The Case Against Compartmentalization in Creating Your Writing Life

by Heather Newton on March 26, 2016

I’m a writer and a lawyer and a mother and wife and a person of faith. For many years, I believed that the best way to make time for all of these important aspects of my life–especially the writing–was to compartmentalize, setting up rigid mental walls to designate the time and energy I would allot to each area. Especially after I added motherhood to the mix, keeping things separate became increasingly difficult. When sick kid or client emergency or church obligation interfered with my writing time it left me stressed out and frustrated.
Then one July at a party I talked to an old friend, Jim, who had gone to seminary as a second career and been assigned to pastor a very small church. He told me that because the church had no other staff he was effectively on call all the time, to the point that his professional, private and spiritual lives were no longer distinguishable. He said he had never been happier.
Jim doesn’t remember that conversation, but it changed my life. After seeing how joyful he was, I made a decision to take down the walls I had erected and let all parts of my life bleed together.
The first step was to tell people at work and church that I was a writer. I had kept it a secret and never said “I’m a writer” out of fear of the next question: “Oh really? What have you published?” At the time I hadn’t published anything significant. But I began telling people. Putting words to the writing made it real and deserving of priority.
I let my legal work and writing merge. I expanded my law practice to include the representation of other writers, reviewing publishing contracts and handling copyright issues, something I had done for myself and my writer-mother for years but not for other clients. I offered the literary community workshops on copyright, trademark and contracts. At church, where I help teach adult Sunday School, I led the class in a creative writing exercise as part of the Bible study lesson, and read from my fiction at a service focused on the arts. When head lice visited our house (my head is itching just writing this) I took revenge by incorporating the little buggers into the novel I was writing. I learned to write with my child in the same room, even if she made noise and squirmed. As she has aged and become a fine writer herself I’ve enlisted her to help me write believable teenaged characters.
In her book Writing Changes Everything, the late and lovely Deborah Brodie quotes novelist Katherine Paterson as saying:

I was writing–learning and growing along with the children–until eventually I was writing fiction worthy of publication. It might have happened sooner had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.

Life is abundant. Don’t try to divide or conserve it. Just let it be one big old beautiful mess.

Copyright 2015 by Heather Newton

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