September 7, 2015
On this Labor Day, I think it’s important for us to remember that what we do when we sit down at the desk and write is work. Too many of the beginning writers I have known regard the writing that they do as not entirely necessary, as a pursuit that isn’t quite serious, as a task that is self indulgent, as something that can be put off to do something more serious, like clean the bathroom and make the beds, tasks which we do define as work. If we tell ourselves that we are going to our desks to write, rather than to work, we might lapse into believing that our writing isn’t as essential or as important as it truly is, or as essential and important as all the other kinds of work that we do.
When my mother was alive, she used to love to call me at just about 9 o’clock in the morning. She knew that that’s when I sat down to write. It was the time just after I would get the kids off to school and there was a blessed silence in the house. My mother would call me at this time because she thought it was perfectly fine to interrupt my writing because she didn’t construe writing as work, work that shouldn’t be interrupted because it’s important. She was aging, and I didn’t think it was right not to answer the phone, because I feared she needed me, and so I had a dilemma: how to save that time for myself, how to get my mother to understand that I didn’t want to be interrupted.
I tried telling my mother how important it was for me to write. But that didn’t work. She was a working-class woman, used to hard physical labor, and what I did at my desk didn’t meet her definition of work. I tried not answering the phone, but then I worried that something had happened to her. Finally I told her that I had a huge project for Hunter, where I was teaching, and that I was devoting two hours each morning to this very difficult work. “That’s fine,” she said, “I’ll call you later.” That kind of official work she wouldn’t interrupt. But my own personal writing, she felt free to interfere with.
Soon after, I started saying that I had to work at that time rather than saying that I wanted to write at that time. And all the people in my life respected that I had to work even as they had not understood that I wanted to write. “Don’t call me before 11,” I would tell my husband,”I’m going to work.”
And I continue all these years later to call my writing work. It helps me respect what I do, and it helps the people in my life to understand that what I do is serious.
Sent from my iPad