Writer, with Kids: Michelle Wildgen

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Michelle Wildgen, author of You’re Not You, But Not For Long, and Bread and Butter

Age of kid: 3 years old

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

The most productive schedule I ever had was a mix of editorial work and writing. Two days a week I edited, and then three days a week I did a half day of editing and a half day of writing. That’s become much more unpredictable and less regimented, though. When I planned my work life right before having a baby, I found it impossible to imagine what it should look like, and I have been gradually adding hours and days to my childcare plans and finally feel that I actually have enough time to get some work done. But that often means teaching and freelance editing and writing instead of fiction, and I think that to get back into actually generating new work I’ll need to whip my time back into shape. I have a feeling I am looking at the dreaded 5 AM wake-up.

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

That’s not a problem lately. How I wish it were. The problem is managing to sink into the project! And yet I think I now need physical distance from my house in a way I never did before. It might be writing at the library but it might also be going away for a weekend.

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

I am not sure that it has, but I do find myself about to write about a character with a child, which I rarely did before. And yet I don’t think I will focus very much on the actual parenting-young-children part, which I find endlessly interesting to discuss but for some reason never want to read about.

My characters have always been people I still saw as the grown children of others, not parents of children. I may have tried once or twice to write about a parent but I never had the ability to say what daily life with a child would be like, so I just didn’t cover that in fiction very much. I can’t help but notice that my first character who is also a parent is one I began writing when I was pregnant. I was probably trying to imagine my way into it.

But otherwise, I don’t know if it will change the writing itself. I think I expected my post-birth mind to brim more parental insight somehow. But it’s still me, still floundering with much of the same stuff in life and on the page.

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

For me it becomes less about finding the time than about shutting out the worldly details. I think Janet Malcolm quoted a writer in a biography of Sylvia Plath who pointed out that the mindset necessary for any creativity is one of quietness, even near-boredom, the very opposite of the abundance of small tasks and plans that characterize parenthood.

And then there is money, money, money. It is really hard to justify paying your daycare for the time to write fiction that may not provide any cash for a very long time, if ever. I end up privileging any kind of paying work instead. I don’t feel guilty about this as a writer, necessarily–last I checked I can’t buy food with my artistic fulfillment–but it does contribute to a constant undercurrent of things not being quite as they should be. I once told a group of college students that being a writer is like having a child who will never become independent of you. It will always be the thing you should also be doing, that can’t thrive without your time and attention, even as you must do all those other things to feed it too. (They looked at me rather blankly.)

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

Make a schedule! I keep resisting that, or possibly just failing at it, but there is something so productive about sitting down at the same time on certain days and cueing your brain to start thinking in a certain creative way. I just find I cannot simply say, “Oh, great, I have 20 minutes. Time to create!” It doesn’t work that way for me. My toddler needs a routine, and it turns out so does the 40-year-old.

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Writer, With Kids