I’ve been forced to realise something about myself over the years — partly a fault of personality, partly a result of experience, especially the experience of motherhood: I am really bad at withdrawing from the hub of the action.
I should have understood this about myself long ago, being a kid who always did my homework on the loungeroom floor, wrote her uni essays at the kitchen table, then became a journalist who relished working amidst the noise and chaos of a bustling newsroom. Ever since those earliest working days spent seated next to the crime reporter, with his bloody wireless tuned in to the police CB all day, I have never been able to work in complete silence.
As a mother, though, this tendency seems to have has found its full expression. Anyone who has read The Divided Heart knows that I have found it exquisitely difficult to withdraw — physically and psychologically — from my family in order to focus on my own solitary work. And, whatever else it is, writing a book is usually a long and necessarily isolated slog.
I have never set up very effective boundaries between me and my kids, who know just how easily they can exploit my tendency to become easily distracted by their demands. It doesn’t help that I am a very slow writer, and one who easily loses confidence.
Where duty and distraction end and procrastination begins, I don't exactly know, but turning from my children, shutting myself away to write, never seems to get any easier. And when you're caught between a difficult sentence and a pile of dishes, a bit of hearty scrubbing can suddenly look so satisfyingly achieveable.
Admittedly, I have never really set up effective boundaries between me and the rest of the world either. Mothers and writers do have one thing in common. They are both constantly called upon to do things out of the goodness of their hearts. We endlessly volunteer our time to causes that, no matter how worthy or interesting, don’t pay, and don’t help us to remain focussed on the things we want and need to do for ourselves.
No matter how fast, or self-assured, any writer is, at the end of the day the words have to be put down on paper. And that requires focus. If I learned anything from writing The Divided Heart, it’s that there is no substitute for discipline — and this is probably truer for mothers than anyone.
So I have decided to make 2012 my Year of Saying No to all the fluff that can fill a life and lead to nothing. Which I hope will in fact make it the Year of Saying Yes to the things that count, as opposed to the things that just distract me from what's really important (including the kids, of course).
Anyone who wants to join me in Saying No this year, jump on board and I will take it upon myself to keep reminding you of your pledge. Happy New Year!