Do you imagine writing for hours at a sidewalk cafe in Paris? Maybe your ideal is scribbling in a journal beside Walden Pond…
A couple of years ago, when I visited the homes of C. S. Lewis [his writing room is below] and Jane Austen [her writing desk is above], I think I left with a MISperception. Homes turned into museums are clean, uncluttered, and very quiet. People move about slowly, and they almost whisper, as if they’re at a shrine.
I think that I left their homes believing that Lewis and Austen had it easier than we writers have it today. Just think of the interruptions alone that hadn’t been invented! In Oxford (Lewis) and at Chawton (Austen), neither writer had Facebook, the Web, Twitter, YouTube videos, email to answer, or newsletters and spam to wade through.
They also had peace and quiet. Jane Austen was living in a small village, and Lewis’ home was, at the time, situated in the middle of eight acres (which included a pond and woods). Bliss!
And they weren’t hurried in their writing. Neither author typed, but wrote everything by hand. Think of the satisfying scritch-scratch of pen on paper, sitting alone in a quiet office, with no demands on their time at home except to write.
As I mentioned last time, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children. I was reading a rather apologetic letter he wrote to one girl in late December, 1956.
“…I’ve really been snowed under. All domestic help was away for its holidays. I have a very sick wife to visit daily in hospital. [Joy Lewis had cancer, and he went by train.] At home I had to look after a sick brother, 2 schoolboy stepsons, one dog, one cat, four geese, umpteen hens, two stoves, three pipes in danger of freezing; so I was pretty busy and pretty tired.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had to deal with distractions like daily train rides to the hospital, hens and geese, literally keeping the home fires burning in a house with no central heat, frightened stepchildren… Not exactly the life I had been imagining for C. S. Lewis.
And Jane? She never had a room of her own in which to write. She shared a bedroom, as she had her whole life, with her sister. The frugal manner that she, her sister, and her mother were forced to live meant that servants were at a minimum. The physical tasks of running a home in the early 1800′s was back-breaking labor compared to what we do today to cook, clean, and launder. The Austen ladies also raised much of their own food and kept huge vegetable gardens, a big orchard, and chickens.
Finding time to write was NEVER easy.
Like all writers, past and present, C. S. Lewis and Jane Austen had to find the time to write in the midst of difficult, busy lives. Yes, it was different back then. But it’s never been easy.
“The sober truth is that any of us can find the time to write a book, no matter the schedule of unstoppable events in our life,” says David Whyte, author of The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationships. “The greatest, most prized excuse for a writer is the lament over our lack of time in which to write. It is a false and paper-thin defense against another more difficult, underlying dynamic: the inability to have the will to find the time. It is quite sobering to find with experience that if we write only a hundred words a day–a normal paragraph–we will have a book of ninety thousand words in three years.”
On the busy days when I’m grabbing fleeting moments to write, I need to give up my “it shouldn’t BE this way!” moaning and groaning. We can set boundaries on our time and make schedules–both excellent ideas–but real life happens. And when it does, remember Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis. We’re in good company. Thankfully, they wrote anyway.