Sunday, August 12, 2007

Writing, With Children

I tried starting this post four times today, and each time I was interrupted by my ten-year-old asking, "Can I check something on Club Penguin?" Actually, he asked that three times; the fourth time he just looked over my shoulder and said, "Isn't this ironic?" (He really did.)

I've always been reluctant to blame my not-writing on my kids. The fact is, I think I'm a better writer now than I was ten years ago. Having kids is like any other deep and interesting experience -- like travel or a love affair -- in that it enriches you. However, it also occupies you. And sometimes it's hard to get a perspective on how much. I've found that even when they're not around, part of my brain is monitoring my boys, thinking about what they're doing and what they might be needing, and wondering if they're safe. Quite a large chunk of brain: it's like a part of my bandwidth is now totally devoted to the Emergency Broadcast Network, and it never shuts down.

Some writers are better than others at shutting out distractions in general and kids in particular. A friend whose mother is a writer describes how her mom would sometimes, in the middle of doing something with her kids, suddenly kind of vanish -- she'd stare into space and wouldn't answer questions. Oh, she's writing, my friend would think. JRL has barely slowed down since having kids. Others of us have more trouble shutting the door against our children, or even carving out a little scrap of mental space without them in it.

Maybe the solution is to write without separating from them -- that is, to write about them. Certainly that's what a lot of parent-writers do. Since I don't really write non-fiction (and doubt I'd want to write a parenting memoir even if I did) I'd have to figure out a way to write fictionally about being a mother. But being a mother is a horror show. So much of it (and most of the interesting part) is about worry, terror, guilt -- I don't want to go there. In fact, I don't want to think about it more than I can help it. My protagonists, my fictional selves, are all still single and childless.

So there's the rub: can't write about them, can't NOT write about them. No wonder we're stuck. Some of us, anyway.

11 comments:

bigscarygiraffe said...

There is always Irving's The World According to Garp to look to. It may just be the untouchable bible for parents writing about children writing about children-parents..I get confused. Although I do remember quite a lot of people die horrifically, but amusingly. I probably didn't like the book, but I remember Glenn Close in the movie was not as disappointing as a I expected.

Matt said...

Some of it depends on how old the kids are - me, for example, typing at 3:30am because I can't get back to sleep after walking with the baby for an hour...

laura said...

Well, I'm not reluctant to blame everything on my kids... since they came along my definition of myself includes them. So how can they not be a part of everything? Moms are hard-wired for distraction. Just think of all the anecdotes and characters you'll have to write about when the boys are off cruisin' around town with (gasp) girlfriends....

rmellis said...

Even though babies take up more time, they somehow take up less mental space -- they need less from you. I actually worked pretty well when I had one little guy. When guy number two came along, and number one was a freaked-out toddler, my personal tipping point was reached.

It's easier now they're in school, but it may never be like it was back in the halcyon days of 100% self-absorption...

Lori said...

I'm not reluctant to blame being stuck on the kids, but I'm probably bitchier than you. Even when my husband takes over kid duty and I lock myself downstairs in my little writing cage, I still find it hard to focus. I'll hear them jumping off the couch or dropping dinner plates or throwing each other into the wall and spend most of my time debating whether to intervene and dreading the mess that awaits me at the end of my writing time.

the individual voice said...

Once they can get places on their own and/or drive, there is suddenly all this empty space for writing. And that Emergency Network Band, well, it still comes in and out, depending on where they are and how they are doing.

zoe said...

You might be intersted in Kirsty Gunn's new book "44 Things". In it she writes about the issue of being a mother and the need for a new form of literature. The book itself is 44 pieces;poems, stories, non-fiction. She has two little girl and says that she deliberately put her desk in amongst the house so that she would still be a part of the domestic day.

Personally, whilst I find it hard to put time aside in which to write, the confidence I've gained since having children has been invaluable. Also, the first hand experience of being on the verge of complete insanity has been very useful. I suppose you've got to take the rough with the smooth.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes despair that I'm not getting enough writing done. Then things like this happen:

I was cleaning my daughter's room and I found the secret book SHE was writing. It was so goddamn brilliant, I (oh...this is embarrassing...) don't even want to post an example of her brilliance here so that no one can steal it. (Geez...I'm a sicko...)

My point is, the writing life is such a magical life to involve your kids in. Writing and letting them see you write and your friends write and then everyone reading...ooh, it makes me proud just to think of it.

I don't mean to get grandiose, but really, us writers are the best parents around, because we show, by doing, what's important--an examined life.

5 Red Pandas said...

This strikes me as a very honest post. I know that if I really want a child I will have to seriously begin thinking about it soon since I'm not getting younger, but a part of me is very scared that I will change once I have a kid and my discipline will become compromised.

Then again, there are 3 computers in my apartment so no one has an excuse for not being able to use one in private. Once I got my little laptop, my writing life improved drastically because if people were distracting me I could just get up and move or leave the house entirely.

Sometimes small cosmetic changes like that do help, but I know how it is with kids. When I was teaching this past year I could never get any work done in the computer lab because every few minutes I had to solve a problem with a kid- which was my job. The thing about being a parent, and I'm not even one but I recognize this, is that the job never ends.

Anonymous said...

The job never ends but you become so much more as a person. I know that non-parents may find that irritating, so rather than generalise maybe I should say that's my experience.

Having said that, time is obviously very hard to come by and is very much dependent on a great partner who values your writing. The time you do manage to get is so precious that it can't be frittered away so you become a great deal better at focusing.

It's only since having my children that I've started taking writing seriously - i.e. doing it rather than talking about doing it. Maybe it's because I've realised if I can make something as cool as my children then maybe I can try to write something.

bigscarygiraffe said...
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