Thursday, October 19, 2006

PH: The Juggler

Madeleine L’Engle once said, “I . . . have to constantly balance ‘being a writer’ with being a wife and mother. It’s a matter of putting two different things first, simultaneously.

As much as I’ve fought to live life only writing, I have never fully known that kind of sweet ecstasy. I spend most of my time juggling. I bargain with myself. If I go to sleep by eight, I say, then I can rise by four, write for two hours, edit some manuscripts, run to the gym, run back, write some more. I’ll clean the house on Saturday. Four Saturdays later, dust still clings contentedly to the webs hanging over my doorposts. I’ve tried several different juggling acts, but all of them feel awkward. The fact remains that when I am not writing, I suffer enormous inward pangs of guilt. I tell myself, “There are people fighting to be where you are, writing for a living.” But the truth is that making a living solely as a writer seldom works as we dreamed it might. Most writers, unless they’ve married into money, also speak or teach at workshops. Then if marriage and parenting are figured into the equation, we slip out of the comfort of our bed at dawn to toss yet another task in the air. All that in addition to the to-do lists, the church volunteerism, and the daily grind of paying bills and keeping a pair of clean jeans on the ready.

Writing is a sort of altar. We have to lay many things on its pyre to keep the fire stoked. I wrestle with the needs list; do I need this house? What if I lived in a tent? Can I stretch the budget and cook more? But when I’m cooking, that’s not writing. What if I quit my teaching job so that I can pour more hours into writing? If I pour more hours into writing, will the readers know? Will they buy more of my books, tell their friends, make my literature, finally, please God, a reckoning force?

Money is both root and branch, evil and good. Evil because need is never satisfied. Good because it keeps me writing. I have churned out a steady stream of works due to the need to satisfy both my soul and my belly. I simultaneously put many things first. I wonder if my desire to pursue the unfolding of mystery through words will be my death. Oh, happy death, to have lived and known the revelations found through costly words!

Patricia Hickman is the author of Earthly Vows and Whisper Town. Please visit her at or


At 10:59 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

You have voiced thoughts that I suspect each of us harbors, both the "write for a living" and "write when we can" groups. Even as a retired physician, with (theoretically) nothing to occupy me except writing and playing an occasional round of golf, I find it difficult--sometimes impossible--to find the time to sit down at the computer and write.
I suppose there's no good answer for the dilemma, but thank you for letting us know that we are not the only ones frustrated by the problem.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Yowza. I'm stressing just reading this post.
Honestly, this is what scares me about having kids. Right now, I've found a pretty comfortable balance. Add kids, and oy vey!


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