When we talk about “perseverance” we tend to think about pushing onward against terrible, unexpected difficulties like erupting volcanoes, economic collapse or chronic illness. I am in awe of the obstacles my fellow blogger Patty Blount has overcome to continue with her writing.
But when I think about perseverance, I think about a Tuesday in March, when I plan to write and then the downspouts clog in the middle of a thunderstorm because, unbeknownst to me, someone hit a baseball and it got stuck in the gutters, and the washing machine stops working and the kids spill maple syrup on the dog.
I can be somewhat heroic in the face of a crisis, because a crisis is an unusual event of short duration. But my writing can get completely derailed by the small emergencies of daily life. Like my children.
Obviously, I love my kids. They’re adorable. And funny. And smart and creative and all those things kids should be. But it turns out raising children is a lot of work. I was a child myself once but had no idea I required so much attention. Who knew?
I will lay out a careful schedule involving word targets for each day. Then, instead of going to school as planned, my children will take turns getting strep throat. I will spend the week at the pediatrician’s office and on the couch with a feverish child binge watching Star Wars Rebels. I loveStar Wars Rebels, and snuggling with my kids, but this isn’t helping me put words on the page.
And because Jeff Bezos still has not invented the Overscheduled Child Transportation Drone, I spend huge amounts of time in my car. You can do a lot of things while driving a mini-van, but writing a novel is not one of them.
This is where perseverance comes in.
I prefer to write alone at my desk, in a silent house, for five or six hour stretches. These are optimal writing conditions for me. But I’ve learned that if I wait for the optimal, I will never write at all.
This blog post was written at the pool during swim team practice, at one of those trampoline-jumping places, and in my kitchen as I wait for the water to boil.
Perseverance means looking for slivers of time and taking them wherever I can find them.
I finally realized my children will never come up to me, after a two week stretch where everyone had the stomach flu and say, “Mother, you look rather harried. Why don’t you recharge your batteries by doing something you love? We’ll quietly review these math flash cards and play educational computer games while you finish up that proposal for your agent.”
Mothers don’t actually have time to drive kids to soccer and tutors and practices, to help them with homework, to plan birthday parties and Christmas. But mothers make time for these things because it’s important to their kids. So, it becomes important to them.
Writing is no different. Neither is scrapbooking, square dancing, gardening, genealogy, listening to live music, painting, singing karaoke, exercising, prepping for the apocalypse or any of the other things that bring people pleasure and joy. (I have personally never experienced any pleasure whatsoever from exercise, but some people claim to like it, so I threw it in there.)
If a child shows an interest in dancing, we sign them up for dance. We spend enormous amounts of time and money enriching our kids. But if you’re a mother, when was the last time you spent time and money to enrich yourself?
We don’t give up our minds and personalities when we have children. Motherhood should expand us, not diminish us. But once we have kids, the things we do for pleasure rather than money are somehow considered non-essential. These soul enriching pursuits, the activities that make us who we are, get pushed to the bottom of the pile.
I struggled with this when I started writing. Going to Starbucks for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to write seemed selfish.
And then I looked at how I felt after I wrote. I was energized. Happy. Relaxed. Kind to my spouse. Patient with my children. Making time for writing feeds my soul and brings me joy. It makes me a better person and a happier and more pleasant parent.
Two hours in my kitchen microwaving chicken nuggets and unloading the dishwasher does not have that effect.
It’s easy to find excuses not to do this. Years ago, a mother explained to me that it was okay that she never took even a minute of time for herself because motherhood is “a season.”
That sound you hear right now is me snorting in derision and aggressively rolling my eyes.
It takes five months for wheat to ripen. That’s a season. It takes 18 years, and sometimes much longer, for a child to grow up. That’s not a season. It’s hard time for armed robbery. Don’t wait until your kids are grown. Do this now.
During the summer when my kids are out of school I wake up at 5:00 a.m. so I can get my words in before they wake up. I get out bed, go to my desk and do my thing. I walk away two hours later happy, energized and satisfied. My soul is full. But only because I made time to fill it.
Maybe you’ve told yourself the thing you love is frivolous, that bronze age historical reenactments or raising show chickens or Olympic ice curling or dressing up like Chewbacca and attending Star Wars conventions is unworthy of time away from your family.
But the question is not: Is this a silly waste of my valuable free time? The question is: Does this bring me joy?
If the answer is yes, make the time. Take the time. Your brain and your soul will thank you. Your spouse and children will thank you. And if you’re one of those weird exercise people, your body will thank you, too.
Will it be easy? No. People will try to stop you. The universe will try to stop you.
Do it anyway.
Perseverance is doing something hard because it’s important. You are important. Your mind and body and soul are important. Give them the time they deserve.
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher.