Writer, with Kids: Maya Lang

Maya Lang, author of The Sixteenth of June

Age of kids: One daughter, five years old

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

Pre-kid, I didn’t really have a writing schedule. I pretended to have one, would have claimed to have one, but I spent much of that time feeling embarrassed and self-conscious about what I was attempting. Writing felt like a bourgeois indulgence plagued by ennui and procrastination and people bemoaning the process. I couldn’t bear to take it (or myself) seriously.

One night when my daughter was three months old, my breast pump spoke to me. (Please note this is a well-documented phenomenon, lest you think I’m insane.) New mothers usually hear words of encouragement from their Medelas. The air whooshing out in rhythmic intervals produces two- or three-syllable cheers to the sleep-deprived ear: Way to pump, way to pump or You go, you go. Mine had previously issued such rallying cries, but that particular night, it had a different message: Leopold, Leopold. Leo was a character I’d been toying with for a potential novel before my daughter was born, but I’d think of him and his crew abstractly, to amuse myself. Who was I to write a novel? The stubborn pump repeated the name, undeterred. Freud would love this, I thought.

I handed the baby monitor to my husband and went to the local coffee shop. To sit with my laptop for two hours, occupied by nothing other than my thoughts, felt glorious, like the greatest luxury imaginable. I began writing in the evenings and on weekends. I wrote out of necessity and pleasure. I wrote to keep myself sane. By my daughter’s first birthday, I had a first draft.

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

I never think of myself as balancing writing and parenthood; I think they balance me. I work, get frustrated, get absorbed—but then it’s time to pick up my daughter from school. I find it helpful to be forced to walk away, to have to forget. Leaving the bubble of writing is what makes returning to it so pleasurable.

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

I tend to think about backstory more. If the parents aren’t around, why? Orphans abound in literature, from Huck Finn to Harry Potter, and it makes logistical sense: doing away with parents enables a kind of clean, pure focus on the character. In writing, as in life, family can be a can of worms.

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

Not having a boss. It’s the best part but also the worst, because you have no one to blame when you “need” to pass on that afternoon playdate or field trip. I never mind when my daughter pulls me out of writing—she’s worth it. But I have little patience for the endless array of school events: birthdays, breakfasts, fundraisers, bake sales. I fantasize about having a very mean boss who insists that Mommy cannot make the school concert.

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

There’s an old saying I love: If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The constraints parenthood places on time are like strict word counts or difficult workshop assignments: they force you to dig deep and reach for what’s important, past the plateau of what seems possible. My running joke with my husband is that if I ever dawdle on the second novel, we’ll have a second kid. I don’t subscribe to martyred notions of motherhood where we sacrifice ourselves for our children. I reach for my dreams because of my daughter. I am without question a better person for having had her. And, with that, I must pick her up from school.

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Writer, With Kids