I opened my computer tonight to write a scene for the novel I’ve been tentatively piecing together in my head. The scene wouldn’t be a long one, not even a whole chapter. I just wanted to jot down a few things that might help “show, not tell” a few things about the main character as she shopped for groceries. I had the essence of it captured in my mind’s eye, but not the execution.
I sat down at my laptop, scrolled through my draft, and eked out three insipid sentences.
And then I stared at them for a really long time and wondered what was wrong with me.
I felt dumb. And numb. And… glum, if I want to keep this rhyme scheme going.
A little over a month ago, I had a baby. I gave myself a break from writing or even thinking about writing for those first few weeks. The sleep deprivation that arrives along with a newborn is no joke. The idea of stringing together any number of words that didn’t have to do with clean onesies and diaper changes was too much to handle. I pushed writing to the back of my mind for a while, but the inevitable boredom that accompanies late-night feedings has brought it to the forefront again.
Tonight, dinner was steaming in the instant pot, and I felt sufficiently awake to not try and sneak in a nap while it cooked. Laundry was manageable for the moment, and the baby was snoozing in the carrier on my husband’s chest. Metaphorically, I cracked my knuckles and got ready to seize the moment.
And then I guess I dropped it, or maybe I never had a good hold on it in the first place.
I can’t stop wondering if the spark to write has left me. I have ideas and thoughts that keep appearing like a glimpse of light through a brain fog, but when I try to do something with them, they evaporate.
I knew that parenting would make writing hard. I knew that time at my computer would be rare and precious, and that putting my baby first — of course — would truncate my ability to fuss over fiction. I’ve heard and read it from many other people who have both children and a day job and a wordsmithing hobby. I didn’t think I was going into this without preparation.
But now, actually in “the trenches,” as they say, my thoughts are tangled. Is the baby wet? How long has it been since I changed him? If I feed him now, will he be content long enough for me to shower? Did my husband shower yet? Did I write a thank-you note for that baby gift? Is there a clean bottle downstairs or do I need to wash one, and if I pump after taking a shower, will I still be able to nurse the baby right afterward? And what is that smell? I do need to change him.
My brain is filled with so many details about my son that imagining someone else’s life into existence feels insurmountably hard. The characters that I want to bring to life are kept back by the person I actually did bring to life.
My son is my priority right now. I don’t have a single regret about that. But the loss of my mind’s ability to do what it once did is more jarring than I thought it would be. I knew I’d be dealing with less sleep, less time, less motivation to write, but I didn’t really think I’d feel like I had less intelligence, less creativity, and less capacity to think of synonyms (resulting in using the same word, “less,” way too many times). I have an online thesaurus open in another tab, but even searching for a word that fits my need feels a little too hard right now.
In the frustrating wee hours of the morning when our newborn just. won’t. go. back. to. sleep, my husband and I keep reminding each other of a truth that we cling to like a lifeline: this won’t last forever. The fussy stage ends sooner or later. He will, someday, sleep through the night. Someday he’ll have the communication skills to tell us what he wants. In time, all this will be over. We just have to hang on for now.
So I’m telling myself a similar line where my writing is concerned: this too shall pass. The mists in my mind will, eventually, melt away. If it’s in me to write a novel, it will happen eventually (and look at all the successful authors who didn’t debut until middle age!). I just have to hang on for now.
For now, I’m comforted through the sleepless nights by my snuggly little boy’s sweet baby smell and the way his wide blue eyes light up when he smiles. The hard parts of this rough time are made better by the things I can enjoy.
The moments when I stare at a blank document willing words to come out, wishing I could just make a story unfold the way I want to, are still hard. But writing truthfully about those moments is making them easier to bear.
I may not be spinning beautiful stories and bringing imaginary voices to life, but darn it, if all else fails and I feel like a dud, I can write about feeling like a dud. So I wrote this. And now I feel like less of a dud.
But I should still probably keep my thesaurus tab open.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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