13 Oct 2012

31 days to write your story {13} if you wish you had an island to write on alone

I steal the time I need to write.

Maybe you do too.

Maybe you have young kids and a house to run and a job and writing has to happen in the fringe hours.

If that’s the case, maybe this quote from Madeleine L’Engle will comfort you as much as it does me. Because on her fortieth birthday the book she is likely the most famous for, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected. Again.

I was always tired.

So was Hugh. During the decade between thirty and forty, most couples are raising small children, and we were no exception. Hugh was struggling to support his growing family in the strange world outside the theatre. And there was I, absolutely stuck in bucology, with the washing machine freezing at least once a week, the kitchen never above 55 degrees when the wind blew from the northwest, not able to write until after my little ones were in bed, by which time I was so tired that I often quite literally fell asleep with my head on the typewriter.

The various pressures of twentieth-century living have made it almost impossible for the young mother with pre-school children to have any solitude.

I needed a desert island, and time to write.

Well, somehow or other, like a lot of other women who have quite deliberately and happily chosen to be mothers, and work at another vocation as well, I did manage to get a lot of writing done. But during that decade when I was in my thirties, I couldn’t sell anything.

All during my thirties I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t like a good New England housewife and mother. When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn’t make decent pie crust. I always managed to get something red in with the white laundry in the washing machine, so that everybody wore streaky pink underwear. And with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.

So the rejection on my fortieth birthday seemed an unmistakeable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie.

I covered the typewriter in a great gesture of renunciation. Then I walked around and around the room, bawling my head off. I was totally and utterly miserable.

Suddenly, I stopped, because I realized what my subconscious mind was doing while I was sobbing: my subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.

I uncovered the typewriter. In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that’s what it was. I had to write. I had no choice in the after. I didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent. If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.

Excerpted from Madeleine L’Engle’s incredibly beautiful and highly recommended memoir, A Circle of Quiet.

Be encouraged, writers. You are not alone in your exhausted, stolen, writing moments.

Write on.

I’m spending 31 days writing about how to write your story.
It’s part of the 31 Days Challenge hosted by the Nester.
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{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    wow. this was great and oh so needed! thank you for posting.

  2. 2

    L’Engle was my favorite writer when I was a young girl… I loved A Wrinkle in Time but I also ate up a lot of her other stuff. Did you know she wrote a bunch of novels about girls in European boarding schools? I got those on loan from another school’s library, lol. That said, I’ve never read A Circle of Quiet, but I am getting it on my Kindle as soon as I’m done writing this comment! Thanks for the recommendation… I *need* to read this book!

  3. 3

    Amen and amen! Lisa-Jo, thank you for sharing this. How inspiring for all of us in the daily grind, and, as you say, stealing the moments. It’s difficult, but it doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. This is one of my very favorite books, and L’Engle’s “Walking on Water” is an exquisite read, too, for people journeying this creative faith life. Thank you for these words this morning as I type-type-type away.

  4. 4

    Yes, thank you for sharing, Lisa-Jo. I love that Madeline L’Engle started writing in her head a novel on failure as she considered throwing in the towel! Oh how I have found myself doing the same, and it always causes me to chuckle! I’m devouring your 31 days! Thank you!

  5. 5

    I LOVE this! Thank you for sharing today! And I am that mom who’s family cheers when the floor gets washed, or the floor vacuumed…

  6. 7

    I just finished reading A Circle of Quiet, and I found that passage such a poignant and honest one. Some of us simply can’t “not write”. I never knew the truth of this until I tried to quit myself;)

  7. 8

    so much of this resonates with me!

    My finances lack, my ability wanes and my attention drifts (what was I saying?!)
    but my desire to use whatever measure God gives pushes me on! :)

  8. 9

    soooo what I needed! probably going to read it daily!

  9. 10

    OH, Lisa-Jo, girl! A Wrinkle in Time was the first scifi book I ever read. I’ve been hooked ever since. Madeline L’Engle- truly gifted woman, one of us, those who are compelled to write even when other failures are glaring us in the face! Thanks for posting this today, what an encouragement to all of us! N

  10. 11

    Fabulous. Just fabulous.

  11. 12

    Lisa-Jo – once again, thank you for your encouragement. I am finding myself so very tired these days, but I see it is a phase & I just need to hang in there – SO thankful for a Heavenly Father to lean on, cling to, hang on!

    My son read her books, I think I need to – I’ve not had a desire to until reading this about her, thank you. Thanks again for encouraging us in these days, when I’m feeling like I should just stop the 31 Days series. I really don’t want to, but was thinking I’m nuts. The last couple days I’m see it is the slump time, or cresting the hill before it’ll seem easier to keep up.

  12. 14

    Thank you. Words with heart and blessing and overflowing with encouragement. She is one of my mentors, particularly for this very thing – she could write and live life as a mom and wife. Not perfectly, but whole-heartedly. Love her book, Walking on Water – I re-read it at least once a year. Thank you for sharing this, today.

  13. 15

    This was not what I expected from the title, but exactly what I needed. Thank you so much, Gypsy Mama!

  14. 16

    Hi Lisa-Jo
    Wow! So inspiring. This is my first empty nest year. I suffer from Fm/CFS and thought it a bright idea to start a blog, since writing has always been my way of dealing with the world and talking to our God. With the terrible exhaustion that is part of this illness, I “steal” energy from my so limited supply to write. And I love it!

  15. 17

    Yes, I needed this too….after a day of 2 year old birthday celebrations, I definitely need it!! ;) I, too, find myself writing in the back of my mind as I go through my days!

  16. 18

    Thank you for this. Definitely feeling a little slump-y in the 31 Days posts right now…Madeleine L’Engle is the perfect fuel to keep going!

  17. 19

    Now I absolutely have to read A Circle of Quiet. What an encouraging excerpt. My thoughts always organize themselves in written form, even if I never find the time to transpose them. I love the idea that being a writer isn’t always about someone else reading your words, but simply about being naggingly compelled to write, even if only to see the words down on the page in that pleasing order that brings a sigh of relief and a smile of satisfaction to the writer’s face.

  18. 21

    As a 39 year old mother of three year old triplets sitting at my keyboard tonight feeling incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed, thank you for these words of encouragement, sometimes it all just feels like too much so it’s at least good to know other’s go through the same thing.

  19. 22

    Lisa- Jo I needed this! I have 2 small girls and I am always fighting on time to write when I have a million things to do, but you are so right, we have to keep on writing. Thank you!

  20. 23

    Thank you so much for this. The whole thing about writing for a decade and not making a cent…that’s me. I realize that will change at some point, but even if it doesn’t, I need to keep writing. I’ve tried to stop and I can’t.


  21. 24

    i am learning. learning how prayer is like writing and writing is like prayer, both birthed in the heart. i use to separate them, sacred and secular… like the way i once thought that going to church made me good and everything else was, well, bad. i am learning how these voices become one. because the truth is, i only have time to put my fingers to the keys in those fringe moments… kids asleep, left-overs in zip locks, and one million legos to dump into bins. as i learn to live open and alive to God and life and all things pretty and even more to the messy, i find i am writing all the time. it is those fringe moments that i actually put them to paper. anyway, i am learning and it is changing me. the way i talk to God and the way write. curious if anyone else experiences writing like this??

  22. 25

    THAT QUOTE. UGH. Ripped me apart.

  23. 26


    In my world I justify time spent in my hobbies as ways that I provide for my family (soap making, cooking, baking, etc.). Lately I’ve been wondering if writing is really beneficial to my family or if it’s just a selfish “hobby” of mine. Maybe carving out a little writing time makes me better for my family.

  24. 27

    Tears, tears and more tears. Wow! That is completely how I feel a lot of the time. I spend much time tired and discouraged and feeling alone but I am compelled to write. I write because it brings God glory. I write because it stirs souls. And I write because it fills me with joy and purpose. So I will continue to write when I feel like it and when I don’t.

  25. 28

    Congrats on your book!! How awesome!! : )

    Thank you for this post. Right now, this week, every thing is going on – wonderful things – but I so, so want and need to write but somehow it went from the back burner to off the stove. I loved reading this though. She said it perfectly…right down to the spasms of guilt and the family cheering over clean floors.

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