Ten years ago, I taught two days a week at a college about 40 minutes away. For one of those days each week, I would strap my infant into a carseat for that 40-minute commute. He hated the car seat, or being strapped in — so my commute was usually punctured with his wailing. While we were there, my mom would sit for him, bouncing him and helping him to nap while I taught classes. When I wasn’t teaching, I’d run to nurse him between prepping for the next class and meeting with students.
My husband would take the other teaching day each week, as his day off. He’d wear our son in a baby carrier and walk and walk to get him to fall asleep. But there were days when the baby just wouldn’t take a bottle, or the new tooth popping in would mean a day of crying, and then a defeated husband and a worn-out baby would show up on campus.
It felt like no one got the good parts of me — work, husband, or baby. We were all just doing what we could to survive.
Now, ten years on, I’ve left the academy, but I haven’t left working. As much as I’ve tried to “just be a stay-at-home-mom,” more formal work has found me. When I meet someone with toddlers in tow at the park and they ask about my work life, it’s usually something like, “Well, I stay home with my four kids, but I’m a writer, too.”
Having left teaching English literature in the classroom, I have found stories still shape my days. I write Christian non-fiction: from a book on a theology of place, cultural commentary, book reviews, and devotionals.
The shape of my days is determined still by my four young children and writing generally must fit into smaller spaces of time. Most days I wake at 5 a.m. and write, read, or research until the house stirs at 7 a.m. When writing my book, I’d also take off to my local Starbucks at 4:30 a.m. on Saturdays to get almost a full workday in before most people were awake. On weekdays, I’d make the turkey sandwiches while my husband would make our coffee. We both walk our children to our local public school and then later, I’d take our preschool-aged daughter to school for a few hours two days a week.
“Professional development” (in the form of Audible books or podcasts or sermons) happens as I circle the suburbs in my minivan, earbuds in, with a notebook to catch some notes on my center console. Driving is also when my “watercooler conversations” happen. Aside from a few conferences, like The Festival of Faith & Writing held at Calvin College every two years, there aren’t many places to engage in in-person conversation and learning living this work-at-home life of writer-mother. Twitter conversations and Facebook groups can only provide so much.
What has enriched my writerly life more than anything — what has been a stable liturgy of encouragement — are my conversations with other writers who live this mother-writer life. They’re not teaching or pastoring and writing books on the side, typing quietly in an office. They, too, have carved out a writerly life. With varying schedules and time zones, Voxer messaging app has allowed us to use the time when we have it to ask hard questions, to process the pains of life, to ask for wisdom in structuring a book, or give advice about pitching an article.
The conversations are often punctuated with me asking my daughter to stop before we cross the street together, or someone else telling their dog to get down, or a pause because the city noise is too loud on another writer’s walk to the gym. In short, the conversations happen “when we are walking on the way,” right in the middle of everyday life (Deut. 11:19).
Without a built-in system or meeting-place of colleagues, Voxer has been the virtual space several writer friends and I have built to shepherd each other through the emotional, practical, and spiritual work of writing: we talk book-writing, setting speaking rates, idea-bouncing, family, and church life. All of it. Through our conversations, we’ve created writerly friendships that sometimes have the privilege of taking on flesh and blood.
These mediated and technological conversations provide me with the sense of community in what can feel like a lonely profession. No one is asking me to write. My writing is largely dependent on me sitting down alone to continually choose to connect ideas and chase beauty through sentences.
Around lunchtime, I pick up my two younger children. As my younger two have “quiet rest” before the older two children are home from school, I’ll catch up on the research, editing, or copywriting work I do. When the older two arrive home, I’ll often take out my laptop and type away while they do their math homework and reading. We do homework and errands and shuttle people back and forth from sports practices. As the wife to a church planter, we also have people in our home several times a week because we believe being a good neighbor is at the heart of the gospel. But the writing happens then, too.
It happens over shared bread and wine. It happens when my morning reading intersects with conversations about my husband’s sermon as we’re walking out the door. It happens when my children slow me down to see how cool a gnarled stick can be or to make sure we don’t step on snails. It happens when I do dishes and meditate on Scripture or a line of a poem.
To be a writer, yes, you need your people, whether that’s in person or on Voxer. But to be a writer, mostly you need to practice the art of sustained attention. And that you can do anywhere, with whatever sliver of time you have.