The Glamorous Life of the Stay at Home Writer

What’s it like to be a writer?

I hear this question every so often, and my first response is, “Super glamorous. I am practically famous. My office smells of rich mahogany.”

That’s a total lie.

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Right now my office smells like a dirty diaper because it sits just outside the baby’s room, and I desperately need to empty the diaper pail. Nobody knows my name (except the twelve of you who consistently still read here – thank you!), and if you call yoga pants, a rumpled t-shirt, unwashed hair, and blood shot eyes glamorous then you’d make at least a portion of that statement true.

My life consists of fitting it all into the cracks of my day. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King shares his writing schedule with his readers. It consists of writing three – four hours every day, allowing him to finish most manuscripts within three months.

That’s almost like my schedule, only the complete opposite. Every morning, I wake up at 5:00 (except when I don’t), and try to make my brain write pretty sentences before coffee. Sometimes I am quite successful. Other times I just scroll through Facebook for an hour, kicking myself for not sleeping longer.

I wonder if Stephen King gets lost in Facebook when he’s procrastinating?

I wonder if his office smells of dirty diaper?

With school beginning this week, I’ve found that those cracks in my day have become a bit more narrow, but at least they’re predictable. With a twenty-minute mid-morning snack break, and an hour for lunch, I’m quite certain that my productivity will skyrocket this school year.

Because we writers love penning our words with the shrill shriek of children in the background. It really helps keep the mental juices flowing in an orderly fashion. My lunch time writing usually goes something like this:

Sit down and stare at the screen.

Try to remember where I was going with that last paragraph. Know in my heart it was probably going to be brilliant, but now it’s gone forever.

Get up and investigate the crash that just came from a bedroom.

Sit down and stare the the screen.

Try to remember what I was thinking about before I got up.

Get up and dig dog food out of the baby’s mouth.

Sit down and stare at the screen.

Try to remember what this book is about.

Get up and yell at the kids to quit fighting gently remind the children to play nice.

Sit down and stare at the screen.

Open Facebook and tell myself it’s research.

When the kids finally fall asleep at night, I usually flop onto the couch longing for nothing more than to shut my brain off and watch a little mindless television. Sure, TBS – I’d love to watch Legally Blonde for the 4 millionth time.

But then I remember that pesky deadline, and all the work that needs to be done in the next twelve months, so I pull out my computer, open up the file and stare at the words, then wait for them to stop swimming around on the screen. When they don’t, I sigh and pull myself up again for a mighty search through the house for my glasses, which magically disappear any time I need them.

When I finally locate the wily spectacles (why were they on the back of the toilet again?!) I set to work. Nighttime is for editing because the brain is too fried to write stories.

Unless those stories are blog posts about what it’s like to be a writer.

If I’m lucky, I crawl back into bed around 10:30, and I pick up a book because good writers must be readers. At 10:42, I fall asleep reading, dropping the book on my face in the process.

That’s my favorite part of this writerly life.

I sleep soundly most night, except for the ones where I see characters and outlines in my head all night long, at which point I toss and turn and clench my jaw until 5:00 rolls around, and I pull myself from bed again.

Only to have forgotten every single thought I’d had through the night.

What’s it like to be a writer?

I get to wear yoga pants, drink endless cups of coffee, and stay home with my kids. Glamorous?

Nah.

But pretty dang cool, nonetheless.

My novel releases this spring, and I can’t wait to share it with you! In the meantime, I’m busy putting together a couple of ebooks to share with my email subscribers, and will hopefully have a little site redesign done sometime this fall. I’d love for you to sign up so I can keep you up to speed on all the exciting things coming down the pike! If you’re interested, just leave me your email address in the little box to the right and click Sign Me Up!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Making it Home: A Guest Post by Emily Wierenga

I’m honored to share a post with you today written by my friend, Emily Wierenga. This is a story about her journey home, and it’s packed with beauty as her writing often is. 

Emily is a poet, and a writer whom I deeply admire. I’m always awed by those who can string together sentences laced with a poetic glimpse into the world around them. It’s a depth of writing that I don’t possess. Sure, I manage to pen a few singing words here and there on occasion, but then my brain is all “Slow down there, Emily Dickenson! Why don’t you back that train up.”

At which point I am compelled to share such priceless gems as “For realz,” and “I can’t even!” Or my favorite, “Hot dang!”

And so it is that I’m thrilled to share Emily’s poetic prose with you today, and I’d love it if you hopped over to purchase her new book, Making it Home. The time spent reading Emily’s writing is always well spent.

Thank you, Emily, for the gift of your words!

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I’m sitting and drinking my tea from the Korean mug, the house breathing around me. I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, but for a moment I fold the page, close the cover, lean back and remember Korean days: that tiny square apartment beside the fire station, stamps in our passports and as many countries as possible stitched onto my backpack.

I had studied the Lonely Planet guidebook and learned the language on tape in the months before Trent and I moved to Wonju, a city nestled in the mountains east of Seoul, and we taught English there, for a year, traveling to Japan and China and Thailand on the weekends, and now, I study cookbooks. I plan homeschool, and some days, like today, I stare out the window with mugs of tea and wonder how I got here.

And even as our house slumbers, it’s alive—with peanut-butter kisses on the windows and red wine stains on the carpet.

Home is Uncle John’s bathroom reader beside the toilet, the smell of a strawberry rhubarb candle a lady from church brought me when I miscarried. I light it every time I have a shower. It smells like mercy.

Home is the pile of books, Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer and Winnie the Pooh, thrown from Kasher’s bed, because he always reads them before he goes to sleep and then he habitually tosses them. It’s the bear’s ear stuck in his mouth which he sucks. It’s the infant newness that still clings to his two-year-old cheek during sleep.

It’s the long lashes of Aiden, the green bunny in his arms and the flashlight by his hand. It’s his footy pajamas with the feet cut off because he’s three and a half and broken through the toes.

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Beside me, a rough-hewn bookshelf made by Trenton out of barn boards. There’s the coffee table made from the same boards, the children’s chairs—Mickey, Minnie and Dora which are bent out of shape from Aiden and Kasher using them to wrestle.

Home is the pile of dirty clothes by Trenton’s side of the bed, the stack of books on either of our bedside tables—mine all literary and dark or devotional, and his historical or fantastical and us meeting in the middle under a feather down. It is the smell of baby powder fabric softener.

Home is me climbing the stairs to the kitchen, the crab apples we picked still piled in a bucket and the others, turning into apple leather in the oven. Bowls of apple juice waiting to be frozen on the counter and it’s Trenton emerging from the office and seeing me. Saying, “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever,” when really it’s been 20 minutes.

It’s the smell of his skin when he pulls me in.

The house hums like it’s in love: the dryer’s tenor, the dishwasher’s soprano, and the refrigerator with a low bass.

My tea is gone. The sun setting fast as it does in the fall, like it can’t wait to tuck behind fleecy clouds and I hear my boys rising. Whimpering in their bunk-beds and Trent’s calling them. “Aiden, Kasher, come to Daddy,” and their feet on the rungs of the ladder and the carpet, running, pushing open our bedroom door and jumping into bed.

I place my mug in the sink and find my way down, past the creaky stairs, into that room, and the boys squeal when they see me and we all hold each other in the light of the afternoon.

And home is making me.

This excerpt is taken from Emily Wierenga’s new memoir (the sequel to ATLAS GIRL), Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity and Purpose. Order HERE.

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What does it mean to be a woman and to make a home? Does it mean homeschooling children or going to the office every day? Cooking gourmet meals and making Pinterest-worthy home décor? In Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose, author and blogger Emily Wierenga takes readers on an unconventional journey through marriage, miscarriage, foster parenting and the daily struggle of longing to be known, inviting them into a quest for identity in the midst of life’s daily interruptions. Get your copy HERE. Proceeds benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree.

Get FREE downloadable chapters from Making It Home HERE.

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Sign up for the FREE Making It Home webcast featuring Liz Curtis Higgs, Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Jo Ann Fore (with Emily Wierenga as host), 8 pm CT on September 10, 2015, HERE. Once you sign up you’ll be automatically entered for a giveaway of each of the author’s books!

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Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, columnist, artist, author, founder of The Lulu Tree and blogger at www.emilywierenga.com. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Relevant, Charisma, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, Dayspring’s (in)courage and Focus on the Family. She is the author of six books including the travel memoir Atlas Girl and speaks regularly about her journey with anorexia. She lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Trenton, and their children. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

It Takes a Village, or So They Say

My freshman year at Baylor University, I got locked inside The Sub, the student designated common area that housed a small cafe, a few couches and computers, and the mail room. It was the Sunday before finals week, and I crept out of the dorm just as the sun peeked up over the horizon, because cramming is an art form, and I’d mastered it.

I wanted some place that I knew I could be alone for several hours to study, so I walked to The Sub and tugged on the back door, and it opened! There were a couple of lights on, but otherwise the room was dark and completely silent. I sat down at one of the tables and pulled out my books and notebooks, then set to work.

Thirty minutes in, a man walked around the corner whistling and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw me sitting at the table. If we hadn’t been so terrified, I think we both would have laughed.

“You know The Sub is closed until 1:00 on Sundays, right?” he asked. He was the custodian making his final rounds before heading to the next building on campus. I nodded my head in response, but really I had no clue the building was closed on Sunday mornings.

These were the small details of life that eluded eighteen-year-old me.

“I’m just studying for finals,” I replied.

“Well, alright then,” he said, giving me a little wink. “You can stay. Just promise you’ll leave by 11:00 so you don’t scare the woman who unlocks the doors as much as you scared me just now.”

I smiled and nodded, and he moved on. I heard him leave the building, and I dug back into conjugating Russian verbs. Around 10:00, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy. I’d put in nearly four hours of work, and I’d had nothing to eat. It was time for breakfast and a nap. I gathered my things and headed for the door…only to find it locked tight.

I checked every door in The Sub, all of them locked. I was stuck, and at a loss for what to do next. This was 1996, which means I didn’t have a cell phone or Facebook, or really any other means for getting in touch with someone. All I had was the campus phone in the corner.

A phone with a cord attached to it. Good grief I’m old.

It took several attempts, but I finally managed to wake up a friend in the dorm and ask her to come see if she could break me out. Long story short, it took about an hour for her to find someone with a set of keys who could set me free.

That was the day I determined that studying early in the morning could legitimately be hazardous.

Image courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Image courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Sometimes motherhood feels like that morning in The Sub. I start out so many days with such noble purposes, and I enter into the day assuming that it’s all going to go according to plan. Then suddenly it’s all bumbled, and I’m locked down in the decisions and the bickering and the never ending to-do list, and I can’t find my way back out.

That’s when I’m grateful for friends who pick up the phone and hear the panic in my voice, rushing to rescue me from the corner into which I’ve backed myself.

My friend, Wendy, said this once, and I do believe it’s true. Because going it alone in these emotionally exhausting years of raising kids starts to feel claustrophobic. If we’re not careful, we just might blame our kids for locking us in, and where would that leave us?

No, friends who pick up their phones when we call (or text…thank you modern technology) help us keep the doors open. They walk us out into the light, and nourish our starving bodies with laughter, conversation, and encouragement. And so it is that motherhood was never meant to be lived alone, but together, with the doors of life open and unlocked.

So this is my cry of thanks to the village of friends who continually rally around me, making sure I don’t get stuck inside these mothering years. They’re the ones that push wide open the door, keeping fresh air flowing through my days  and making me, in turn, a better mother.

I’m glad I don’t have to go it alone.

I’m also glad that technology has given us phones without cords.

Have you thanked a friend today? Bought her coffee? Sent her a card? Or a text?

Would you?

 

The Matter of When

It’s really dark right now. I’m wrapped in a blanket, because we like to keep the air set at Arctic Tundra during the nighttime hours, and I desperately long for a cup of coffee, but the coffee pot is loud, so I’m forcing myself to wait until a more reasonable time so that I don’t wake sleeping children.

Because waking a child before she’s ready is akin to waking a sleeping bear – you just don’t do it.

I really wish I was still in my bed. I love my bed. It’s comfortable, soft, warm, and I don’t spend enough time there. But I pulled myself from the covers this morning long before the sun peeked over the horizon because this is my when.

Fitting me-time into our busy days is a challenge, especially as we near the end of summer. I desperately want to be present during these last few days, but I also desperately want to escape, because end of summer brings extra drama.

They are tired of one another, and of me. And I am, quite frankly, tired of them. Days have fallen into one long battle as I war against wanting to let them just sit in front of the TV and do nothing, and forcing them to play outside because they’re turning into little zombies.

This is generally the time of year when I convince myself that hours of screen time is actually good for them. Those hours of the day spent on Minecraft, FIFA World Cup, MLB Baseball for Play Station, and all the movies and TV shows they’re watching are molding and shaping them into the beautiful minds that will lead our future. Boom!

I am a good mom.

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Despite these obvious parenting successes I’m having, I am trying to engage and be fully in the moment, but there’s also work to be done, and the work is my breathing space. If I don’t tap into it now and again, I get antsy, frustrated even. So I have to find the when in order to engage the part of my brain, and my soul, that needs these breathing moments of solitude.

This is a common feeling for all mothers. Especially this time of year. Whether moms work inside or outside the home, we all long for that breathing space – the place where we can disengage from the motherly work, and reengage with the parts of ourselves that were there before children.

I think back to three years ago, at the height of my blogging “career,” and I wonder what kind of crack I was smoking that allowed me to blog every single day. How did I do that?! Where did I find that time?

Then I remember that the kids were younger, we didn’t have a fourth baby, I wasn’t under contract to write two books, my husband didn’t travel weekly, and life was a little less complicated. There was some natural breathing room in our daily routine, which has since been siphoned off steadily until you find me now.

Huddled under a blanket while the sun laughs at me from beneath the horizon.

Even as I type these words, I hear the baby making her wake up sounds. Intermittent cries with a little babbling mixed in assaults the reverie of this silent morning, and remind me that this is the nature of this season of my life. It’s noisy, and it’s hectic. As soon as little feet hit the floor it’s 90-nothing until the sun sets back down again.

So I sneak the solitude in when I can, and I do the things that fill me with joy. Books, writing, blogging. A little here, a little there. And somehow it’s working.

The manuscript for my novel is turned in for edits.

Wendy and I are now refining our joint book, the messages slowly coming together to form a beautiful, cohesive encouragement to moms like us – artistic moms who are clawing their way to the art in the cracks of their day.

I’m getting at least one blog a week up. That feels like a monumental win these days!

It’s not perfect, this system of mine. But this isn’t the season of life to strive for perfection. If the kids are dressed and fed, then I consider it a good day.

And by dressed and fed, I mean they have clothes on (Oh, those shorts are way too small for you? Just..whatever), and they’ve eaten food (Cold, leftover pizza for breakfast? Just…whatever).

How are you doing, moms? How do you fit in your when? And are you kids eating genuine meals, or are you just pretending that pretzels dipped in ranch is an actual lunch like me?

DC Talk, A Prayer, and a Reminder

He turned the dial and the music cranked, pulsating my (smokin’ hot) minivan as we puttered down the road. Grabbing my camera, he held it out in front of us and snapped a photo, documenting the moment…and Landon’s apparent chagrin.

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When we gave Sloan his iPod for Christmas, we loaded it full of music first. We wanted to make sure he had a wide variety of classics, so we downloaded Frank Sinatra, Coldplay, Lacrae, vintage Audio Adrenaline, Michael Buble, Patty Griffin and, of course, DC Talk.

Because we are good Christian parents.

Jesus Freak now blares boldly through the speakers inside our home, and our cars. We jam our way down the road, singing at the top of our lungs:

What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak?

What will people do when they find that it’s true?

I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.

There ain’t no disguising the truth.

We sing and play wicked air guitar, and Lee and I feel good about the theology we’re passing down to our children. I mean, c’mon man: People say I’m strange. Does it make me a stranger? My best friend was born in a manger.

DON’T PRETEND YOU’RE NOT SINGING ALONG!

And so it was that we jammed our way down the road when we passed a police car and ambulance stopped on the shoulder, reaching in to help an older man who had veered off into a side rail. Sloan immediately turned the music down and watched intently as we drove past.

“Oh man,” he said quietly. “That looked bad. What do you think happened?”

I glanced at the situation and told him I had no idea, then I waited for him to turn the music back up so we could go back to our jam. He twisted the dial and the car filled with the bass and drums and electric guitar, and I moved right past the man in his car. But not Sloan. He sat still for a minute, then turned the music back down.

“Sorry mom,” he said. “But…I just…um…can I pray for that man back there?”

I quit drumming along and nodded my head. “Of course you can!” I exclaimed.

“Okay,” he replied. “Good. I’m gonna pray. You pray with me. But don’t close your eyes, okay?! I mean, I think that you should keep them open while you drive.”

He then proceeded to pray the sweetest prayer for a stranger on the side of the road. Prayer for safety and healing. Prayer for wisdom for doctors, and for the man not to feel too badly about the accident. It was tender-hearted and generous, and it stopped me in my tracks.

On any given day, I am certain that I am failing this motherhood gig. I get frustrated with them. I nag. I yell. I overreact. I read with one kid, and let the other two down. I focus on the baby too much, and the older three feel neglected.

It’s easy to get lost in the faults, and to see every flaw in myself and the children. He loses his temper, she is stubborn as the day is long, and he can’t lose graciously.

(Nothing is wrong with Annika, yet. So far she is perfect…like a tiny Mary Poppins)

I get lost in all our shortcomings, and I miss the amazing little people that they’re growing up to be, and the good job I’m doing at being their mom. He gets angry, yes – but he’s also the first to ask forgiveness, and has a heart of mercy the size of Texas.

She’s stubborn, yes – but she’s also deeply empathetic and compassionate. She begs to buy groceries for the man living in a tent behind Target because she feels the weight of his circumstance.

He can’t lose a game without falling apart, yes – but he’s also a peacemaker, quick to smooth things over when arguments break out.

It’s easy to lose sight of the good things in our children when we get lost in the day to day, hectic living. We get swallowed up by all the hard and the long days all mold one into another, and we start missing it altogether. And then they do something that takes our breath away, and remind us that this motherly work we’re doing is a worthy and good use of our time.

You’re working so hard to teach them how to live generous lives, and it’s hard! The rough edges of their little personalities need so much refining, but don’t lose sight of the diamonds that are shining through beneath the surface. You’re polishing little gems.

You may not see the reward right now, but one day when you least expect it, you may just find yourself being reminded of the impact that you’re having on your children.

And they will also help you remember what it felt like to empathize deeply with the world around you. Untainted by life and adulthood, they see the world through innocent eyes. It’s in those moments you find them teaching you instead of the other way around.  That’s what happened to me yesterday.

All it took was a dirty minivan, DC Talk, and the simple prayer of a tenderhearted twelve-year-old.