One of my favorite illustrations of the writing process comes from Madeliene L’Engle’s book Walking on Water. In it she compares writing books to cooking dinner: she adds a bit to one pot, a bit to another, until one story starts simmering madly and needs her whole attention. Then she pulls that pot to the front burner and tends to it until it’s ready to serve.
L’Engle’s cozy approach to writing appealed to me well before I had kids, and it appeals to me even more now that I have four. My children are young still and because we homeschool, they are home every day—I have no opportunity for fussy pots of cream-based soups that require a watchful eye and steady hand, no daily meeting with my laptop in a coffee shop. When ideas come, I snatch them out of the air and pin them on sticky notes and scrap paper. I drop them in the pot to simmer slowly while I sweep up the rice my toddler scattered on the floor.
In the moments I do have to sit with an essay and watch the bubbles rise to the surface, I pay close attention. Are the vegetables tender yet? Are the seasonings sound? In the early mornings, I write for an hour or so—that is my time to check for doneness. Is this essay ready to submit? Is that story still living, or is the whole thing overcooked?
A decade ago, I thought that writing from home would look different than this. I thought I would bid my kids farewell each morning, then sit down to my computer with a fresh cup of coffee and drum my fingers on the desk until I remembered where I left off the day before. But, like every other aspect of parenting, this one looks different in practice than it did in twinkly, pre-kid theory. Here I am at the table, taking care not to let the chair squeak as I sit down, lest I wake the girls sleeping on the other side of the wall. Here is my green tea, made fresh by my husband—still hot, and perfectly honeyed. And here is the cursor blinking back at me, waiting for me to make my next move.
But those early morning moments and the ones that bubble up throughout the day matter. That cursor does move forward, if only fifty words at a time. That story does progress. The essay does, eventually, stop making me cringe when I read it through. Faithfulness in the small moments yields a gradual reward. And so it is with the board books I read to the toddler before bed, and with the moments when I forego the tasks undone to sit and draw with my five-year-old. And those times when the older girls come alongside my elbow at the kitchen counter and ask if we can go somewhere to talk—and we do.
I want measurable progress—a chapter completed each day; a child’s bad habit conquered for good—but I find instead that those small moments accumulate quietly. They simmer on the back burner as I add a pinch of salt, a splash of vinegar, and trust that the heat is still doing its work.
Here is where the dinner metaphor at last (perhaps finally) breaks down, for it is not the heat at work in the stories I write or in those moments of parental faithfulness: it is the Spirit, the same one who has worked throughout history to bring about God’s purposes. He shapes my daughters’ hearts in ways I do not understand, just as he shapes my thoughts and desires as I write. The stories that I have to tell—he helps me tell them. The daughters we’re given to raise—he helps us raise them. I have only to be faithful with the ingredients I have on hand, in the moments I have been given.
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