Writing with Dogs, Virtual Learning and Day Drinking

How do I balance my writing with work, life and distractions? Before the pandemic, I would have said very well. Since the pandemic happened, not so much. With the advent of virtual learning and homeschooling an elementary school child, I have resorted to day drinking. I was hoping to get fired from my job as a homeschooling mom for drinking on the job. Alas, that didn’t happen, but my one student declared he was retiring from my classes so I was set free to write. Right? Wrong.

My day job as a fitness/yoga instructor allows me to take physical activity breaks from my writing. Teaching classes is a great balance to the often solitary pursuit of hunching over a keyboard alone. I get to take stress release breaks by yelling at my cardio classes and torturing them, or om-ing my way to some mental peace. I also sew purses for my Etsy shop, which is another creative outlet that allows me to work out plot problems and ideas in my head at the same time. And because most of my work is from home (except teaching classes at the gym), I had time to spend with our child, playing and doing homework. I thought I was so lucky to find this balance of writing with work and life.

Teaching Outdoor Yoga

Then the pandemic hit. And we sheltered at home. And I became a reluctant homeschooling mom. And the tears started. And the yelling. And the day drinking (not really, but there were a few days that I did break out the wine at 4pm because I thought my head was going to explode). At first I pushed through, determined to write, even though I had a very active seven year old stuck to my side all day, every day. I wrote by putting him in front of the TV, the only activity that would guarantee him not yelling, “Mommy, mommy, mommy” every five minutes. But all his favorite shows are British, so when my Hawaiian characters started saying things like, “Do you have to use the loo?” and “Brilliant!” and “Cheeky Mummy” I had to shut that down.

We also started fostering dogs during the pandemic. In theory, it’s a great idea, but it didn’t bode well for my writing. The dogs wanted to be on me at all times. They would bark at me if I tried to sit at my desk. So this is how I often ended up working.

One of our fosters hated it when I would type so he would gently clamp his entire mouth around my wrist to prevent me from writing. Have you ever tried to type with a dog clamped (however gently) around your arm? I don’t recommend it.

Needless to say, I got almost no writing done during the lockdown. It wasn’t until my son went back to in-person school this fall that I have finally found time to return to my writing. And how am I doing? it’s been hard to get back into the rhythm of my pre-pandemic routine. Nothing is the same, including my writing brain, and it has been hard to focus. But I’m pushing through, trying to get in words whenever I can, but not beating myself up if I don’t. Because for me, I’m always thinking about my WIP. Even if I’m not actually at a computer writing down words, I’m working through a plot, or a character or a concept. I’m envisioning my characters’ lives, their traits and their voices in my head, while I’m sewing, picking up poop, disengaging my hand from doggie mouths and wrangling a second grader to do his homework. I’m thinking about how to kill a character as I’m cooking our family meals or how to end a book when doing laundry. To me, that is all part of the writing process and how I incorporate writing time into my busy life. So when I actually sit down to write, the words flow and I don’t face writer’s block.

Who knows what this winter will bring. But for me, I keep pushing on, taking each day as it comes. And will proudly wear this mask that a friend so thoughtfully bought for me. Because we all have vices. And this is one (or at least the concept of it) has helped me get through these last few months.

 

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Lyn Liao Butler

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