This is a Writers’ Other Jobs post from Karen Andrews.
I thought I came to the realisation that I wanted to be a writer somewhat early, but after working around, and talking to, writers for several years now I’ve realised that ‘early’ is quite a relevant term. High schoolers, and students even younger than that, are getting published and interact heavily in the literary community; it’s a wonderful thing to witness. If I had lived in Melbourne (or some other city or region with a cultural scene) when I was a teenager, perhaps I would have done the same. As it happened, my own experiences didn’t begin until my early twenties. On the other hand, what I did want since childhood, what I imagined and had a clear sense about, was one thing: being a mother. I longed for a baby (or babies), picked out the names and so forth. And this desire eventuated with ease and speed, and I know this is not always the case. I was – and have been – very lucky.
I think if you ask any parent who happens to be a writer how they’re able to juggle their headspace and commitments you will get a lot of groans and shrugging of the shoulders. I don’t even know how I do it sometimes, and that’s because sometimes the work doesn’t get done. Why? For me, if there is a face-off between writing and parenting (doing a job, running around, etc.), the parenting side wins much of the time. Am I happy about this? Not really. Have I ever been jealous of others who are collected and organised and have a better balance? You bloody bet I have. Not very often, though. I’m also sympathetic to the fact that we’re all very different, with certain unique challenges. It’s not all bad, far from it, and to illustrate I’m going to give some examples of how writing and parenting are quite similar jobs.
They are both take a far more physical toll than one might suppose.
The twenty-two kilogram weight gain I had in my second pregnancy didn’t complicate the labour or my medical health, but it did have a lasting effect on my physical condition. I didn’t ‘bounce back’ like I did before and my back was compromised because I constantly had a baby on a hip – not to mention the incidental stubbed toes or walking into walls because I was so tired I literally didn’t know where I was going.
Writing, though, is just sitting at a desk, right? Well, exactly. You’re just sitting at a desk. For hours on end, perhaps in not the most ergonomically sound chair. Not burning many calories or moving muscles; if the monitor is too high or too low, your neck muscles need to compensate. Your eyesight might shorten. Check your posture. There is a lot to think about.
Now, I’m experimenting with certain methods to try and overcome this. One, which is quite in fashion at the moment, is the treadmill computer we have in the garage, but whenever I try to escape to it I’m inevitably followed by a child. And it is fine if you’re reading, or answering emails, but thinking and walking at the same can be tricky. (But if Susan Orlean can do it, why can’t I?)
You love it, but don’t always like parts of it.
There are some joyous parts to writing: discovering parts to your characters that will help (though not always) their development or their contribution to the story; getting into a nice flow, where the words tap-tap effortlessly from your fingers; the surprise and delight of finishing a piece. The nice parts of parenting are pretty easy to guess: those first smiles, giggles, the utter marvel that is overnight growth spurts and before you know it they’re walking.
Writing has its downsides; I don’t need to tell writers that. And this is before we even get to the inevitable rejections. Parenting is tough, often thankless, anxiety-inducing and preoccupying. But it has made me a better writer and I will always be grateful for that. Even if my word counts don’t get up quite as high as I’d like, that’s okay. I have so much besides.
Karen Andrews is an award-winning writer, author, editor, blogger and publisher. She writes at Miscellaneous Mum (miscmum.com) – her blog about writing, parenting, creativity and life. Her latest book is Crying in the Car: Reflections on Life and Motherhood.