Business Musings: A Few Words In Amazed Appreciation

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I’ve had a rough year. Not a Hurricane-Harvey-Hurricane-Irma kinda year. Just a garden-variety holy-crap-parts-of-life-can-be-sucky kinda year. I had just turned some of the problems around when a major family emergency hit.

I’m writing this after the emergency is over, and long before the blog gets published. The emergency isn’t mine to share, and the person who is involved values privacy, so I’m not going to give details. I’m going to call the person F.E., because telling a bit of this story requires a bit of information, and I can’t be properly cagey without a name.

This emergency was one of those emergencies that we all experience in our lives. It was what we in the Oregon Writing community call “life rolls.” (We used to roleplay the writing business in one of our classes, and in addition to rolling dice to determine if some story sold or not, the players also got rolls of the dice that indicated things like bankruptcy or marriage or having a baby or loss of a spouse—all those things that can disrupt a perfectly planned future.)

I have experience life rolls since April of 2016, all of them big enough, but not real disrupters. Irritants or emotional heartaches, but nothing that interrupted the writing.

Until this family emergency. One day, I was living my life, meeting my deadlines, going through my daily routine. The next thing I knew, I had drive F.E. to the emergency room, where doctors congregated and looked worried, and I took mental notes for future novels, and heard stories that made the ones I make up seem tame.

(I am so tempted to tell you some of these, but I can’t, since I overheard them from other rooms—and I don’t want to violate patient privacy. Let me simply say the things that people without health insurance suffer through to avoid medical bills are absolutely astounding. The fact that someone can survive those things, even more astounding.)

Anyway, that was but one of two trips to the emergency room in that prolonged period of time. It was punctuated by F.E’s hospital stay and need for after care.

I hit a rhythm in those weeks—medical stuff, cooking, major cleaning, a bit of time for Kris (which was mostly about me going on my run to let out some stress), time to consult with the folks in my normal life and business to keep the home fires burning, a few hours sleep, wake, repeat.

I was astonishingly organized. I managed to channel my OCD mother, and clean like I never have before, and I somehow figured out how to cook foods I had never even contemplated before (and, given my dietary restrictions, couldn’t eat. It’s tough to cook without sampling. That took more self-control than anything).

I got things done.

And, somewhere in the middle of all that—maybe on one of my runs—I realized that I had just entered the life of many, many, many writers I know.

One amazing writer spent years as the caretaker for her in-laws. She took care of them and her family, day-in and day-out, trying to keep her writing alive at the same time. During the years she took care of the in-laws, her writing abilities grew exponentially. Somehow she managed to carve out a few minutes each day and apply those minutes to her work.

Another amazing writer I know became a stay-at-home mom. Her first child needed extra attention, as did her second. Yet she managed, somehow, to find time to write some pretty amazing stories. She also has a great attitude. She knows her kids are only young once, and she’s going to enjoy every minute with them. Then she’ll return to writing full-time.

Then there are the writers I know who have become parents in the years we’ve known each other. Every single one of those writers lost sleep, had diaper duty, lost writing time, and still managed to live their lives with interest and joy.

I also know some writers with killer jobs. The kind that require 80 hours per week and lots of brain power. The kind that the fate of the world literally rests on their shoulders.

Those writers find a handful of minutes every day to write something.

I’ve been exceedingly lucky and damned determined all at the same time. I have arranged my life around the writing. Unlike most people, I almost never have to arrange my writing around my life.

I don’t have children—by design. (Given what I went through as a child, I doubt I would be a good parent, and frankly, I didn’t want to invest the time in parenting classes to learn how to be a good parent. I’ll grandparent my friends’ kids—and hand them back when the day is done.) I don’t have to do midnight crying-baby duty and mushy-peas duty and oh-my-God-what-did-that-kid-eat-to-cause-that-mess diaper duty. I don’t have to prep for the first day of school or figure out if what my kid is experiencing is bullying or just normal kids-will-be-kids moments.

I married another writer. We’re like feral cats sometimes. We interact on a daily basis, but mostly, we walk by ourselves, following our own muses and our own schedules. (It sounds so easy. It took us years to get here.)

We understand the importance of deadlines and missed opportunities. We know that look a writer gets when she’s deep in a story but not typing. We understand those outbursts of enthusiasm about the way someone else tells a story, things that seem utterly irrelevant to non-writers.

For years now—decades, actually—I’ve earned enough money from my writing that I don’t have to go to a day job that I only marginally like. I’m not subject to the whims of a cruel and unfriendly job market or a cruel and unfriendly job. I know how to handle a freelance income. I know how to save. I know when and where to invest. I’ve worked very hard over the years to have control over many aspects of my life, knowing at the same time that control is an illusion and something as arbitrary as a wildfire, hurricane, tsunami, or flood could wipe it all away.

This family emergency, though—it extended beyond the things I normally do for family and friends. Usually I’m one of the people at the hospital with family and friends, or I’m on-the-phone support, helping coordinate the efforts behind the scenes for care.

I’m great in an emergency, particularly when I’m one or two degrees removed from the person in crisis, but I’ve always joked that I’m not a nurturer. What I mean by that is that I can’t be the in-home helper and continue my writing. Those are two different skills for me. So I usually make sure I’m not the in-home care.

In this most recent emergency, I ended up doing the in-home care for more than two weeks. The writing completely vanished. I didn’t even try to catch up or do anything. It was easier not to.

And as I spent my days working very hard at health care, cooking, cleaning, and shopping, I gained an even greater appreciation for the writers who do such things as a matter of course—and somehow keep writing.

You folks are the unsung heroes of our profession. You’re the ones who take care of your families, your kids, your sick parents, your aging grandparents, and somehow manage to write. You have demanding day jobs and still find that hour or two in an incredibly busy day to get words on the page. You give up sleep or that much-needed hour of relaxation to get that little bit of writing done.

You all impress the hell out of me. Each and every day. You’re amazing people.

I thought of that as I was living a completely different life for a few weeks, and remembering just how difficult it is with kids and jobs and rotating family issues.

I realized I hadn’t told you folks how I feel about what you do.

You have my respect and my undying admiration.

You’re incredible.

And after this year, I felt the need to say so.

“Business Musings: A Few Words in Amazed Appreciation,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / Aleutie.


8 thoughts on “Business Musings: A Few Words In Amazed Appreciation

  1. I seriously began writing in 2001. My wife gave birth to our first child in 2005. In 2006, I released a Science Fiction collection of short stories and got a day job (working 4 days out of five), and in 2007, our second child was born. The three books of my Ardalia trilogy (Fantasy) were written in French, and released between 2010 and 2013. In 2014, I left my dayjob and began writing full time (had already doing that, but as a journalist between 1996 and 2004) because I felt I was selling enough books during signing sessions. I released a collection of thriller short stories, and was able, with the help of my english editor, to translate the two latest books of the Ardalia trilogy in English in 2015 and 2016.

    I didn’t recoup the editing and translation cost for the first book, but, as I wrote it as a tribute to all the great English-speaking writers I loved, that’s fine.

    Since 2010, I sold more than 10,000 books (more than 6000 paperback books) as a self-published author. But no longer having a day job makes me glad!

  2. Love the term life rolls. . .

    I’m watching my youngest daughter and her husband act in that caretaker role. I pretty much think that they’re saints for all that they do. Neither is a writer but the demands impact their lives in so many other ways. I’ve never heard either complain.

    And respect for the writers handling demanding jobs and still writing. When I told my referral base I wanted to cut back from 70 hrs a week to 40 so I’d have time for other activities (writing, exercise on the same day), the response was instructive – “That’s not very convenient for us.” As a freelancer, it’s a pretty skinny tightrope.

    There’s a lot of great writers out there (just met some at a writing workshop in Dallas) that just need a little quiet time to amaze us.

  3. I’m glad your crisis has resolved itself and you can get back to your writing. For most people though, being an in-home carer is a permanent thing so once the routines are established, the workload diminishes…a little. That leads to a little bit of me-time. Not a lot but some, and we all spend that time according to what we love the best, or what we need the most.
    When I was a Mum with a small child, I worked on technical manuals during nap times and late at night. When I became the in-home carer for my Dad [mild dementia], I wrote during /his/ nap times because writing science fiction gave me a sense of hope.
    The biggest problem in-home carers face, imho, is a low grade, on-going depression. Writing can help with that too.

  4. Thank you, Kris.

    You and Dean have both been amazing and supportive mentors since I started my writing, and then my parenting, journey. The simple advice you kept giving me, over and over, has just been key:

    “Have fun.”

    I write what I can, when I can. When the creative voice isn’t there, well, it’ll be back when life quiets down again. Its truly helped me free up any guilt or frustration (well, most of the time) as I settled into my new life.

    And THANK YOU for all the wonderful workshops. Oh my. There were so many times when I couldn’t write, but what I could do, was learn. And oh boy did I take advantage of it. 🙂

  5. Thank you, Kris. Saying you say this makes me feel a bit less crazy that I can’t be more like you! I’ve even been eyeing one of those garden sheds on sale. We have a big yard, and I could hide up on the hill, behind the trees. It would be big enough for a writing desk, a small wood stove, and a futon sofa. The lights could run on solar. And so on, and so forth. Few things make me feel more crest-fallen than when I sit at my keyboard, writing, or just thinking, and people walk into the room and start talking at me, or bring an iPad with the news app blaring a feature I really don’t want to hear at that moment, if ever.
    I need an office, and office hours.
    I hope your FE feels better and all will right itself in due time.

  6. My life roll went on for over three years. The first year and a half I was able to keep writing. But then my Mom started to go downhill in regular steps about every 6 months. For another 6 months I tried to write a little bit.

    Then the writing stopped completely. It had to. No energy, the creative voice seemed to go into hibernation, and, well, LIFE had to be taken care of.

    For a year and half I’ve been trying to come out of it. I’ve had several false starts. For a week or so the creative side would wake up and I would get excited and start writing away. Then it would go back to sleep for a few months, no matter how I tried to wake it up.

    But it feels like I’m coming out of it for real this time. It feels so good.

    To everyone else out there with life-rolls going on, hey, life has to be taken care of first. The writing will come later. An enjoyment to find again once things settle down. Don’t let the guilt eat away at you. Keep the writing fun, no matter what. Keep it a refuge. 🙂

  7. You know, it’s interesting. It wasn’t until I had to deal with midnight crying baby duty and extended day-job hours that I really made any tangible progress with my writing. I guess some of us just need a “use it or lose it” situation to get off our duffs and commit.

    I average about 5 hours of sleep a night, getting up every morning at 4:30AM so that I can exercise (priority #1 for me) and then spend at least 1 hour on writing before my day job. If I can squeeze it in, I also get 30 minutes during my lunch break. Then I come home, cook dinner, and take over parenting duties for the rest of the evening.

    Am I exhausted most of the time? Sure. But that all goes to the wayside when I reach the end of a story and know that it only came about because I found time instead of waiting for it to find me.

    And let me also say that I feel lucky. I can’t imagine how much more difficult things would be if I was a single mom or an active caretaker. To those who are and still manage to write, I echo your sentiments: “You’re incredible.”

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