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A Crowded Room

“Writing is something you do alone in a room.” –Michael Ventura, The Talent of the Room” (via Sterling Editing)

I love being alone in a room. It’s why I originally chose writing over teaching, because I didn’t want to be around people all day. I wanted to be holed up with a computer and my imagination. When I was writing my first short story collection ten years ago, I learned just how painful it can be to stay in that room. I was in grad school so I had lots of time and the hours seemed to crawl by. But in the years since, my stiffest challenge has been getting into the room in the first place. Working for a living, volunteering at church, keeping up with family and friends, having children–many demands on my time have kept me away from my manuscripts.

When I don’t have a scheduled writing time, I feel a reluctance to break into the flow of the day by retreating to my laptop. But when I know (and my family knows) that I write at a certain time, I feel entitled to that time. This year I’ve had some success with getting up early to write before my kids are awake, and so much resistance has dissolved.

Now I try to stay “in my room” all the time, even when I’m not writing. I stay there in my head. Giving my brain something meaningful to work on while I rocked a child to sleep or pushed a stroller to the grocery store is what kept me sane this year. And it had the added bonus of making it easy to get started because I already had something to write down that I’d figured out the day before.

This week was our first of a three-month trip to Beijing. For one reason and another, we stayed in four different hotel rooms, and spent most nights and much of the days entertaining our 3.5 yo and 2 yo kids, dealing with tantrums and messes. It was the most challenging week we’ve had in a long time. But I know I could have found 30 minutes a day to write (I did, after all, write on the plane ride over, and I had time to read a whole novel).

So why didn’t I write this week?

It comes down to not speaking up for what I need. I did not acknowledge to myself or my husband that I needed 30 minutes a day for my novel. It seemed . . . unreasonable and indulgent to ask for that time when we were surviving in hotel rooms and suffering through jetlag (good Lord, the days are long when they start at 1:30 am). It seemed . . . imperfect. I didn’t want to write while I was tired or while the kids were crawling on the bed next to me.

So for me, part of the resistance I have to overcome is being willing to write in a crowded room. A small room with a couple of whiny kids and an beleaguered husband. If I can write there, I can write anywhere.


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