On Hamilton, Certain Blessings, and Finding the Time to Write
October 31, 2018 § 7 Comments
By Lainy Carslaw
In the Broadway hit, Hamilton, Alexander is asked repeatedly: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”
I realize this is meant to be a rhetorical question, but I’d like to offer an answer: because he had kids—and a job (a pretty time consuming one if I remember correctly). And yet, he made time for love letters, and essays, and newspaper articles. I imagine he spent precious moments by flickering candle light, dipping his quill into black ink as he desperately worked to get his thoughts calligraphied onto yellowing parchment. I imagine he struggled to concentrate while Phillip banged away at the piano or his wife tried to convince him to, “go upstate.” I imagine him writing with the same urgency that I do when I’m trying to finish a chapter before my baby wakes up from his afternoon nap.
Compared to Alexander Hamilton, it should feel like I have more than enough time to embrace my passion for writing. After all, I have a computer, and a lamp—and live in relatively peaceful times (for now at least). But I am a mom of three, and I, too, have a job, and although it may not be helping to re-build post-revolutionary America, it is the livelihood that helps keep the roof over our heads.
It is almost impossible for me to not feel overwhelmed by the amount of time I am not writing, the amount of time I am not devoting to my projects that sit on my computer like abandoned children, the amount of time I am not giving myself to finish what I started so, so, so long ago.
In order to not become hopeless or despondent, this is what I have had to tell myself:
Everything I do matters.
I have to tell myself that every second I spend away from my stories is a second doing something that will contribute to my writing in some meaningful way. That every experience I live through will either literally or figuratively end up on the page. Every book I read has the ability to inspire, or teach, or to change my thinking in some fundamental way. Every dollar I earn at work provides me with the funds I need to afford this computer, this paper, these workshops.
Even during the times I am doing something seemingly insignificant, like cleaning the kitchen or driving to hockey practice—these times still matter. These mindless chores are the moments I breathe, I let my mind and my imagination wander, I obsess over that one line or that one perfect metaphor.
By this logic, I must believe that mopping, dusting, reading to my baby, rocking my baby, going for a walk (with or without my baby)—they are all means to an end. They are all necessary.
One piece of writerly advice you will hear over and over is to set a schedule, to sit down to write at the same time every day. I am not saying this is bad advice. In fact, if you can make it work—it is very, very good advice. A disciplined, consistent approach to any task will only help you succeed, just ask any elite athlete or musician. But my life is not consistent or disciplined. It is scattered like the post-it notes, calendars, and to-do lists hanging all over my house and just when I think I have one day figured out, another completely different, but equally chaotic day, begins.
Sometimes I have to volunteer at the school, sometimes my baby doesn’t sleep and I have to sleep in, sometimes I write after work and sometimes instead of picking up a pen, I pick up the Margarita mix—or the Netflix remote. And because sticking to a regimented schedule is unrealistic to me, I know if I try to follow one, I am doing something dangerous with my fragile, perfectionist self—I am setting up for an inevitable failure. I am filling myself with shame, instead of hope, love—ideas.
About three months ago, when I was feeling particularly held back from my work like a desperate infant reaching for its mother, without knowing my situation, my sister-in-law sent me an Instagram by Glennon Doyle. Sometimes the universe (or your sister-in-law) send you just what you need at just the right moment. It was a post so profound that I not only teared up, I went and joined Instagram just so I could pass it on to my fellow writers.
Ms. Doyle was telling me that I couldn’t miss my boat. That my boat would stay docked for me until I was ready. And she reminded me that I am “blessed to be needed by ideas, and children, and animals.” And she is right. I know she is.
How important to be reminded of it.
I turn 40 in January. It has always been my goal to publish a book by 40. It’s hard not to feel antsy. I know I still have time, but sometimes I can’t help but feel my dreams have been traded in for everyday realities. And that everything is conspiring against me—the cat, the baby, the broken dishwasher—tax season—they are all involved in some elaborate scheme to keep me from sitting at my desk. Sometimes I can’t help but feel my ship is sailing away without its captain and I will be stuck on this shore forever. But this is just the over-sentimental me that gets criticized during workshop. And when she takes over, I need to revise. To breathe. To delete the melodrama and (again) remind myself that everything I do matters.
The life I have away from my writing is what makes up the me that is able to write. And when I blow out the candles on my fortieth birthday cake, my computer will not disappear, my stories will not be deleted, my work will still be waiting for me, and so will my boat.
Lainy Carslaw is an essayist, fiction writer, and gymnastics coach who lives in the North Hills of Pittsburgh with her husband and three sons. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and a poetry degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work can be found in The Nasty Woman, Bad Hombre Anthology, several editions of The Madwomen in the Attic Anthology, Technique Magazine, Pink Pangea’s travel writing website, and her local newspaper, The Hampton News. Currently, she is working on a novel and a collection of essays about working in a Family Business.