~ By Negeen Papehn
Following my dreams has been a lot harder than I thought it would be at seventeen. The world was full of possibilities then, bursting at the seams with all the things I envisioned I would accomplish by the age of forty. Now, as I stare back into the past two decades, I realize there were so many dreams I had to let go of because life just got in the way.
I am a wife, mother to two demanding boys, a sister and daughter to an expectant family, and a dentist by trade. I just recently added author to pile of titles that define me. Sometimes, the hats I wear bury me beneath their weight, making it hard to see the light at the end of the continuous tunnel stretching across my life responsibilities. My to-do list gets longer each day and sacrifices need to be made. Sadly, the expectation is that I should be the one to make them.
This isn’t something new, I’m no exception to the rule. Most women authors are stuck in the same vicious juggling act I’m in, the one that leaves me frustrated and disappointment on a regular basis.
My boys are currently at a playdate. But my husband is home. As I sit in front of my laptop trying to get some work done, I’ve been interrupted five times to hear about how the chain on the front door is useless and uneven. Do I need to know this? No. But if I tell him to leave me alone, his feelings will be hurt and I’d most definitely not get any work done. I’ve resorted to shoving earbuds into my ears in hopes that he gets the hint. It’s not working because he just came in again.
Life has become a series of sacrifices. I give up the gym to write when the kids are in school and the husband is at work. I give up coffee dates with friends to work on my manuscript. I spend one full morning grocery shopping, buying supplies, running whatever errands need to be done, in hopes that the following morning I can get a few hours of author time in. A never-ending juggling act of what is and isn’t imperative and what I can and can’t give up. And more times than I’d like, I can’t juggle fast enough. Then I’m left with two half-hour slots of time on my days off to put down a few sentences on a page. I spend the rest of the week at work, stressed that there are too many patients or my assistants aren’t moving fast enough, therefore obliterating any time in between patients I could use to meet my deadline.
Writing feels like boot camp. I’ve trained myself to work in small spurts with a million interruptions. Sometimes, it’s hard to hold a thought and I lose my place. But I’ve written this way since I started, unable to find the magic wand that gives me more hours in the day, or the freeze button that has my kids standing quietly like statues until I finish a scene. My writing career has unfolded purely in the in between, in the scarce moments I can find throughout the day where I can put a few sentences down on the page.
As women, wives, mothers, our whole existence is altered, changed and modified from the vision we had at seventeen. I dreamt of being a pop star, up on stage belting out ballads in duets with artists I envied. Instead, life had other ideas, familial expectations pushed me toward more traditional means, and I went to dental school. Far from the dreams my younger self held onto, it created a life in which now, I can write and publish books without worrying so much about whether royalties will pay my way. On the one hand, that freedom is amazing, on the other, it’s harder to convince my family that writing is also part of my career and not just a hobby I sit down to do when I’ve fulfilled all their expectations of me.
But I persevere, like most of us do, holding tightly to this new dream, the one that allows me to get lost in a world that I create, with emotions that soar across my pages. I harvest all the frustration I feel, wrap it up into a ball of ammunition, and fire it across the screen to harness a break-up scene. And in those moments I lay awake in bed, feeling grateful for the man lying beside me and the two beautiful babies that sleep in the adjacent rooms, I curl my fingers around that joy and use it to type up the paragraphs where my characters fall in love.
So despite how stressful it seems on most days to get anything done, and the pit of anxiety that sits squarely in the middle of my chest when I panic I may not have my manuscript finished in time to meet my publisher’s deadline, I have to be thankful for the multitasking and juggling I do on a regular basis. It makes me a better writer. My days will always be a jumbled mess of half-finished projects dispersed among real life responsibilities. The ability to jump in and out of author mode, riding the waves of the day, makes it possible for me to actually finish a project.
Will this juggling ordeal ever end for any of us? I highly doubt it. But will it help each of us bring a unique perspective on the same few emotions that find their way into romance novels? Absolutely. Motherhood, wifehood, daughterhood, unite us all into a pack of soldiers, pushing each other forward through encouragement and understanding, because no one knows how real the struggle is other than the woman we share this author platform with.
Negeen Papehn was born and raised in southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and two boys. She wasn’t always a writer. A graduate of USC dental school, Negeen spends half of her week with patients and the other half in front of her laptop. In the little time she finds in between, she loves to play with her boys, go wine tasting with her friends, throw parties, and relax with her family.
Her debut novel FORBIDDEN BY FAITH (Forbidden love series Book 1) is currently out with City Owl Press.