Writer, with Kids: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, author of Bittersweet, Set Me Free, The Effects of Light

Age of kids: 5-year-old son

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

I’ve been much more productive since having a child than I ever was before. In the five years my son’s been alive, I’ve written two novels, seen one of them published, and adapted my first novel into a feature length screenplay, and also into a short film, which I co-produced. Before he was born, there was a lot of “hmmm, what am I going to do today?” hair-twirling, which really doesn’t have any place in the life of a mother (or at least not me).

Productivity, for me, can apparently be directly linked with the gun-to-my-head countdown clock of childcare, which I absolutely did not expect in the pre-motherhood days. I’m the solo childcare provider two of the seven days of the week; my son’s in daycare for three of them; my husband is with him for one of them; and the remaining day is our family day, which usually means we all flop onto the couch, exhausted. On the four days a week when I have childcare, I try to do at least a couple of hours of creative work. But there’s also plenty of other work that needs to get done in the life of a working writer, and I’m forever tweaking not just the work/life balance, but the creative/business balance of my writer’s life.

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

Part of why childcare is so fantastic is there’s an unapologetic part of the day in which I’m just not available to be a “mom” or a “wife.” I fight very hard to keep my working time sacred, because if I don’t, I find I’m in a foul mood and not very good at being a “mom” or “wife.”

Lately, when my son’s at home, I’ve been trying to keep my smartphone on a shelf by my front door so that I’m not infinitely available to the outside world; that’s one of the challenges of being a writer these days–infinite availability. But of course I also want him to know that my work is important, and he gets it; he has honestly been my biggest cheerleader on the road to Bittersweet’s publication. He whoops every time I get good news, he dresses up for my readings, he made me a special “publication box” with all sorts of love notes and talismans on publication day. Will that enthusiasm translate to understanding my need for five more minutes of creative time when I’m working on my next book? I’m not sure yet, but I sure hope so!

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

On a practical level, I’m much more interested in making money than I was before I had a kid to provide for. New York is expensive. I want to contribute to the rent. I want to be able to send my son to ballet class. I want to feed him good food. So I’m more thoughtful about what I spend my time writing, because my time is limited. I ask myself questions like, “Will this be a book a publisher will enthusiastically promote?” Especially in literary New York, there’s this idea that you’d never ask yourself a question like that, but the truth is, I believe you must if you truly want to do this full time. It’s awesome if you can figure out another gig–teaching, or something else that fulfills you–so that you can have the purity of experience of not caring if a publisher wants to buy your books (which so often has to do with whether they have an enthusiasm to promote your books), but I’ve found that I would always rather be writing, even if I’m having to let in a little bit of that strategic thinking.

On a more woo-woo level, the love I feel for my child is a huge influence on how I think about interactions between my characters, especially around the idea of love. There’s also a high level of humor that goes hand-in-hand with parenting; I like to believe it’s given my work a little levity.

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

Time. It all boils down to time. Finding enough of it, eking enough of it out, reserving some of it for myself. I joined this mom’s fitness group back in September, which is something I never thought I’d do in a million years, and it has been so mentally healthy in terms of teaching me to put myself first sometimes. Two nights a week, I meet a bunch of ladies in Prospect Park and we make ourselves strong together. That self-care, and the confidence that has come with it vis a vis my body and my capability, has had a huge influence on reminding me to slow down. To not think of time as the enemy but as something I can participate in and choose to observe and enjoy.

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

Care for yourself. Skip the dishes and write for twenty minutes, or, at the very least, write first and do the dishes second. Mothers especially, I’m afraid, are taught from the beginning to put our needs second. But a mentally healthy person is a much better parent, not to mention a better writer. For me, that mental health is maintained by doing my creative work, going to exercise class, reading with my kid, eating ice cream, etc. My house is often messy but I think, in the end, we’re all much happier for it.

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Writer, With Kids