Learning From Barbara Kingsolver.

kingsolver flight behaviour

I tend to wake up very early. Too early. Four o’clock is standard. My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it’s because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head. So getting to my desk every day feels like a long emergency. It’s a funny thing: people often ask how I discipline myself to write. I can’t begin to understand the question. For me, the discipline is turning off the computer and leaving my desk to do something else.

I write a lot of material that I know I’ll throw away. It’s just part of the process. I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.

For the whole of my career as a novelist, I have also been a mother. I was offered my first book contract, for The Bean Trees, the day I came home from the hospital with my first child. So I became a novelist and mother on the same day. Those two important lives have always been one for me. I’ve always had to do both at the same time. So my writing hours were always constrained by the logistics of having my children in someone else’s care. When they were little, that was difficult. I cherished every hour at my desk as a kind of prize. As time has gone by and my children entered school it became progressively easier to be a working mother. My oldest is an adult, and my youngest is 16, so both are now self–sufficient —but that’s been a gradual process. For me, writing time has always been precious, something I wait for and am eager for and make the best use of. That’s probably why I get up so early and have writing time in the quiet dawn hours, when no one needs me.

I used to say that the school bus is my muse. When it pulled out of the driveway and left me without anyone to take care of, that was the moment my writing day began, and it ended when the school bus came back. As a working mother, my working time was constrained. On the other hand, I’m immensely grateful to my family for normalizing my life, for making it a requirement that I end my day at some point and go and make dinner. That’s a healthy thing, to set work aside and make dinner and eat it. It’s healthy to have these people in my life who help me to carry on a civilized routine. And also to have these people in my life who connect me to the wider world and the future. My children have taught me everything about life and about the kind of person I want to be in the world. They anchor me to the future in a concrete way. Being a mother has made me a better writer. It’s also true to say that being a writer has made me a better mother.

This certainly a long quote, but I think it has some nice stuff in it, especially for writers who have ankle-biters running around. I’m not a mom, so some of this was a bit eye-glazing for me, but there is the distinct possibility that I will have kids at some point, so it’s nice to read something from the perspective of someone who has managed to successfully balance both careers.

One nice thing about being a writer is that it allows mothers to stay at home, which might be doubly important for me, since unless my kids turn out to be wildly social animals, I am planning to homeschool them. I was homeschooled until I started taking college classes in my senior year of high school, and I’m a big fan of it. It allows the education to be more closely tailored to the individual child, rather than allowing them to become little assembly line products of the system. I’ve always been enormously grateful for my offbeat upbringing. Middle-class white girl I may be, but I’m also part of a minority group that, honestly, includes some of the most genuinely cool people I’ve ever encountered.

But I digress.

I think the most encouraging part of this quote, at this point in my life, is this bit:

I write a lot of material that I know I’ll throw away. It’s just part of the process. I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.

It’s so good to be reminded that this is a completely normal and useful part of the process. Sometimes it feels like if I don’t sit down with a fully-fledged plot line in my head, I must be doing something wrong. So far I have never had to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one, but I like knowing that it would be perfectly okay if I did.



This post is the eighth in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.


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