The idea for this blog post originated somewhere in my brain after I had read Stephen King’s On Writing and before I stumbled across a particular article on writers and money. In other words, some time in the past five to ten years.
A couple weeks back, I found a link to THIS ARTICLE on another author’s blog. It is a lengthy post about money and writers, and it is excellent. It’s entertaining and humorous, which is important when you are trying to talk to artistic types about their finances. It is also wonderfully practical and wise. If you are a writer or an author (full-time, part-time, just-started, old-hat, self-pubbed, or query-sending), I would love for you to read it. Something in it may be the advice that you really need, right now.
And while I thoroughly enjoyed the laughs and the refresher on the financial front, this article also got me thinking about a theme of my own writing life: being a mom/writer. You see, among the advice that John Scalzi (in the article) gives us, he tells us not to quit our day job and to marry someone who can support us (financially and otherwise). Sure, he got a lot of flack for suggesting that people marry for money (which is not as simple as the naysayers suggest), but the point is to set yourself up, if possible, to make very little money from writing and to work very hard at it. In the end, though, I found myself resonating most with the one comment from a woman who sort of suspected that his advice wouldn’t work as well for “girls.”
Ever since I read On Writing, I have had this image in my head of Stephen King walking in the front door from work to his 1960s ranch with old carpet, dropping his overcoat on the hall table, and wading through his wife and kids straight up the hall to the closet at the end. There, he opens the door and sits down to a tiny desk in the tiny space. He spends the whole evening and night writing, as his wife feeds the kids, throws a plate of food at her husband, wrangles the kids into the bath and pjs, and the house falls silent and dark. I have shared this On Writing inspired vision, before.
It has sort of a romance to it, an allure somewhere between Charles Dickens and Benjamin Franklin. We get it. He didn’t quit his day job. He worked really hard, really long hours, in sometimes odd and inconvenient circumstances. And while I tremendously respect King and Franklin and all those other hard-working people–and it is also entirely possible that King did a lot more in his paternal evenings than sit at a desk–I have come to believe that the scene just isn’t the same for moms, and that it almost can’t be.
Call me kooky, but in this climate of equality, I actually believe women and men are different. It goes back to their physiology, from their hormone balances to their brains. And yes, I dare speak in generalizations, because I believe generalizations are important and helpful. (See article HERE for my defense of generalizations.) There is always an exception to the rule. There are always gradations. Men and women should have equal rights. Yes, yes, yes. But what I’m talking about here is a near-universal experience that mothers do what mothers feel they have to do (unless they are broken). Which includes launder the costume, sew on the Girl Scout patch, nurse the baby, buy fruit and veggies, read to the child. For oh-so-many biological reasons (from the inter-connectivity of our corpus collosum to the strength of our thighs), we care. We also see how A gets to B. We see, in fact, how A, C, D, E, F, G, X, Y and Z get to B. This is why most fathers would be content to lay on the couch next to the basket of laundry (perhaps snuggling a child or just unwinding) while a mother would stand there and fold while listening to her daughter’s science report and catching up on the latest episode of Sherlock. It’s not, at root, a matter of drive. It’s a little bit a matter of goals. Most husbands have simpler goals. Go ahead, ask them. Women? They are complicated on so many levels, including their goals. They can see it all stretched out ahead of them in an intricate web, and they think, “I have to do this and this and this and this and this… today.”
Thank goodness, because in most households, it is still the mother that makes the world spin. But what happens when mom works? Or mom is single? Or–heaven forbid–mom wants to work for herself (like be a writer)? Well, then, hold the phone, because I don’t think it’s going to work to cross our genders here. Women need a different pattern to use to accomplish these things, plain and simple.
Most mothers will never (as long as they have people to care for) be able to walk in the front door, head to a desk in the back of the house, and write all night. To expect them to is to not recognize their immense strengths and their immense obstacles. It is to suppress the feminine in favor of the masculine, instead of celebrating the wonderful combinations of each inside of all these people. Moms are not usually so great at compartmentalizing. They have needs to meet, often complicated and far-reaching, and they are going to meet them, come hell or high water.
For us mom/writers, then, we have at least two sets of goals that are yanking on us at all times, demanding that we give them our all.
What I’m not saying is that women should do all the house chores and work and raise the kids, alone (unless you are single a mom). Modern American society demands than men meet more than the work-and-lawn expectation of our not-so-distant past. I’m also not saying that laundry, cooking, or vacuuming are lady chores. But women do tend to fill those roles more than men. The distribution of work and chores in your house is between you and the other people in your house. Mom can change the oil while dad sweeps the floor. Mom can even be a doctor while dad stays home. That is not at all my point. My point is that women feel differently, think differently, and even act differently, and–whether from thousands of years of adaptation or from the artistic hand of a great Creator–that makes women really great at some things and less equipped for others, and the same with men. It doesn’t mean we can’t change, or question, or embrace differences.
Well, I’m not going to solve this for anyone, here, right now. I’m just going to make some suggestions and invite conversation.
- Sure, set times for writing, and stick with them. Don’t do other things during that sacred time. Shove that time in late at night, early in the morning, in your lunch break, wherever you can squeeze it.
- Let other things go. You have to lower your expectations on some front, maybe many. Let go of the Pottery Barn-ready family room. Let go of the rented-pony birthday parties. If that’s a laugh, let go of the dishes or the laundry: do it less often. Make simpler dinners. I’m totally not joking. Sacrifices have to be made. Just make sure you’re still meeting the most important needs, like being with your kids and making sure they are safe.
- Kick guilt to the curb. You have to. You were never going to be the perfect mom, anyways. Give yourself grace, give your kids grace, give your husband (or whomever) grace. If you really struggle with this, I suggest a 12-step program like Celebrate Recovery.
- Set goals, not deadlines. Deadlines have their place, for sure, but I have found it most helpful to concentrate on one writing project at a time and just go for it, hard. Don’t slacken and don’t give up. But if Johnny is home with the vomits, you aren’t missing some huge writing deadline, you’re just waiting until tomorrow to write chapter 23.
- Accept that you are a mom AND a writer. They are not, as I said in an article HERE, mutually exclusive. But it is different than being a dad and a writer. Tailor your expectations to fit the real demands of your life and your goals.
Of course, all writers have an up-hill battle of it. My ADHD, migraines, and blood-sugar issues are regular and rather rough bumps on my road to career-author. I also happen to need nine hours of sleep per night to keep those migraines at bay. Plus, things happen to me. All the time. And they happen to you, too. In fact, all these “bad” things inform our writing, they inform our career, they inform who we become.
Being a struggling mom/writer will be a part of my voice as an author, which is part of why I think having this discussion is important: I want to hear those nurturing, feminine, mom voices! I want young, hard-working women to go from pipedream to published. And I don’t think the encouragement for that can come by trying to cram all that estrogen and boobs into a guy-shaped box.
We won’t write exactly like Bob and George and John, and we probably won’t get there the same way, either.