A mother stares at the screen of her phone. She has only minutes to herself before the toddler bursts through the bathroom door and needs her help, again. But she’s not scrolling down her Facebook feed, and she’s not dreaming on Pinterest. She’s scratching notes into a document on a story that she’s been slowly building up over for the last five years.
The story has her mind wandering while she washes her toddler’s hair. She listens to educational podcasts and Youtube videos instead of reality TV as she stirs a pot of dinner. She soaks in plot structures and pacing techniques, and character development so that in the last quiet hours of the night she might be able to weave it all together into something beautiful.
This is the life of a parent writer. We juggle, and dash, and work through our days so we can fulfill our divine roles as parents and wives/husbands and still fit in time to nurture this talent that brings us joy.
Mixed into all of this are moments spent staring into the sleepless dark, or with our backs against the dishwasher on the kitchen floor where we wonder if spending so much time on something with such distant and varied rewards is the right choice.
Writing takes up a surprising amount of time, and the harder we pursue it as a profession, the more time it takes. To accomplish what we hope requires our family to pick up our slack sometimes. It’s not uncommon for the spouse of a writer to take over the weekend or nightly parenting duties so that we can slip away into a quiet room or cafe to work uninterrupted for just a little bit. It takes money to go to conferences, and money to edit a manuscript, and money to invest in marketing so your book can even sell. So, when the majority of writing is often a long-term investment ( it can beyears of work to get to a publishing deal, a year before it’s released, and years after that until the money brought in from that book is more than chump change) it’s no wonder that the worry is enough to make many writers stop.
The sentiment that I seem to hear more and more from writing parents with hearts full of good intentions is, “Of all the things I could be doing, of all the good I could be using this spare time for - serving my family, helping the poor and the afflicted, volunteering at schools or churches or shelters - Does God look at my time writing and shake his head in disapproval?”
He absolutely does not!
I cannot even begin to share with you all the positive information I found when I researched how God might feel about my writing. The more I read, the more I came to realize that I shouldn’t be surprised: God created man that we might have joy! And to create something of our own is to be connected to God in a way that is intimate and worthwhile.
Could Christ create such a beautiful world, full of its color and glory, and not value the creativity in us? When we practice making something meaningful out of bits and pieces, are we not practicing to be more like him? The next time those worries creep in that we could be doing something *more* with our time, consider how your creative efforts grow as you do rely on the Spirit, as Uchtdorf said. What a strong proof that we do not have to separate writing from our other responsibilities, or from our spirituality.
Rebecca Hicken, author of “In God’s Time,” is a wonderful example to me of what this looks like in real life.
After she decided that writing was something she wanted to focus her time and efforts on, she was met with obstacle after obstacle. She said, “A year or two in I decided to go back to school for a teaching degree and pause my writing. The only impression I received at the time was that the Lord was pleased with my writing efforts. Six years and two babies later I had a teaching degree and began my teaching career with a few picture books and the beginning of a few middle grade novels that I had worked on in my limited free time. Every attempt I made to focus fully on my writing was met with the feeling that now was not the time, or a major roadblock appeared.”
Finances kept her from attending the conferences that would hone her skills and put her in contact with other professionals in the business. Jobs, moving and new babies would strain her time. But, she continued writing when she was able, and she continued to pray to God about her efforts. Those two decisions were key here: even when the time we put into our talents does not seem fruitful, or when it feels like the time is not right yet, simply putting down the words anyways can lay the foundation for God to lead you to just the right opportunities.
And He did for Rebecca.
The job (Seminary Teacher) that seemed to be a roadblock before was the very thing that led to the inspiration she needed for a story she had been working on:
“When my Seminary supervisor visited one Friday and realized I had to lean against a wall in order to stand upright she offered to teach a lesson for me so I could rest. I agreed. I sat while she taught the story of Naaman the Leper and my mind started reeling with a story I had been working on. Mine could easily be a retelling of the Queen Esther story, and the verses on Naaman could be another book in the same series. Suddenly, I had a solid direction for my book and an entire series to go with it. And I knew they would all be told with quirky middle grade characters.”
That job would also give her the resources to finally make it to the conference she dreamed of attending. That story (inspired by God, a product of all the stages of her life, and a symbol of time well spent) received immense praise at that conference.
In the end, she found the inspiration that she needed to write a story that inspired and uplifted people. She saw God’s hand in this experience when she could have seen defeat. She used the opportunities God gave her for her writing when she could have seen them as signs she should stop altogether.
To us all, Rebecca says, “Always remember that the desires you have to write come from a divine source. You are loved by your Creator. He has a plan for you. If you put your trust in Him, he will lead you along a path that only He sees. Trust him and renew that trust every year, every month, and every day. Some days the answer will be to write and some days it will not be. Trust Him regardless. He desires your happiness even if it means wading through great difficulty to find it.”
But what if writing feels like it’s getting in the way of more important things?
Raising children is one of the highest achievements in God’s eyes, so when it feels like we are sacrificing time with our children to pursue a hobby, it feels like a waste of time. It feels like making excuses and being selfish. It feels like pursuing things of the world and not the things of God, but is it?
Our own Rachel Huffmire posted this to her Facebook feed a while back, and it has stayed with me ever since. I could feel all the contradicting emotions of the moment when her children and her husband are having a bonding experience and she’s watching from the outside in all for the sake of her writing. And the answer to why God might give me a talent if I’m supposed to be a mother first and foremost was given in Holland's quote at the end of the post:
“Is it not part of our work as sons and daughters of God to encourage creative efforts that dispel darkness and replace it with light?”
If only for ourselves - if only for our children - we produce something that can dispel the darkness, that is enough.
But what if God guides our talents to dispel the darkness for more than just our family? That is worth the juggling, and the extra time. It is the reason He gave us the talent in the first place, and He, in His infinite wisdom, would not give us both children and talents if he could not provide a way for us to excel at both.
The time spent on it is good for us, too. Creating characters is as much a chance for self reflection as it is the study of Psychology, both of which, when done intentionally, can help us become better people. I believe that writing is rejuvenating, not just because it gives us a change in pace from parenting, but also because of the spiritual connection it provides with Christ.
With all of this in mind, I would also like to add that we must not take our writing lightly. Not only do I fully believe that God wants us to write, but I think He expects us to fill the world with goodness and light.
God’s hope for us is to create stories intentionally. He wants us to fill our lives and our hearts with the Spirit so we may be open to the inspiration He has prepared to us. He wants us to be active and aware in our children’s lives so that we might see the darkness they face and the lessons their spirits might be anxious to hear.
Do not demean yourself or your gifts by saying, “Well, I just do this for myself.” That is not the purpose.
“God’s purpose for the artist is to inspire, to give us visions of ourselves that we might not otherwise see, to make us better than we would have been. The world is better for the arts and righteous artists in it. In the quest to achieve greatness in artistic pursuits—whether in painting, dance, music, drama, film, sculpture, or the written word—we should always seek first to achieve God’s purposes…
“Today, a number of Latter-day Saint artists from all fields, from writers and musicians to painters and performers, are beginning to help fill the world with goodness and truth. Latter-day Saints are a special people.”
—M. Russell Ballard, “Filling the World with Goodness and Truth,” Ensign, July 1996, 10, 14.
So, you writer parent extraordinaire, pick yourself up out of your seat and dust off the worries and the doubts. Take a courageous step into the opportunities God has laid at your feet and weave your talent through them.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.