Writers don’t live on desert islands

A couple weeks ago, a writer I’m friendly with asked in passing if I’d finished revising my novel. I told her that I felt like the rewrite wouldn’t happen until I moved to a desert island. Until that point, there would be distractions: carpool, laundry, cooking, deadlines on other writing projects…and more carpool.

Moving to the desert island is no escape

It kinda got me down.

My writer friend suggested that I apply for a writing retreat. Not quite a desert island, but close enough.

But who would drive carpool? I replied.

The following day, I read an article about YA novels which inspired me to push on to complete my novel. I had a long talk with my husband, and we planned for a time for me to complete a rewrite without being hassled by family obligations. I’d have to wait a couple months, but I’d not only have the kids in school, but cooking and cleaning help and a back-up babysitter just in case.

Something about making that  resolution lit a fire under me. The next week, I started that rewrite. I didn’t wait for my desert island to come to me — I created one. I started it after the marketing and before the laundry. Tada! The kids were at school, and I was cranking out page after page of polished material.

Then, the day after that, I had a kid home sick. And then three days later, another. And today, another. And in between I had a meeting at one of my kid’s schools…

In other words, my home-made desert island got a boatload of uninvited visitors. They’re having a loud party right now, the barbecue is on, the music is playing full volume, and the hula girls won’t leave me alone. My island is no longer a literary paradise.

Are you Thoreau?

As much as I want to write (and I am writing, and B”H publishing), life happens. I’m not in control of whether my kids get sick or whether I need to meet with one of my kid’s teachers instead of work at my computer. I can just deal with it when it comes along, and if emergencies come up, it’s just a sign I’m not supposed to be writing at that moment.

Some writers isolate themselves from others. They prioritize their writing above family relationships or communal responsibilities. They make their own “desert island.” Thoreau could do this — he had no spouse, no children, and his lifestyle fed his work, which directly considered nature and the solitary life.

Most of us are not Thoreau. People who think their words are more important than people lose family and friends.

Do you want to be a great writer or a great person…who happens to write well, too?

I’ve decided not to beat myself up that I’m not working on my novel today. My goal in life is to be a great person, not just be a great writer (not quite “great” yet, in either case, but I’m working on it). I’m still getting my smaller projects done, thank G-d. I’m plying today’s patient with hot tea with honey and ibuprofen and smiling. It’s not his fault he has a sore throat and boogies. This is just where I’m supposed to be right now. Maybe my novel is ripening until the perfect moment (I have to admit, every couple days, I get a new insight on a necessary improvement). As long as my excuses are genuine, and I use the limited time I do have more efficiently, the moment will come.

How do you react to intrusions on your creative time?


4 thoughts on “Writers don’t live on desert islands

  1. This is a terrific topic. It’s not only with writing for which we create our little desert islands; we do that for the sake of other creative pursuits that require us to sit and take time to process. It’s always a balance. Good for you for figuring it out and making it work for you! Yes, life happens. Breaks from working are a good thing too – even if they are not taken when we choose them.


  2. The moment will come. YA author Natalie Whipple wrote about this in her blog quite a bit after her 3rd was born. I remember her saying she was proud of writing 54 words in the first few months after her daughter was born. 🙂 It sounds like you’re making time where you can, and that’s all you can do. Life happens — and it informs your writing when it does.


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