"You write?" A teaching colleague of mine asked me and laughed. "When do you find the time?"
My sister calls and I tell her I'm finishing up the second book. "Oh my God," she says. "Writing, publishing, promoting... Your kids, your house, your job - how do you do it all?"
Well, lean in closer and I'll tell you a story.
"Come now, Tim," Calliope says, as she finds me writing up another English test at 12pm. The pile of tests that still need correcting threatens to topple onto the keyboard as she brushes against my fingers. "Where is that post you wanted to have written three months ago? You promised the editor the full manuscript for Book 2 in September? And don't forget that short story."
"I can't." I say. "You see what needs to get done first. This is what pays the bills, after all. What pays the writing. And then there's the washing, and the hoovering. ... The windows haven't been cleaned since last summer."
"So? There will always be chores to do. At least write the blurb.
"Write the Author's Note.
"You need more promotion. Have you seen your sales the last few months? Where are the emails to the promotion sites?
"You must query agents.
"You must write guest posts.
"Contact the book bloggers again. Ask for reviews.
"Update the blog.
"Update the Facebook feed.
"Have you filled your Buffer feed for Twitter yet?
"Well, then find more content. Better yet, write your own content. You say you're a creative? Be creative."
I pause and look up from my work. "I am fucking busy. Go away."
"Oh, you want to stay a teacher? Fine. You obviously don't have the grit for being a writer." She says it and slinks into a corner in a huff. "Or the talent. Look at those other self published writers owning their shit. And you? You're nothing but a fraud with sad excuses."
I sit back and take a deep breath.
She's right. My life is spilling over. I can't hold it all in. I can't do it all. The water is flowing and flowing, and it runs through my fingers as I'm caught between the tides.
I haven't slept a full night for over 8 months.
My house is a perpetual mess.
I broke up a fight between my kids earlier ... over a wash cloth.
The last two weeks one or the other of my kids has crawled into my bed during the night. It's been rough. To say I'm exhausted - just doesn't fit my life anymore.
The tyranny of You should echoes through my very core, shaking it.
And as Calliope vanishes, a calm, soothing, motherly voice says: "Look, no one is forcing you to do this to yourself. You don't have to write.
"You have a small audience. They'd get over it quickly. In five years time, no one will remember the name Whitecastle.
"You don't have to write.
"You can stop worrying about stats and followers and numbers and spread sheets.
"You don't have to write.
"Don't stress over improving your craft, or the size of email lists, or getting BookBub ads.
"You don't have to write.
"You know all that money you spend on your books, the editing, the proof reading, the covers, the ads, the giveaways, the postage - you could ... keep it.
"You could buy the little one that new bed.
"You could buy the kid's new clothes - freakish how fast they grow.
"You could pay for that lounge chair you've always wanted. Make your home comfortable. Make your life comfortable.
"You don't have to write." She says - that seductress.
I stare at the screen until it hurts my eyes. Then I close them and conjure up Nora.
"Um ..." I fumble for words. "Nora - look. I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry. But ... My life isn't working. And I need to function again."
"You're fucking kidding, right?" Nora asks, leaning against the desk. "You'll stop writing? You'll pull the plug on your own life support to be - what? All the bullshit everyone else says you have to be? Tell me you're fucking kidding."
"Um," I say.
"Your life is broken because you're fucking broken. And Tim, you need to fix you. So you need to write me to figure out how to do that. It's why you started writing anyway. Not all the pretentious BS you write in interview questions."
"I can't." I say, annoyed now. "Look at all this stuff I need to-"
"What?" Nora interrupts. "You wanna stop writing to be a stuff manager now?"
"No!" I say. "But I need time. I need sleep. I need-"
"Oh. I get it. To write, you need ideal circumstances," she folds her arms. "You need to have no children. You need to have a 'room of one's own.' In short, you, Tim, you want to be a 19th century poet, a male writer, an author. With a very supportive wife."
"Fuck you, Nora!" I hunker down in front of my keyboard again.
"Stop whining, and get back to writing." Nora throws her hands up in the air while she talks, ever more loud. "Neglect the fucking housework. You are a mother, a teacher, a role model to a new generation. You need to be witty and smart, honest and nurturing, and you need to write because you have a fucking message that others need to hear. Especially your kids - so don't give me that self-sacrifice crap.
"You have a voice, Tim. You have my voice. And they need to hear me roar when you can't," she screams in my ear.
When do I find the time to write? - I want to say I don't.
How do I do it all? I don't. In fact, I don't understand the question. What all?
I peck my voice out of my bleeding, quivering, frail flesh ounce for ounce. And like Prometheus, I watch myself heal for a day before I do it all over again.
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