Writer, with Kids: Caroline Leavitt

curlycaroline

Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, Girls in Trouble, forthcoming Is It Tomorrow

Age of kid: 15

What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?

Before I had my son, I foolishly thought that I could never be a writer and have kids–though I loved them. But then, after I married Jeff, I began to feel as if I would die if I didn’t have a child, if I couldn’t be a mother. I had no idea how we were going to manage having a baby in our midsts and do our work, but I was determined. Before I had my son, I wrote all the time. I figured I would work while he napped, or work very early or late. I was sure I would figure it out.

When my son was born, nothing went as planned. First, I got critically ill! I wasn’t writing at all then, much less able to do much for my beloved son. But when I did get well, I set up his bassinet by my desk and every two hours I would write until he woke up. Then I would feed and cuddle him for two hours until he went to sleep again. I was astonished how focused I was, how much more work I got done.

My son always came first–and I wanted him to come first, but this new kind of “super focus” allowed me to write at any odd hour I could find. Once my son was in school, I wrote when he was in school, and stopped when he came home.

How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deeply into a current project?

This is a great question. My husband and my son both know that sometimes, if I am deep in thought, one or the other could say, “The house is burning down,” and I would not be aware that they had said a thing. If there really were a fire, I wouldn’t smell the smoke! I’m really lucky to be married to a guy who is also a writer/editor who has long and erratic working hours, so he understands that frame of mind. He’s completely supportive when I have to shut myself off and work until the wee hours. But I’m even luckier that he knows I tend towards obsessive-compulsiveness and he will pull me away from work to go see a movie, watch a video, go take a walk, etc. He grounds me and makes sure I live my life in the real, not just on the page. I want to make sure that I feed my relationship the same way I do my art. It took me a long time to find the right person and I want to honor that.

When my son asks me for something, I stop work for him. It doesn’t matter what I am doing, If I’m on a deadline or panicked, I spare a half hour, but I give him some time, as much as I can. I know having a kid is a real privilege, and a sort of miracle for me, really. Childhood is for such a short time, that I want to grab those moments when I can. The page can wait, but he cannot.

How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?

It’s definitely made my work deeper, richer and more focused. And suddenly I seem to be writing about boys more! (Gee, I wonder why…) Having a child made me think more about all the tragic, frightening things that can happen, too.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?

Balance. I’m happiest with both in my life. If I don’t work, I feel crazy, but if I don’t interact enough with my son, the longing kills me. Also, for a woman, I have had to fight against some people who feel that I should be working, that parenting is my one and only job. Others feel that writing is a hobby and therefore not important (that one really ticks me off.) But I think I’m showing my son that having a passion, that working really hard, and that loving what you do, is part of the key to real happiness.

Obviously money is a concern. Not having a traditional job means we two writers have to pay our own health insurance, which is roughly the cost of a small country. We have other freelance gigs, but they ebb and flow, and our income is never stable. But I wouldn’t trade it for a steady corporate job, ever, ever, ever. I never wake up with the sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I worked in a corporation. Every day feels new to me.

Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?

Nothing will be the way you expect it to be, but it will be better, richer, and more wonderful. Don’t worry if you seem to have less time to write. It won’t always be that way, and in the meantime, you will find yourself more focused in the hours or even minutes you do have to work. Kids open you up, they break your heart, they heal you–all things that will make you that much better a writer and your work that much richer. Truthfully, I wish I had more kids!

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3 comments on “Writer, with Kids: Caroline Leavitt
  1. You would think you won’t smell the smoke but you WILL hear the smoke detector, as I learned the other day when I boiled a pot dry while writing. Great post, thank you!

  2. Shannon Lell says:

    I love reading these posts. Writing and mothering can be two things that can keep you confined indoors. Knowing that others are doing the same things behind their doors and in front of their computers gives me encouragement and hope. I too, worked in the corporate world before staying home with my two little ones and starting a writing career. And I too, don’t get that pit in my stomach anymore. Now, I just need to figure out how to make some money!?

  3. Arthur Avishur says:

    Hi Caroline, here is Tess Friedman (your cousin)…
    I met you last at your mother’s house when you were a teen ager and you told me that you wanted to be a writer. Your mother and my whole family were very close and I have fond memories of Uncle Julius and all of the Sandlovitz relatives. I’ve been living in the Jewish Home For The Aging in Reseda, Ca. for six years – and am 88 years young. Love the family picture, in the gallery – would love to hear from you. Love,
    Cousin Tess

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