Writing in the In-Between

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Beth Allison Barr, Associate Professor of History at Baylor University. She writes on women, gender, and religion in late medieval England, and is the author of The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval EnglandShe tweets at @bethallisonbarr.

I intended to write 1000 words yesterday.

I began at 8:15 in the morning.

I had already run five miles; the kids had eaten breakfast and were playing with Legos (which I hoped would continue for another two hours while I wrote); and my coffee was in hand.

But first I had to compress my most recently digitized fifteenth-century sermon collection into an adobe file, as I had to return the borrowed microfiche to the British archive.

It should have taken 30 minutes.

Tops.

An hour later I was still struggling with the microfiche as several of the files had been scanned as reverse images. Then my four year-old collapsed into a tantrum because she wanted to use the pillows her brother had already claimed (they were building fortresses). Then my ten year-old realized that the shorts he needed to wear for his music camp performance were in the laundry hamper (he was supposed to leave in an hour for the final practice). When I finally got him to his practice (10 minutes late, but with freshly laundered shorts), I was asked if I could please bring desserts—20 people or so—for the reception after the performance. They were sorry for the short notice, but had forgotten to ask people in advance.

I wanted to tell them that my manuscript was still not compressed.

I wanted to tell them that I still had 1000 words to write.

I wanted to tell them that even stopping for 25 minutes by the grocery store to pick up over-priced cupcakes, which would also delay getting my four year-old lunch and down for her nap, would be very difficult for me.

But I didn’t.

I stopped and bought the cupcakes.

And then my husband found himself faced with an emergency situation (he is a pastor), and so spent the seven hours after the performance at the hospital with one of our church families. So I was tasked with bed-time rituals of baths, room-clean up, and stories.

11:30 p.m. I finally compressed my manuscript.

But as for my 1000 words? None were written yesterday.

Some days are like this.

More days than I would like to admit.

I managed to have four articles accepted for publication last year, and am currently completing a book manuscript (my second monograph) on women in English sermons.

While some of my writing has occurred at my desk with my coffee on one side and my piles of secondary sources and manuscripts enlarged on my big screen on the other side, much of my writing has occurred during the in-between spaces: waiting in car-pool to pick up my son, waiting in the hallway during my son’s piano lessons, making dinner while reading manuscripts on my iPad, waiting while my daughter played at the zoo or Chick-fil-A, sitting on the couch or floor while my children play around me, and even (yes, I confess) while monitoring my kids in the bathtub.

I often wonder what life would be like if I wrote on a daily schedule with a regularly scheduled time and place. But, in truth, unless I hired a nanny, I don’t think that is possible. My reality is that I am a professor, a pastor’s wife, and a mom, and each day I am responsible to be all three.

At the same time, though, my profession and my faith call me to do my best in all circumstances–even publishing quality academic work while nurturing small children, both for the glory of God. So I strive to maintain a flexible schedule that allows me to accomplish my work.

Right now my schedule is to write at least four days a week with time and place TBA. I try to write at least 500-1000 words each time. A measurable goal allows me to not only make steady progress on my projects, but also gives me the freedom to leave each writing session with a sense of accomplishment. I usually have at least one binge research and writing session a month, which helps even things out.

And, of course, I always carry my iPad with me for those in-between moments when I can jot down a few more words……

  • http://southridge.cc/ mjk

    You need Hemmingway’s strategy. Apparently, he had the door to his writing room locked (from the outside) until he had slip four completed pages of manuscript under the door. Then he was free to do whatever he wanted for the rest of the day.

  • Miles Mullin

    I just saw this. Great post, Beth! It really captures the challenges of writing while-parenting-spousing (?!)-etc.

    ~Miles

    P.S. I love that Legos made it into the story.


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