I didn’t write a word for almost three years.
It happened as a direct result of the single hardest job I’ve ever had in my thirtymumble years on this rock: personal attendant to a small screaming person who required round-the-clock attention and supervision, who cared less than nothing about my mental health or physical well-being.
Three years I walked the floor while the crying seeped into every corner. Three years I dodged blocks thrown at my head and wiped every surface in my house twice daily. Three years I barely slept and survived on a steady diet of black coffee and stale Cheerios.
Three thousand miles from anything and anyone familiar, I walked that floor and cried because there was absolutely nothing to be done but read board books and dole out saltines and wait it out, until he became a little person who could be reasoned with.
And I didn’t write. I didn’t write because I couldn’t write. Everything came out on the page garbled like a scrawl of pure madness given form, and I incinerated every last scrap of it in a vengeful little pyre in the shell of a burned-out hibachi.
I wish I could say I was like Peter, that I realized how bad it was and sought some help. But I still hadn’t learned that asking for help isn’t weakness; it just means the world is bigger than you sometimes. Instead I waited it out, head down, grinding out the days, and eventually the baby did stop crying and became a little person, then a bigger person, then a smart-mouthed but good-hearted teen with a haircut like the fifth Beatle.
But I’m not getting those hours and days and months back. Or those lost words. I’m sorry for that, but those hardscrabble years of early motherhood gave me the nerves, endurance, and grit of a combat soldier. For good or ill, those years primed me to write for publication.
I learned there’s a crapton of hard work behind any tiny success.
I learned to take one more step, even when there’s nothing on the horizon.
And I learned that sometimes you have to pour your guts into something that won’t take shape for years in order for it to take shape at all.