What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
I always wanted to write every day because that’s this thing that’s drilled into your head as a young writer. And I mostly did, but sometimes writing meant opening the computer screen and putting my head on the desk or falling asleep on the floor next to my desk. After the kids it wasn’t that different but I felt more fraught about it. Looking back at that time when I had small children, I realize I was so productive because any time I could write was so precious to me I didn’t waste a minute. I sorely miss that as now that my kids aren’t really around and I have all the time in the world, it feels harder than ever to write, to motivate. That said, besides right after finishing a big project, I still try to keep a steady schedule. Oh, I can’t write for more than two hours without needing a break. I can go back later, but two hours and I’m spent.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project
I don’t know if I always was and at the time I was really hard on myself and now I look back and think how ridiculous it is to think one can always be present for say, a three-year-old. I kept a pretty good eye on my sons- they’re alive!- and I had so much fun playing board games and reading to them. I miss holding them in my laps every day. But once they could entertain themselves with legos and other toys, of course I put up my feet and picked up a magazine. Also, although I’ve written two novels, I mostly wrote short stories which are more forgiving in some ways- you finish them more quickly for one. A novel is insanely emotionally draining for me, so those were tough times. Also once my kids could read at long stretches at a time- it’s heartbreaking the first time they ask you to stop reading to them because they want to read alone- we often sat around like a bunch of bookish nerds and read. It was sort of blissful. And reading and writing are very connected to me- I need to read a lot to feel engaged in the written word, to inspire me.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
It changed everything- my subject matter, my marriage, my heart, my interests. It didn’t change my desire to provoke and challenge readers with my work. And I’ve gotten some flack for that. But, I am who I am.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
It varies for people. For many people, it is time. For others, it’s the idea of being true to their vision, about worrying “what the kids will think.” For many people with a great big support system, it’s not an issue. It’s sad that we don’t all have that support, but we don’t.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Have kids! Do the work! Don’t be hard on yourself as a parent or an artist. Surround yourself with kindness and cut out the poisonous people – I mean that from the bottom of my heart. People can be so awful to young mothers and so judgmental. Ignore the mean people.