#WhatDoITellMySon is something I've never had to ask myself, and I'm sorry
4 hours ago
Image: Rita Arens
I have no idea what it's like to raise a black son in America — this is what I can offer
Dear James, I can't and won't pretend to understand what it's like to raise a black son ever, let alone in our current 2015.
I'm not sure I can tell you what to tell your son. You're a strong, capable father, and I have faith you will guide him in the best way possible.
Here's what I know: I was once a white person raised almost solely among white people. This became problematic because even though my family and friends didn't talk about other races, their body language suggested that the other was different — perhaps to be feared. Since I grew up in a town of 5,000 people who were 99 percent white, I didn't have to think about race much until I went out into the world.
It might be important to say that many, many white people can live their whole lives without interacting with anyone but white people. There are enough pockets of the country that are mostly white for this to be true.
At the beginning of the school year, I instituted Library Tuesdays. On Library Tuesdays, I and anyone in my family who wants to (or needs to) come with me heads out to the public library with novel-in-progress or homework or book in tow. I get there, I set the timer on my phone for an hour (longer would be nice, but I have to be realistic about how late I can push dinner since this is after my full-time job), I put on my headphones and I work on whichever novel I'm focusing on at the time.
This is my latest iteration of Project Find Time to Write. Last year, my husband traveled so much I tried instituting Saturday blocks of time for myself, even going so far as to put them on both my and his calendars, but life didn't cooperate. There were always family plans or birthday parties or something that cut into my writing time until I was never getting anything done and feeling more and more lethargic about fiction and guilty about not writing.
The year before that, I tried to have Tuesdays after dinner be my writing time, with my husband taking over bedtime duties for our girl, but then sometimes he had a late meeting and sometimes we ate late and sometimes I couldn't bring myself to sit at the same desk where I spend ten hours a day at my day job and write more.
The year before that, my daughter was still in ballet and I used the hour and a half of her classes twice a week to write, and that was kind of nirvana for writing me, but it was awful for parent me because she ended up hating ballet so much she cried every time we made her go. (Still, writing me was pretty sad to have that custom-carved two blocks of time a week dance away on little abandoned ballet slippers.)
In the eleven years since I became a working parent, I've tried so many things in the name of finding time to write. I've booked meetings with myself in abandoned conference rooms over my lunch hour. I've holed up in Panera for five or six hours at a time while my husband and daughter hit a state fair or lone trip to visit his family. I've written on six-hour roadtrips, headphones planted in my ears while my husband listened to sports radio and my daughter napped or watched a portable DVD player as she got older.
One thing that has never grown easier: finding the time to write. The location changes, but the struggle lives on.
After more than a decade of living this struggle, I've realized finding the time comes down to making necessary changes in two areas: location and methodology.
One: I can't find time to write fiction at home. Some may find this unusual since I work my fulltime job as managing editor of BlogHer at home, but normally during my workday the only folks home are my cat and occasionally my husband, but he is also working and thus not trying to distract me. However, if I try to write on a weekend or weeknight, there is a child who would like my attention, please, but there are also a zillion other chores and events that must be squeezed into nights and weekends in order to keep the house from dissolving under a pile of trash or my child from walking around with her toes sticking out the ends of her too-small shoes.
Two: I can't actually write fiction on a computer anymore. I used to be able to pull out a laptop in the car or what have you, but I just don't have it in me now. After almost twenty years spent sitting at a computer for the bulk of my workweek days, the last thing I want to look at in my copious free time is another damn screen. So, I don't draft on the computer anymore. I type up what I've written after the fact, but I don't compose with a cursor these days.
My current way of separating out Library Tuesdays and my novel writing from the day job is to write longhand in a notebook preferably at the library but at the very least somewhere that is not my house where I am not surrounded by my family.
I've temporarily abandoned my third novel-in-progress to go back to THE BIRTHRIGHT OF PARKER CLEAVES, which I realized isn't done yet after seeing a pattern in query rejections and getting some insight from a novelist friend.
A few Library Tuesdays ago, I emailed the manuscript to my Kindle and went through the whole thing making notes, highlighting parts to cut and figuring out what sucked. Then I compared the Word document against my Kindle and cut 7,000 words and made a bunch of notes. Then I printed out the manuscript. And now I haul the printed manuscript plus my notebook and headphones to the library, pick a section I've marked to rewrite, elaborate upon or grow a new head, and write longhand for one hour.
When I first started doing this, it was hard to get to an hour. It felt like a chore. I questioned whether to abandon PARKER CLEAVES altogether. It wasn't until after I made those deep cuts that it started getting fun again and I was surprised when my alarm when off.
The hard part about writing novels on top of a day job (though I'm sure it's hard on top of any sort of life) comes, for me, in finding the pay-off. At first I thought the pay-off would be financial or in reputation. Then when neither of my first two books blew the roof off the publishing world, I thought the pay-off would be social, in that it would be give me something to talk about. Then I realized when I'm in the thick of it, I don't want to talk about what I'm working on at all. Finally, I realized the pay-off comes at the end of Library Tuesday, when I pack up my stuff and count up the new pages and realize that I am four baby steps closer to another finished, published novel.
It comes when I sit down to type what I wrote and think maybe it's a little better than what I cut.
It comes from looking at the stack of paper I just printed and thinking that even though it might be done yet, I did that, and I am doing that, and I'm doing that even though it's not my job to do it, and it's not my public's voracious appetite for my next work to do it.
I'm just doing it because like it.
Remembering you're doing something because you like it makes it easier to prioritize.