Age of kids: 5 & 7
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
When I was young and lived alone I worked late at night, and for hours at a time: essentially I would procrastinate all goddamn day long until things became dire. In my 30s things got a little more orderly, though never all that orderly. When I was working, I worked every day, but I’ve always taken weeks off at a time. My permanent teaching position at the University of Texas has hit my writing harder than kids, I think—I write during vacations, or very early in the morning now.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
I work in my office, with my internet turned off, and so I generally get hours and hours of time to write while the kids are at school or camp. At the end of the day, I’m happy to be dragged out of my own head. I’m lucky: I’m married to another writer, who also has a flexible schedule, and we are pretty good at picking up the slack when the other has a deadline or is on an excellent spree.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
My child dialogue is much better. I think the anxieties I write about lately are different, though that’s surely because my daily anxieties always work their way into my work. How else? It seems crazy that I can’t quite remember, though that I have always had an absolutely terrible memory for my own inner life (why I probably became a writer). I might have been happy and bursting with ideas before children, and am now comparatively blockheaded; I might have been miserable and depressed and am now dripping with honeyed understanding of human nature. The fact is, I can’t remember in order to compare.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
Heavens. That’s interesting. I can think of the most challenging aspects of being a working artist, and the most challenging aspects of being a parent, but not an intersection. They feel very different to me.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
For pregnant people: if the writing is going slowly, give yourself a break. I got little worthwhile done when I was pregnant, but my brain cleared up instantly—I mean, in the hospital. Don’t sleep when the baby sleeps: write while the baby sleeps, when you can. When my children were infants I wrote at least sometimes when they napped, and I was so happy that I could measure progress in wordcount when the days had a dreamy sameness. Remember that writing will make you happy and that your children will benefit from your happiness. I don’t believe that a real writer must write every day: for me, it’s easier to break time into big pieces, to remind myself that I need to get a certain amount done within a month. Time does slip away, and if you tell yourself again and again that you’re going to start writing every day tomorrow, you may never start. Give yourself a break; be vigilant against laziness. It’s the same advice I give to everyone, with kids or not.