Wendy Chin-Tanner, author of Turn (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014), a poetry collection
Age of kid: 6
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
When I was writing professionally before I became a parent, I was fairly new to the craft and to my process. I wrote from inspiration and in long binge sessions. I had no schedule. And so, I suffered from procrastination and anxiety, which, after a negative experience with my first and only literary agent, sunk me into a 10-year period of writer’s block, or silence, as I think of it. Literary silence. I went into academia during this time, studying and then teaching Sociology. It wasn’t until my daughter was about one that as a consequence, I think, of starting a meditation practice, I suddenly started to hear the music of the words again. There was something about the meditation process that lowered the volume on the white noise buzzing in my head and opened up a frequency where poetry could enter. There was something about the sheer exhaustion of new motherhood that left me with only have enough energy to write something down but not enough to judge my writing into nothingness. There was something about the milk rhythm and the sleep rhythm that tricked me out of my usual procrastination because the snippets of time available to me were short and finite, and didn’t seem so scary and full of expectation. And there was something about the constant little failures in parenting that forced me to accept the inevitability and even the necessity of failure in my writing. Ultimately, I think this gave me the courage to just shut up, sit down, and do it. Now that my daughter is older and in school, I have increased my responsibilities in the writing world as an editor at several publications. The lessons I learned in early motherhood about multitasking and tucking small scraps of work into the crevices of the day have stood me in good stead.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
I try to confine my writing time to when my daughter is at school or otherwise occupied. I also work a lot at night, which is supposed to be bad for you, but I’m not really a morning person anyway, so whatcha gonna do?
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
I write pretty frequently and explicitly about parenting and I also think that being a parent has made me more fearless as a writer because at the end of the day, the people who matter most to me, my husband and my daughter, don’t give a fuck if my writing is drivel or genius. And their not giving a fuck has helped me stop giving so much of a fuck. That’s quite freeing.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
Fighting the feeling that I am half-assing EVERYTHING.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
If you’re co-parenting with someone, especially if your partner is also a writer or artist, make a schedule and write it down. A childcare/work/leisure schedule. You might think you don’t need to write it down, but you really really do. And you really really need to prioritize this space for yourself, even if you’re not actively working on a project or writing during that time. Even if you just take that time to go be by yourself and think about writing or sit down and stare at a wall. It will save you a world of bullshit, insanity, resentment, and guilt, not to mention therapy bills. I promise.