I am a novelist, and I do not feel like writing right now.
Don't get me wrong—there's nothing I love more (creatively and professionally) than writing a novel, but right now I just don't have the motivation for it. We're over a hundred days in to a crippling global pandemic in the US, I'm acting as emotional counselor and feelings manager and general household referee to my four rambunctious boys (who haven't seen any other children but themselves since early March), most of my daily energy goes into keeping the boys fed and not too loud so my husband can work from home, and in the in-between time I am trying to not go crazy myself. Oh, and manage my writing career.
Because here's the thing: writing is my career. I don't have another day job, which in a way was very, very good. When the pandemic shut the country down, I didn't have to worry about being furloughed or laid off, and I also didn't have to worry about transitioning to a work-from-home scenario—like my husband. I was already home and available to receive my kids and take over as manager of their home education. We've been incredibly fortunate that our finances have been secure and that aside from the massive shift in our daily routines, at least we have security and peace of mind.
But, overnight, my ability to prioritize my career during daytime hours got thrown out the window. My husband is the breadwinner; my income is supplementary. His hours are static and mine are flexible. We had a way to make it work, and so we did—and for as long as we need to shelter-in-place, we will.
I'm not resentful of the need to put my children first. But I think all work-from-home parents feel this tension between the need to get work done and the needs that your children have for your attention, your time, and your expressions of love. And not just the tension between those two, but in discerning the difference between needs and demands. Frankly, it's exhausting. One of the things I was noting to my husband today is that I used to be able to take a break when I needed it, but now the ability to get away is gone. I miss going to a coffee shop with my laptop for a couple of hours just to write. I can't ever really get away these days.
Early in this crisis I felt that my anxiety had stymied my creativity. Now I'm calmer, but I still feel a lack of motivation to buckle down and write. I think it must be an aspect of the suffocation of always being in one place—and always surrounded by my people. It doesn't matter how much I love them; there is a constancy to the noise.
But. I am a writer—this is my job, which means I do it whether or not I feel like it. I can't choose to settle into it when inspiration strikes after I've already made money doing something else. And although my monthly writing income is supplementary to my husband's, it's important and essential for us that I continue doing it. Work isn't always easy, even if it's something you love to do. And I do love that writing is my work, even if I'm terribly unmotivated to write in the time of COVID.
So I've dusted off a couple ideas that I have, and I'm forcing myself to work on them, bit by bit. I don't know which story will fully catch yet, so I'm working on both right now, but one of the benefits of being a professional working author is that I've done this so many times that I know what the steps are. I know how I should brainstorm—what questions I should ask of my ideas, what is worth writing down, when an idea is good and when it's not. I also know that much of what I'm working on right now is so preliminary that it will probably end up getting thrown out before I even start populating my outlines. And I know that's okay.
If I was highly motivated, this would all be happening a lot faster. There's a frenetic energy I usually bring to the novel planning process—to this early writing. But writing, like any job, isn't always running after wild inspiration. Sometimes it's just putting your head down and working hard and following procedures you've drilled into yourself over the course of twelve books already successfully written. Sometimes it's following your own advice that you've taught in the classroom for eleven years.
And in the meantime, my existing books continue to sell (for which I am extremely grateful). And I continue my search for a new agent (which takes up most of my daily work right now). And I keep writing my twice-monthly column for Christ and Pop Culture. And I am also continuing to work on Project CoNarrative with my co-author, Luke Harrington. And I'm also continuing to promote another of my books that is over at Swoon Reads. Because I am a writer, and in the in-between times of these plague months, I'm finding time to work. Now I just need to write another novel.
The motivation—the excitement—will come. Eventually. I have to act like an author first to remind myself who I am.
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