Kasey Leavitt, author of: Immaculate, a novel, and several short stories. Am just now sending them out into the world.
Ages of kids: 4 and 1
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
This question makes me laugh a little because I never had a writing schedule before kids. In many ways, I was a fool with my free time because I constantly overcommitted myself to things other than my art and found myself depleted and angry, without ever knowing why. I wrote in fits and spurts thinking I just didn’t have the time for it (though, in retrospect I had so much time; I just lacked discipline). Nothing ever stuck and it made me even more disheartened.
Then my son came along and he presented so many challenges, such as colic and his apparent need to survive without any sleep. I thought I was going to go insane. I was miserable and was, in turn, making my husband and my son miserable. I needed something for me, something to fill me back up. So, I turned back to writing.
Having a baby made me an incredibly efficient person. I can do more in five minutes than pre-child me could do in an hour because now I know the value of my time. I developed a regular writing schedule. Every other day, I got up at 5 a.m., fed my son, and then started writing after putting him back to bed. It gave me an hour and a half to two hours to myself to just write. It was heavenly.
Then I got pregnant with my daughter and I struggled to find time. Pregnancy knocks me out. Between that and a move, my regular practice dwindled. Now that she’s just over a year, we have a good rhythm going. I work full-time, so we have a nanny. I try to use the first hour of nanny time to write and then I write after the kids and my husband go to bed. It doesn’t happen every night, but I try to do it at least 3-4 nights a week. The daytime writing depends on my work schedule.
Once we get past the terrible up-all-night, waking-before-6-a.m. phase, I will return to writing in the mornings because that is my preferred time.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deeply into a current project—say in the sticky middle of a novel’s first draft?
This is particularly difficult for me. I live so much of my life in my head. I always have. In an effort to stem the stress in my life, I started meditating many years ago. Through that practice, I’ve learned a lot about being present in the moment. When I’ve noted that my attention is somewhere other than my kids, or my kids have noted it for me by acting out, I gently bring my attention back to them. I do this over and over, as many times as it takes.
Sometimes an idea nips at me like our puppy (did I not mention the puppy and the fact we must be insane to have a puppy, too?). I keep a voice recorder and/or a pen with me at all times so that I can record the thought and then return to the kids. I now have a sizeable collection of voice and paper snippets. It helps, though, to get the thought out and then go back to them. I’m not perfect with it and they know that sometimes they have to share mama with the characters in her head. So, I’m taking a harm reduction approach and starting a therapy fund instead of a college fund.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
Parenthood has made me braver and more honest. When it hit me that two people are counting on me to be an example of how to tackle life and the world we live in, I got serious with myself. I grew up in a house where I lived in the shadow of the things my mom wanted to do and never did. I don’t want to do that to my kids. Instead, I want them to see that dreams aren’t for putting on a shelf and glancing at sometimes when you think no one is watching. Dreams and passions are what make life worth living. My goal is to be a living example of that.
So I carve out time for writing. It’s non-negotiable. As a result, I now have several short stories to send out and a novel. It’s amazing. Despite the general idea that you can’t write with small children, I’ve actually written more pieces and of better quality with small children.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
The most challenging aspect is probably the balancing act of fully loving my children and husband and making sure I’m caring for myself. I consider writing to be a vital part of self-care. Some days I feel selfish taking the time I do and with that comes guilt. But when I take the time and space I need to create, I am better able to be present and open and loving. I can put myself in the moment without worrying about whether my needs will be met. I never want to utter, “What about me?” with them, even if just internally. This is not to say that it hasn’t happened, because kids can suck you dry if you let them. I just try to make sure I’m set so I can give to them what I have to give.
Do you have any advice for other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Like with parenting, advice on writing while parenting is varied and sometimes contradictory. Each of us speaks from our own experience. I have friends whose two small children are so chill my friends can play chess before a civilized, sit-down dinner complete with conversation and wine. If you have those kids, you don’t or won’t need any advice.
My children aren’t like that. Mine are part feral. If yours are too, my suggestion is to prioritize and to decide quickly what you can let go of. If you want to write, you’re not going to have time to keep a spotless house and cook gourmet meals every night. You probably won’t have a ton of time for friends, though you likely won’t be going out much anyway, at least while they’re young. You might also have to sacrifice time with your spouse. And you’ll definitely be more tired than you ever thought possible. But if you want it, if you need to write, these are the choices you’ll have to make.
Mostly, though, don’t ever let anyone tell you what you should do or what you need to do. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it with small children. So many people have told me to wait, to hold on just a bit longer. To begin with, I’m almost 40. I don’t know how much time I’ve been given and I’m not waiting anymore. Additionally, writing keeps me sane when I feel can’t possibly process another case for work or endure yet another night of no sleep. It can be done. Decide for yourself what you want and act accordingly. Be kind to yourself.