Writing with a family is not easy. Sometimes it is downright uncomfortable and combative.
Before I decided to self-publish my third novel, I was caught in a web of rewrites to appease the editorial board. The time it took encroached upon family time. In fact, whenever I was not working or sleeping, I was writing to meet the deadline.
My husband confronted me shortly after the last rewrite. “What does your writing give to us, other than a book only one of us can read?” he demanded.
I was flabbergasted.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He looked me in the eyes and said, “When I take the family out to dinner, I always say, ‘Thank you for letting me work.’ “
Okay. He wanted recognition, gratitude, and maybe a token of appreciation.
I haven’t done that. Sure, I pay for food and utilities with writing income, but I have never taken the family out to dinner to formally thank them.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know I was taking you for granted.”
I wanted to know if my husband was the only one who felt neglected because of my writing, so I asked my daughter what my writing had given to her. She thought a long, hard time before saying, “You sit in front of the computer and type. There’s nothing in it for me.”
I was deeply hurt. Wasn’t this the little girl who wrote fanciful stories for her teacher that explored the same themes I explored in my writing? How could she say my writing meant nothing to her?
Only my son didn’t have an opinion, but that’s only because he can’t talk.
I didn’t understand why my family felt angry and frustrated. After all, I gave up a traditional writing career to have them. Now the sacrifice seemed not to have been worth it.
Maybe if I was wildly successful they would feel differently. After all, my husband met me when I was the youngest byline reporter for the Mercury News. He was with me when I was inducted into the Youth Hall of Fame. He read my English teacher’s note in my high school yearbook that began, “To the future Pulitzer Prize winner.” No wonder he expected bestseller lists and six-figure advances.
What my husband and my children didn’t know was how lonely success can be.
When I was seventeen, I worked from three to midnight at the Mercury News during the week and nine to five every other weekend. As a reporter, I had to be objective. After a while, it felt more like I had to be invisible. As a features reporter, I was trained to write human-interest stories. Soon my keen eye was trained upon the senior staff and their lifestyles, from the investigative reporter who watched the news as soon as he came home to the middle-aged editor who repeatedly tried and failed to become pregnant. Maybe if I had been a business reporter, I would have focused on the 401K or medical benefits of the job. But I was a features writer and the story I witnessed was one of discontent.
Deep down, I wanted to be happy. I wanted to pick the topics of my articles and essays and write whenever I had the time, not work on assignments under impossibly tight deadlines. I wanted to enjoy the people I met, not ply them with questions for good quotes. I wanted to come home to a family, not the ten o’clock news.
That’s why I quit.
At the time, it seemed like the right decision. Now, at midlife, I don’t know.
I’ve had subsequent conversations with my husband and my daughter since our fight. I’ve listened to their complaints and they’ve listened to mine. What I’ve discovered is writing is not a solitary pursuit. It involves my entire family. My husband reads all of my first drafts, sometimes second, third and fourth drafts, too, in addition to caring for the children and the household and any distractions that might interfere with my concentration. My daughter will read quietly even when she would rather challenge me to a game of checkers. My son will tolerate listening to Sarah Hart instead of Nirvana. None of them receives a byline or a check or an email from a reader saying, “This changed my life.”
My husband is right. It is my responsibility to show my family they are needed and respected, appreciated and loved. After all, their participation in my writing career has changed my life. I am not a lonely reporter working on a deadline, coming home to an empty house. I am a freelance writer, working at my convenience, from the comfort of a full house.
Anyone know of a family-friendly restaurant that caters to a writer’s budget?
Angela Lam Turpin is the author of three novels: Legs, Blood Moon Rising, and Out of Balance. Her real estate and finance articles appear online at SFGate.com. When not writing, she can be found lifting weights with her husband, painting landscapes with her daughter, or playing in the sunshine with her son. For more information, please visit http://www.angelalamturpin.com and follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.