A Day in the Life of a Writer with Melanie Cheng
Sometime around 6:30am my kids burst into my room declaring that the sun is up! They say this with such enthusiasm, one would think the sun had never risen before. But they are not referring to the real sun, they are referring to the virtual one on their Groclock—a life-saving device that trains children not to wake up at 5am. Before I know it, all three of us are in the kitchen and I am making the same mistake I make every morning of asking them what they want for breakfast. Rather than give me a direct response they ask me ‘What do you have?’ as if I’m a waitress in a gourmet café, rather than a mum in her pyjamas praying there are enough Weetbix in the pantry to feed two hungry kids. Somehow we all manage to get dressed by 8am (this may involve the judicious use of Mackintosh devices to prevent them from beating each other to a pulp while I’m in the shower).
I drop my son at childcare and my daughter at school and by the time I’ve arrived at the clinic around 9am, I feel like I’ve done a full day of work. For the next four hours I listen to other people’s problems, which helps me keep a perspective on my own problems, and provides a welcome distraction from the writing world (which can feel superficial and self-indulgent at times). My work reminds me that writing is about finding truth and meaning in everyday moments, not about awards and invitations to festivals and followers on social media.
Finally 1 o’clock arrives and I’m excited at the prospect of three hours of writing time before I pick up my daughter from after-school care. I find a quiet corner table at a café or an empty desk at the library. These days I’m working on a novel and I must resist the temptation to edit as I go because the novel is a different creature to the short story and if I don’t keep running with it, it will escape me. Time drags, or flies, depending on my mood and how much sleep I got the night before. If I’m lucky I’ll get a thousand words done but I’m never sure if these are good words or a thousand words that I will cut in future drafts.
By 5p.m. I’m back in the kitchen with the kids. I can never make dinner fast enough for my three year old who is always ravenously hungry after childcare. I frantically steam some veggies and cook some lamb cutlets as he cries and pulls at my skirt. The bedtime routine is a blur of crying because my kids don’t want to have a bath, followed by crying because they don’t want to get out of the bath, followed by crying because I got one of them out of the bath first, followed by euphoric squealing because they are now naked and jumping on their beds. If I’m lucky my husband gets home in time to read them a story and tuck them in.
Exhausted, my husband and I eat dinner with a much-needed glass of wine. Later we catch up on the news, which nowadays seems more like a satirical TV series than real life. Around 9:30pm if I’m feeling super energised I might fold some washing. If I’m feeling super-duper energised, I might do an hour of writing before bed. Most of the time I read a few pages of my book (currently Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang) before I pass out—which is not a reflection on Jenny Zhang’s writing, but on the demands of being a working and writing mum. At this glorious time of night when the kids are asleep like little angels inside their beds, I tell myself I wouldn’t want it any other way. Some nights I even believe it.
Melanie Cheng is a writer of fiction and non-fiction based in Melbourne. Her work has been published in The Age, the Griffith Review, Meanjin, Overland, and Shibboleth and Other Stories, among others. In 2016 she won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Her debut short story collection, Australia Day was published by Text Publishing in July 2017.