Yannick Murphy, author of:
Novels: The Call; Signed, Mata Hari; Here They Come; The Sea of Trees
Short story collections: Stories in Another Language, In a Bear’s Eye
Children’s books: Ahwoooooooo!, Baby Polar, The Cold Water Witch
Age of kids: 15 (omg!), 13, and soon to be 10.
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
My writing schedule changed when I met my husband, a racehorse veterinarian who had to wake up at 4:40 a.m. every morning to get to the racetrack on time and treat the horses. Because he went to bed early, I started going to bed early. Before that I liked to write at night, usually from 8-11 p.m. When we had children, I would sit down with just a cup of tea and write after my husband left the house and while the kids were still sleeping. When the kids woke up around 6:30, I would cook breakfast and we would eat together. I often had to remind my husband to be quiet in the morning when he’d get ready to go off to work, I was always on tenterhooks that a flushing of the toilet, or an early morning throat-clearing, or a squeak from his leather boot sole would wake them up too early and I wouldn’t get in my writing time.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deeply into a current project?
I don’t work certain hours of the day when they come home from school, so they know I’m around for them then. I used to think there was something the matter with me, that I wasn’t present enough for my writing and that it couldn’t possibly be quality writing if my thoughts and concerns about it weren’t seeping over into my daily interactions with my family, but then one day I actually realized that I do think about my writing while I’m cutting the carrots and going over irregular Spanish verbs with my kid. There are many levels to my thoughts, I realized, and I’m always scanning a situation or event or a bit of conversation in order to mine it and see how it could work with my writing. When I regroup and sit in front of the computer, the events of the day inform my writing. Nothing I do away from my writing is in vain, not the chopping of the carrot or the irregular verb tense review or the reprimand to pick up a dirty sock. It’s all the stuff that stories are made of.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
I had a teacher once tell me that when you start writing, everyone and everything will be against you. I think he was right, if you want to look at it in that light. Nothing about being a wife or a parent (or a teacher, which is what I also do part time) is conducive to writing. Being those things takes up your time and energy. You’ll always be pulled in ten directions. As much as I hate that feeling, it’s good for my writing. It makes me fight harder for my right to write. The more I see it as a challenge to spend time on my writing, the more I struggle to do it, and the more productive I become. In that way it benefits me.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
I think you have to do what works best for you and what you’re comfortable with. I can count the number of times my kids ever had a babysitter on one hand. I think I toyed with the idea when they were younger. (All three are relatively close in age.) I thought, “Yes, I’ll get a baby sitter for them three hours a day, and then I’ll work on my writing,” but that never became a reality, simply because it was easier for me to be around them than to have to fit some babysitter’s schedule into our busy day. Also, I very much wanted to be around them when they weren’t asleep or napping. Because the time they were awake was the time I knew I wouldn’t be able to write, I felt the urge to make up for it when they were sleeping and I could write. I didn’t waste time at the computer, and I decided any project I was going to undertake, since I had such a limited window of time to do it in, was somehow going to be an artistic endeavor worthy of my life. Ideally, the only guilt a writer should let themselves feel is the guilt that they’re not working enough on their writing.