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Jen Parks Writes a Novel, part 3: A Tale of Two Cities

Crooked House by qbanez on DeviantArt

By Jen Parks, Bluegrass Writers Studio

It’s five-thirty in the morning on a Tuesday, and my alarm has just gone off. Though I don’t work today, I should get up, do some yoga, or stumble, sleepy-eyed down the stairs into the kitchen to make the kids’ lunches. Instead, I close my eyes against the long day of reading and writing and chores looming ahead of me, knowing that my head won’t fall back upon this pillow until almost midnight.

A second alarm goes off and I hit snooze. I don’t want to move – not because I am procrastinating, like you might think – but because I don’t want to disturb the sleeping five-year old daughter next to me. It’s hard to tell when she crawled into bed, but now she is nestled in close, tucked tight against that place between my arm and my chest. I lean down, press a kiss to her hairline; tiny beads of sweat have collected there and wet my bottom lip. We are in a cocoon of pillows and sheets and a heavy duvet. My sleepy mind wonders when I last washed them all. Too long, I think.

It’s warm, almost too warm, but I curl into her anyway and am rewarded with a tightening of her arm around my chest, hugging me in her sleep. I think of all the things I need to do today: assigned reading, a poetry discussion board post, groceries I need to buy, the checkbook that needs balancing, emails I need to return, the phone calls I’ll need to fit in on my drive to pick up the kids from school, the dinner that will need to be made before my Ventrilo class, and last but not least, the novel I still need to write.

What I have learned this semester is that the single most difficult aspect of writing a novel, for me, is not the occasional – and sometimes frequent – writer’s block, or the workload required of graduate level classes, it’s the delicate, daily balancing of work and family life against the guilt of borrowing from family time in exchange for “writing” time. The hours spent in front of the computer trying to write my novel could be used for scrubbing bathtubs, baking cookies, making hand turkeys with my kids, or even washing the duvet under which I sleep.

I wish I could tell you that it’s gotten easier, that I’ve figured out how to balance it all. That if you come to winter residency, I’ll share with you my secret on how to write a novel and work full-time – and still be a good wife and mother. I wish that I could tell you that I don’t ask myself ten, twenty, fifty times a week why I am even writing a novel at all.

So why not just quit? Why not throw in the towel and keep my day job, as they say? The best answer I can come up with is this: somehow, in the eleven or so chapters I have written this semester, I have created a family – two families, actually – and I have fallen for them in a strange-to-me writerly way. Their lives populate my spare thoughts, and sometimes they feel as though they are real – despite existing only on the page. When I am not writing their story, I feel guilty.

Some days are better than others; some days the words flow out of my brain and onto the screen, and others I just sit there and hit “delete” more than any letter. But just as I am about to throw in the towel, one of my classmates during workshop mentions that they enjoyed reading something that I saw so vividly and worked hard to bring to life on the page. It’s those moments of validation, honestly, that keep me going.

The alarm starts up again, and this time I turn it off. I wrap my arms around my daughter – the baby of my three children – and rest my cheek against her sleep-mussed hair. It can wait, I think. All of it. I’ll work through lunch; eat an apple in the car while I make my phone calls; I’ll skip the yoga, too – maybe I’ll do a few sit-ups later.

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Kristen Thompson

Published on November 20, 2014

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