Age of kids: 6 and 1
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
Before I had kids I taught part-time at a university. It was a nice schedule, and I had a few mornings a week free for writing. I had to be pretty organized with my time in order to make this happen, but I was diligent about scheduling it in. Of course “writing time” wasn’t always used as such, as most writers know. There was a lot of procrastination, staring at walls, feeling frustrated. But I sat in my little room in my little chair during those scheduled times.
Since my first child was born almost seven years ago, my writing routines are constantly evolving. I have been a full-time mom, no babysitters. So, I write around the children’s schedules. When they are newborns, I write with them sleeping on my chest. Later, while they nap in the next room. And then, when they’re off to school for a couple of hours. I have fantasies of having longer chunks of time in a few years when my youngest is in school full time.
I definitely don’t write as often as I used to. I’m on a “write when inspired” track. And then, when the muse calls, I write like a madwoman! I think that way of doing things might work better for poetry, but I also do a fair amount of essay writing and this on-the-fly type of writing seems to work for that, too. I definitely don’t procrastinate as much as I used to. When I write, I write. My productivity hasn’t really changed since I’ve had kids, so I guess it’s working!
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
It’s definitely hard sometimes when my mind is racing with thoughts, words, images. There is a zone that most writers get in when they are in the middle of a productive writing time, and it’s not really conducive to parenting. I see my children go to this same place as they get thoroughly absorbed in play, or their own creative projects.
One of my hopes as a parent is that I can be really and truly present with my children, but I have realized over the years that it’s OK and normal for that not to be so all of the time. I think we live in a day and age where people think parenting has to be all or nothing, but that’s not how it was for thousands of years. Kids just fit into daily life, playing alongside parents while chores were done, meals were cooked, etc. There wasn’t always this push to keep your child stimulated every second of the day.
So, if I am playing with my kids and suddenly think of a line I need to jot down, I’ll run off and do it. Sometimes I’ll keep the computer open in whatever room I’m in so I can type up my thoughts as they come. I don’t like to teach my kids that it’s OK to be glued to technology throughout the day, but electronic devices are faster than writing by hand.
My older son considers himself a writer, too, and I like to think that him seeing me squeeze my writing in over the years has had a positive influence. We have definitely taught him that his mind, creativity, and imagination are as important as anything else in this world.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
In terms my voice on the page, and my interest in the human psyche, the body, sexuality, etc., I don’t think it has changed much. I have always written narrative/lyrical poems that come from my life. I think some poets and writers shy away from writing about their children, but I didn’t see how I could. They have been in almost all of my poems since I was pregnant. I have found the whole pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding thing to be incredibly potent, and I couldn’t write poems without including it. My new book of poems is definitely a “motherhood” book, though there are many other layers in there as well (poems are never about one thing, really).
It was interesting as I sent this manuscript out to publishers. I got a lot of positive feedback. But some publishers said straight out that writing about motherhood just wasn’t going to work for them. One publisher didn’t think there would be a big enough audience. Others were clearly just uncomfortable with it. When you think about it, this discomfort says something about our culture, how motherhood is viewed. I wondered if publishers would have had the same reaction if I were a man writing about being a father.
I learned to ignore those critiques. If you want to read it, go ahead. If you don’t, that’s OK, too.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
As I said before, I seem to be writing just as much as I did before I had children. But it has been much harder to keep up with the publishing side of it all. I used to have the time and resources (i.e., money!) to send out my work to as many journals, contests, grants, as possible. I do it now, but much more slowly. I also don’t have as much time to do readings or attend other conferences or writing events. I know that will happen in time, when I don’t have babies and toddlers around anymore, but it’s still frustrating sometimes, especially now that I have a new book out and I really need to get out to read from it and promote it.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Before I had kids, I had picked up on some buzz in the poetry/writing world that writing and kids just don’t mix. Some described it as a death sentence for a poet. Others just said it would be really, really difficult to continue once children entered the scene.
Yeah, having kids is hard, period. For anyone. And I don’t think everyone should have them. Not everyone wants to or can. But if you can, and your heart is pulling you in that direction, just do it. If you’re open to it, having kids can make you a better writer, and deeper writer, a more passionate one.
Most importantly, life is long. The time when your children need you intensely is short compared to all the years you have to write and publish. I understand that the pull toward writing and careers is deep, and not a lot of people want to sacrifice all they have worked for. But I also don’t think it’s either one or the other. You can find ways to fit writing into your life with kids.
I remember once, years ago, a writer I met at a reading gave me some excellent advice. I was complaining that, between work, chores, and other responsibilities, it was tough to find time to write. She said, “You are a creative person – you have to find creative ways to fit writing into your life.” You just have to trust that you will find ways to make a it work. You can be a good parent and a good writer.