Writer, with Kids: Curtis Smith

11-26-2007 03;07;18PM
Curtis Smith, author of Beasts and Men; Witness; Species Crown; Truth or Something Like It; Sound and Noise; Bad Monkey

Age of kids: one boy, 11

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

Before my son, I wrote whenever I wanted. Over the past 11 years, I’ve developed a schedule that works around our time together. I get up at 5:00 am and claim an hour or so of quiet time before work. After my boy has gone to bed, I write for another forty-five minutes to an hour. It sounds a bit regimented, but it works for me. Knowing that my time at my desk is finite helps me focus. I look forward to the absorption that comes with sitting down with a story or essay. If I can get a decent paragraph or a few sharp sentences during the course of a day, I’m happy.

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

I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing. I keep work at work, and I can put my writing thoughts on hold while I’m with my family. Sometimes I’ll scribble down an idea that I’m afraid of losing, but beyond that, my writing side doesn’t interfere too much with my family life. Now once I’m at my desk during one of my writing times, then I’m not as flexible. Still, being a parent always comes first. One’s spouse may have have signed up for the hermit-like tendencies of living with a writer, but one’s children didn’t have that luxury.

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

It’s had a pretty big impact. It’s a new perspective. Suddenly the universe has a new center, and everything looks a bit different. Being a parent has deepened my emotions—my empathy and my fears. Even if I wanted it not to spill over into my work, I don’t think I’d be able to stop it. I feel that I now regard the world with a new lens, one tinged with a color I didn’t know or understand before. I’m not saying parenthood has made me a better writer—but it has definitely made me a different one.

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

I guess the time issue can be a challenge—but for me, the benefits of being a parent outweigh the challenges. I think writing is, at its core, a type of self-discovery, a continual asking of questions of one’s self and beliefs. Parenting is similar—it’s a constant search for our best selves, or at least for the projection of our best selves.

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

I’d say it’s a great ride. Nothing goes too much as planned, and that element of surprise, while maddening at times, is also a real gift. My child has led me into an uncharted region of my heart, and for that, I’m forever grateful.

Curtis Smith had more to say about parenting in an essay for Philadelphia Stories.

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Writer, With Kids