When I was four years old, I informed my mother that rather than bathe my children, I would simply “sell them away.” Around the same age, I wrote my first short story on the back of a phone bill and declared that I would write books one day.
I think my priorities were pretty clear.
I always assumed I would have children; I never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was married that it occurred to me that the two might be in conflict. For reassurance, I turned to that font of endless good advice: the internet.
This was a mistake.
Writing and parenting, I discovered, was in fact impossible (and possibly immoral). Horror stories abounded. Your brain will turn to mush, they said. Forget writing, you’ll be so brain-dead you’ll put your pants on backwards. You’ll put writing in the same dusty, forgotten box as sleep, date night, and conversations that revolve around something other than poo.
I found well-respected authors advising writers not to have kids—or if you’re foolish enough to ignore that, stop at one. Whenever a conversation about writing and parenting cropped up, the discussion devolved into a litany of difficulties, one writer after another declaring it impossible to have small children and write.
I did the sensible thing: I plugged my ears, said “lalala” really loudly, and plunged ahead.
Then, three months pregnant, with my first novel stumbling its way through a lackluster debut, it became impossible for me to tune out the people—women in particular—telling me to give up on getting any writing done for at least the first year. Or three years. Or until the youngest is in school. Or out of school.
They said it like it was a gift. Like they were letting me off the hook. Instead, it terrified me. Writing is my livelihood, and the thing I love most that isn’t a person. I had professional obligations that wouldn’t magically go away for a year (or three, or ten). I had anxiety and depression inextricably linked to my ability to produce words.
So I did the smartest thing I could have under the circumstances and emailed Erin (who had just had her second child less than a month before) in a flailing panic.
“O wise and benevolent Erin,” my email reads. “You write. You do not appear to be, as these writers assert, a cyborg, independently wealthy with a staff, or a myth (I’ve met you and everything!). So please, tell me: am I doomed to write nothing but facebook updates about the consistency of my child’s poo? Or is there hope?”
Erin’s email was exactly what I needed: optimistic, practical, funny. You can do this, she told me. In detail. (There were bullet points.) So I started reaching out more to my community of writers, and instead of asking about parenting and writing as a general topic, I asked for stories of success. I asked for practical tips to make it work. I asked for solutions.
It turns out that when you stop asking can I write with kids and start asking how to write with kids, the conversation changes.
That’s the conversation I want to have here. My son is sixteen months old. In the past sixteen months, I’ve written almost half a million words, had a novel come out, sold another one, revised and rewritten and despaired and rallied and changed so many diapers and, yes, had a lot of conversations about the consistency of poo. I hope that talking about how I’ve succeeded and where I’ve failed will help the worried mother or mother-to-be—or father, or parent—find strategies to get words on the page. To balance book and baby.
And hopefully, to sell one of them.
The book, I mean.