My older daughter, Helen, writes effortlessly, for enjoyment and every day. I find her half-written stories on the computer, dashed off before school, or scattered on her bedroom floor, the bits of narrative that are the product of how she most likes to lull herself to sleep. The stories consist almost entirely of dialogue, usually involve animals, and always take place in classrooms. And every time I spy a bit of her literature I ask myself, How does she do it?
Before I left my career in television production to spend more time with my daughters, I wrote every day–letters, proposals, scripts. Lately I have become obsessed with finding time to write. Instead of actually doing it, I plan to do it: “Starting tomorrow I will devote that last hour of wakefulness to my novel-to-be…”
Planning is not something our household’s most natural writer ever considers. She never finishes one story before beginning the next. She is writing without rules. There are ideas in her head constantly, and if she doesn’t have enough time to write them all down, she gets cranky. Sad over the departure of her cousins after the holidays, she wrote a poem, and slipped it inside a plastic page protector along with the flattened foil wrapper from a chocolate Santa.
As I contemplate which way to go next, trying to choose between my old TV production career or my longtime dream of writing a book, Helen seems to be leaving me hints of how I might find my new vocation. Maybe I can pin down that dream job by looking to what I already do in my free time to express myself. At the moment, that creative hobby is knitting. OK, maybe that’s not my future career.
I may struggle to write and I may procrastinate more than my daughter does. But like her, I can’t seem to do without writing at least a little each week, if not every day. I just won’t tell her it’s work.
Nancy Lebens Kenney is a writer and the mother of Helen, 11, and Grace, 6.