As I write this, I am locked away in my bedroom while my husband and son play. The door is closed so he doesn’t see me and I don’t get distracted by his chubby cheeks and cheeky smile. But the door can’t block out the giggles and laughter and I want to know what’s so funny and join in on the fun, and my heart tears a little and the pull to join them is strong.
But then I look back at my laptop and the drive to write, to create, is just as strong and I keep on typing. This is who I am: mother and writer. Author and mother to a toddler who is obsessed with Cars and a baby who is just starting to show his personality. I can’t be one without the other and as my sons get older I ask myself if it’s important enough to keep doing considering it’s not necessarily paying the bills.
The dream of staying at home and writing the novel is fleeting compared to reality, as the cost of living rises and house prices soar. Most writers can’t make enough from their writing to pay the bills so they also have to work a job that is often, soul destroying compared to writing all day. Some people are lucky enough to write for a living but still have to find time to do their creative writing before or after the work that pays. The JK Rowlings, Stephen Kings and Liane Moriarty’s of the world are rarer than a day where a Kardashian or Jenner doesn’t post on social media.
In 2015, Queen Mary University of London conducted a study that revealed that only one in ten authors can sustain a living on writing alone and earned less than minimum wage from their writing. Seventeen per cent of those authors didn’t earn anything from their work in 2014 despite being recently published. The old saying of doing it for the love, not the money clearly applies. Gone are the days of massive advances and publishers taking risks on unknown writers. The world has changed and so has the golden era of publishing.
I don’t write for the money (don’t get me wrong, the money is great) but I write because I have the need to write. Ask any author and we’ll probably all answer the same way. We’ve been writing for years and it’s something that’s a part of us, a part that if not given the chance to flourish, will likely effect other aspects of our lives. Like those who are runners, or yogis, writing fulfils us, and having children doesn’t change that. If anything, it intensifies.
While I was pregnant with my second son I was faced with the same deadline; 8 months to get my creative projects completed before my life changed once more and I may never sleep again. I had a due date for my baby, so I had a due date for my work, and if anything, this time I was even more inspired. Crazy Busy Guilty author Lauren Sams agrees. “Becoming a parent has changed my ambitions, it’s made me more ambitious, because I am aware of time passing rapidly, and also because I want to be the best version of myself, not just for me, but for my children.” Writing can be a selfish and solitary job and it is a job.
So then, when I am so time poor as it is, why would I take even more time away from my family? Speaking to other fiction authors it is the urge to create that makes us happier people and consequently, better parents. Author of The Memories That Make Us and mother of two, Vanessa Carnevale explains. “Writing is one of those things that requires a lot of commitment and a lot of trust because you don’t know where things will lead, so it’s important to focus on what brings the joy without focusing too much on outcomes to the point it detracts from that sense of pleasure.”
As mothers, we quite often put ourselves last and put our families wants and needs ahead of our own, but that doesn’t necessarily make for a happy family dynamic. “I always joke that I’m a much grumpier person if I’ve had a day of no writing but it’s true. Writing makes me happy and that’s a good thing for everyone in the house,” explains The Paris Seamstress author Natasha Lester.
Lester wrote her first two books during her children’s nap times which set up a disciplined routine for when the children were older. But at the time, she had no choice but to write in that precious and golden time that is the nap. “Every day at 12.30pm when the kids went down for a sleep, I would run as fast as I could to my computer and write as many words as I could before they woke up. I didn’t even go to the toilet because the time was so precious!”
My debut novel Tumble, was written as a dare by my husband. Drowning in the research of a historical novel that I loved, but felt restricted by, I had also been working on and off on a young adult novel. It was fun and involved issues and things I was passionate about and he suggested I finish it and see what happens. After many drafts and a few thanks but no thanks from publishers, I decided I wasn’t finished with my characters stories and chose to self-publish. With a newborn.
Like Lester, I worked while my son napped and gooed and gaaed next to me. I looked at his chubby little arms and legs with rolls like a Shar Pei, and knew that I was doing this for him. This wasn’t me being selfish, this was making a dream come true and I wanted him to learn that with a lot of hard work and a little luck, anything can happen. In March 2016 we welcomed a new member into our family. Tumble was born and I had another title next to my name; author.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my boys and I love spending time with them, if anything, it makes me appreciate my time with them even more, but if I haven’t written for a few days I get a bit twitchy and everyone notices it. In a house that is mad, loud and non-stop (seriously, boys do NOT. STOP. MOVING) to keep myself sane, I need to create. Some people meditate. Some people punch bags. Run 20kms. Do the downward dog. Get their nails done. I write.
The same can be said for women who go back to work. Most Australian women who return to work after having a child probably do so out of a necessity to pay the bills, but for some of those women it would be because they like to work. Of the authors that I interviewed all three agreed that their writing was their job and treat it as such.
“I think it’s really important to treat the writing like a business if you do wish to make money out of it and to always be looking out for opportunities,” Lester advises. As the mother of very impressionable boys, I believe it’s important that they see the importance of hard work and the rewards and satisfaction that come with it. “I love writing, but it is also my job,” Sams agrees. “I never feel guilty about devoting time to it just as I’m sure my husband doesn’t feel guilty about enjoying his work and being good at it.”
When I went back to work part time, I was constantly asked about how I felt about being back at work and away from my son. I asked my husband if he was asked the same question. The answer was no. No one thought to ask him how he felt about being away from his child and he feels he’s missing out on a lot, but he loves his job too.
This made me question if male writers face the same dilemma as female ones. Sylvia Plath’s writing suffered when she had her children, but Ted Hughes career soared. He wasn’t effected by the children because he wasn’t the main caretaker and Plath worked in the middle of the night while her children slept. “I certainly know it is something my female writer friends speak about often,” Sams says. “The juggle between “indulging” in novel writing and being there for their families.” I wonder if the difference is that men don’t feel guilt like women do. But it’s not just finding the time to write but missing out on opportunities that male writers and fathers may not even think twice about.
“Things like writing residencies are very problematic for a lot of female writers who also have children,” Lester explains. “I just can’t absent myself for four weeks to attend a residency because who’s going to look after the kids for that time?” The 2016 census showed that Australian women are still the main care givers for children and often take a step back from their careers while their partners and father of the children go back to work full time. The census also showed that men do five hours or less housework while women do between five and fourteen hours a week. Plus look after the family and work.
All three authors agree however, that they would like to think that they would support their husbands if they had creative pursuits. “I imagine that if my husband was a writer it would be just as difficult for him to find time to fit writing in between work and the children. In fact, it would probably be harder for him since he works full time.” Carnevale says. “I left a full time corporate career in order to focus more on the the things I loved, and that meant making more space and time for my writing.”
I wonder if I feel guilty because I do work part time in a “real” job and any further time away from my children is seen as a bad thing. If I was writing full time, and I was getting regular payments, would that ease the guilt of doing something that takes me away from my children? Sams doesn’t feel the guilt that plagues me. Sams is the author of two novels, She’s Having Her Baby and Crazy, Busy, Guilty which focuses on the struggle and juggle of motherhood and having a career. Sams gets it.
“Even though I wrote a book called Crazy Busy Guilty I think that guilt is such a useless emotion. I truly love working and I always have. It really is a part of my identity and makes me who I am.”
Is it in our DNA as a woman to feel guilty? Are we as women pre-dispositioned to feel guilt as we historically are the main caregivers? As the main carers, do we feel bad for any “me” time away from our children? Or, as I have found out, has becoming mothers made us better workers? I certainly learnt with my first born that I could get a lot done in half an hour while he slept and since have applied that speed and determination to my job and my writing.
“I’m sure most parents would agree with me that they get so much more done- at work, at home – now that they have kids because they simply don’t have time to waste anymore. Becoming a mum has really helped my writing as I now work to super strict deadlines which I thrive on…I think I get more done in those three days than I ever did in a five-day week in an office!” Sams says and Carnevale agrees that motherhood as also brought an added bonus to her writing.
“Being a mother has changed my writing in so many ways. Not only has it helped me become more time efficient by learning how to squeeze writing into stolen moments, but motherhood has taught me and continues to teach me about life. The experiences parenting gives us – the joys as well as challenges – has enriched my life but also has given me a greater understanding of emotion and empathy.”
I have now come to the conclusion that if you want something done, ask a mum. One of my friends told me I should be pregnant all the time because I’m so productive! The fact of the matter is, being a mum has made me more ambitious and much better at time management. Like the fictional people in our novels we have dreams and goals and creating those people and places makes us better humans and better mums. Carnevale sums it up beautifully.
“I have conversations about this with my children because I feel it’s important for them to know that there is value in nurturing creativity. I want my children to know that spending time on the things we love isn’t just okay, it’s an essential part of our wellbeing.”