A Salon article sparked some conversations yesterday on twitter and rightly so. I thought the article writer made some excellent points (as well as missed some others), but it all feeds into the conversation we've been having the last couple of weeks about writers and money and how we use our time. I think it's vital to acknowledge privilege wherever we have it--yes I've worked hard, I've sacrificed a lot to be able to write books, but I've also had help. It was a huge help that for the first 8 months of my marriage we lived on my husband's income while I finished The Goose Girl. When my student loan payments kicked in, I put aside fulltime writing to get a job, and my writing became slower and more sporadic.
We had some rocky years with job losses and recession, but then there were 2 1/2 cushy years when he had a job that paid our bills and I was able to stay home with our first child, who did not have special needs and was a good napper. (I did have two books published at this point, but that income was pocket change.) I was able to write Princess Academy, River Secrets, and Austenland during that time. I've written while having a fulltime job, I've written with small children and no babysitting help, I've put in the hardcore years. But I've been much more productive when I didn't have to work full time, when I did have a babysitter, etc. Circumstance has as much to do with the ability to create art as talent and passion.
Privilege also meant I was born in a house with books in it. Both my parents were college graduates. I didn't have to worry about where I was getting my next meal. I wasn't mocked for spending a Saturday reading. I was encouraged and able to attend college. I was encouraged and supported in my decision to get an MFA. At every point in my life, I've been surrounded by people literate in things like how to apply for college or a student loan or a checking account, all the nitty gritty stuff that helps lead to success that I had the privilege of taking for granted.
One part of the article stood out to me. The writer tells about a bookstore event she attended for a breakout, successful author.
"When...an audience member, clearly an undergrad, rose to ask this glamorous writer to what she attributed her success, the woman paused, then said that she had worked very, very hard and she’d had some good training, but she thought in looking back it was her decision never to have children that had allowed her to become a true artist. If you have kids, she explained to the group of desperate nubile writers, you have to choose between them and your writing. Keep it pure. Don’t let yourself be distracted by a baby’s cry."
When I was young and hopeful of becoming a writer, I believed that was true too. I'd heard other women writers say the same. I thought I'd have to choose between being a writer or being a mother. It was a great motivator for me, actually, to finish The Goose Girl because I thought that would be it. I needed to get one book out before having a kid because then it would be all over.
Twenty books and four children later, it's not all over.
I've written at length about living in the crossroads of art and mothering. It's challenging for sure. And I have a feeling that the books I write (genre, for children), that glamorous, childless writer wouldn't consider real books anyway. But it's simply not true that children prevent deep thought, the creation of art, the passion for something as involved and longterm as writing a novel. There are many writers who have proved otherwise, over and over again. And for me, the more years I spend with my kids, the more stories I'm eager to tell, both for them and for me.