Years from now, I’m confident that my children will be able to sum up my mothering thusly: “There was always plenty of toilet paper in the house.”
Where do I fall down on the job as a mother? I don't sit down with my kids and color or cut up bits of paper and glue them to stuff, and I don’t, as God is my witness, string beads. Considering I have all girls, this has been kind of a sticking point, but my daughters have learned this mantra already, “Mommy doesn’t do crafts.” (You want someone to help you build a skateboard ramp? I’m the gal. Friendship bracelets and paper dolls? No can do, amigas.) Perhaps this will fill them with resentment as adults, but that's the chance I take. All I can tell you is, I don’t do no effing crafts.
So for me, here’s the math: Good mothering = no one is ever stranded in the john, paperless, calling out for assistance which cannot be readily given. I am, in a word, reliable. Reliable when it comes to important stuff anyway and honest about the fact that I can't do everything well.
This phenomenon is true of all jobs. No one can do it all, all the time, and if you try, you will land yourself in a deluxe suite at Nervous Breakdown Village. But there are those non-negotiables of every job -- the things you cannot fail at and still carry on believing you are good at your profession. These are the areas where you must focus your energies. After all, you cannot be a cop on the take or a banker who embezzles or a librarian who isn’t slutty and still have people think well of you.
As much as we as writers all hate the idea of having our work reduced to a few descriptors, we engage in this same practice everyday as consumers of literature. You see an author's name and you think things like “profound” or “guilty pleasure” or "that guy who writes creepy children's stories about clowns." Of course, you might also think of nothing in particular when you see an author's name, which would be bad and probably result in your not buying that author’s book.
Even if you haven’t yet finished your first draft of your first novel, you can still ask yourself these questions:
1) What do I need to succeed at with this novel above all else?
2) What are the things I want to be known for as a writer?
3) When people pick up my book in a bookstore, what few adjectives will pop into their heads? Original? Clever? Romantic? Thrilling? ("Oh,God. It's that creepy clown writer. Put that book back down at once, children.")
Most importantly, I need to know why you only keep one measly spare roll of toilet paper in your bathroom. I’m telling you right now, that’s never gonna cut it. We're talking major catastrophe, public scandal, weeping saints -- it's all looming over the horizon if you run out of TP. Do you really want to take that kind of chance?