Any woman who works knows there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. Even before we start our paid jobs, we’ve put in hours of labor: tossing in a load of laundry, going online to pay the mortgage, making breakfasts and lunches, cleaning the kitchen, pulling chicken (again) out of the freezer for dinner. At night it’s the same damn hamster wheel.
For women artists, there’s the added challenge of finding the time—and energy—to pursue creative work. If we’re lucky, we make a little money from the passions we pursue, but most of us are forced by finances to tuck creativity in around the edges of paid work and household responsibilities. As a novelist with a day job, I have become an expert at shoehorning my passion for telling stories into a finite number of minutes each day. This means writing in the car while I wait for a kid to emerge from school and carrying cups of peppermint tea to my desk when I’ve finished the daily chores. I also sneak off to libraries and cafes on weekends for my fiction fix. Otherwise, it’s too difficult to ignore the fact that everybody seems to need me at once.
The media portrays female artists as cat fighting and competitive. We all saw the movie “Black Swan,” right? We also expect artists to be unstable: Sylvia Plath gassed herself, for instance, and Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and stumbled into a river to drown.
I have never thought of turning on the oven or drowning myself. But I have been sad enough about rejections to lie on a couch with Grand Marnier in one hand and a chocolate truffle in the other. I have also had enough crises in confidence to nearly swear off writing fiction altogether. What keeps me in the game are my writer friends—especially those who are also balancing motherhood and paid work as they ponder plots, create believable characters, and wrestle with back story and imagery.
Some of these writers have been my friends from the very start, like Susan Straight, who I met in graduate school and liked immediately, despite the fact that she’s younger, thinner, blonder, and—not least of all—wins way more literary awards than I do. Novelist Elisabeth Elo and I were in workshops together for years and now meet for monthly dinners to talk shop. Others are new writer friends, like mystery novelist Toby Neal in Hawaii and Amy Sue Nathan from the Chicago area. I met both of them through social media; our correspondence led to us to form friendships that have enriched our work as well as our ability to survive the vagaries of the publishing industry.
Then there is my friendship with Maddie Dawson, who I met because she was good enough to blurb my first book. Ironically, Maddie and I had actually been appearing together in print for years, sharing a humor column in a national magazine. This month, Maddie is celebrating the launch of her wonderful new novel, The Opposite of Maybe, at the same time that I’m launching my new book, Beach Plum Island. We’ve decided our main characters should be friends, too, because they look like sisters on the covers of our books.
Writing fiction–or making any sort of public art, I imagine—is so personal that it renders you vulnerable, as if you’re parading around the public square in your bathing suit in the dead of winter, before you’ve done that intensive month of Pilates and gotten a tan in your back yard. You are wobbly and white, fleshy and uncomfortable, dying to cover yourself.
Luckily, you have your friends in their bathing suits walking beside you, saying, “You’re beautiful from the inside out, and very brave. Come on. You can do it. Just put one foot in front of the other. I’ll be with you all the way.”