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I bought this book at a library book sale a few years ago. The title struck me as so quaint!

I bought this book at a library book sale a few years ago. The title struck me as so quaint!

I thought I would be laughing all the way through How to be a Successful Housewife/Writer (by Elaine Fantle Shimberg, published 1979), but much to my surprise I didn’t. Sure, there are a few gems that show the book’s age:

* “Most men are supportive to a point — but they still want dinner ready when they come home, clean clothes in the dresser, and a wife around when they want to talk — or even when they don’t feel like talking but want company. If they’ll cook or do the laundry, you’re fortunate. Many rebel at this kind of ‘help.’

* “A-to-Z mini-cleaning tips” that spans eight pages from ashtrays to lamps to wastebaskets.

* “Most of us get nervous when it comes to interviewing. We’re afraid we won’t know how to get an interview and even worse, won’t know what to do if we do get it. We’re afraid our years of keeping company with Captains Kangaroo and Crunch will show.”

What the lady writer might have worn in 1979 if she left the house to conduct an interview.

What the lady writer might have worn in 1979 if she left the house to conduct an interview.

To be honest, I rolled my eyes when I first saw the book and bought it thinking, “Wow, this will be so condescending.” I wanted to hate it, but once I looked through it, a lot of the advice is good for any writer. Maybe you’re not juggling kids and a demanding husband, but you’re probably juggling something. You’re trying to write while balancing a social life, down time, eating (which sometimes involves cooking), cleaning, working for pay, taking a dog for a walk, grocery shopping, etc. The book is really about how to carve out time to write.

I thought the book would be geared more toward the “hobbyist” writer housewife, but it’s focused on women who are writing for a living through newspaper columns, magazine articles, and other freelance work.

Fantle Shimberg makes some good points that are still relevant today:

* “It’s unlikely that your husband would break up his working day by fixing the plumbing in the men’s room at the office or by rearranging the furniture Don’t you do it either when you’re working.”

* “Sometimes we allow people to freeload, because we can use their interruption as our excuse for not writing. … Speak up. This is not the time for subtleties.”

* “Once you have determined your office hours, you must do the Superman bit — step into your office and change from mild-mannered mommy into writer. Once you have cleared off breakfast (putting the dishes into the dishwasher or dumping them into the sink to soak), YOU ARE WORKING.”

Now that I’m on break from school, I need to be better about protecting my writing time. I am guilty of washing the dishes, doing the laundry, or cleaning while I should be writing. My excuse is that it’s hard for me to sit down for longer than two hours at a time. Is it really, or is that just my excuse?

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