writing, check out My 500 Words. (Thanks to Jeff Goins for that.)