Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Secret to a Successful Writing Career...REALLY??

At this very moment, a good friend and former co-worker is in labor with her first child. I'm very excited for her and her husband and found myself waking up like a nervous Auntie every two or three hours to check my cell phone for updates. I texted my friend about 40 minutes ago, thinking that maybe the baby had been born since her labor began early last night. She texted back that her contractions were every two minutes. I was AMAZED that she texted me back, I thought I would surely hear from her husband and not her! She must have amazing drugs or an incredibly high tolerance to pain or as they called it in my birthing class way back when--discomfort. Yeah, right. Discomfort :) I'm praying for my friend and her baby. What a beautiful time for them.

Several of my younger friends have had babies this year and all returned to their jobs within a few months of giving birth and in one friend's case, after she gave birth to twins. They all seem to have supportive husbands with their own jobs and super daycare situations which you would expect in the DC area. A couple of friends have relatives living nearby for extra help which is great.

This morning I read an article in The Guardian by Alison Flood about author/mother Zadie Smith's criticism of author Lauren Sandler's (single child, mother of one) suggestion "that women should restrict the size of their families if they want to avoid limiting their careers." The suggestion that limiting the children was the secret to success initially raised my eyebrows and annoyed me. But, as I continued to read, I began to vacilate between agreeing with a small point of the suggestion and shaking my head in disagreement at Sandler's suggestion. There are so many sides to this issue.

I began writing my first novel in 2006 when my children were in high school. It wasn't a choice, mind you. I had been an at-home Mom in a traditional marriage (as was my parent's marriage) where my husband worked outside the home and I took care of the house and the children. I was blessed to be able to stay home, I always said that. I was a working artist and a late blooming writer who didn't get the 'writing a whole novel' bug until my kids were in high school. My then-husband drove the kids to school in the morning and I remember thinking that I had eight wonderful free hours to write as both kids played sports after school. My husband didn't get home until 7, so my creative life was productive and seemless. When my kids and husband walked through the door, I closed the laptop and put down the paintbrushes.

At that time, I had a married author friend who had two elementary school children. She managed to write and publish two books, so I knew it could be done. We were both at-home Moms and many times we agreed that it was easier to focus on writing while working at home. I used to say that having children gave me three things I personally lacked--organization, discipline and focus. I knew I had limited time and energy so, I made good use of my time in those days. My husband's income allowed me to write and not worry about the bills. Fact.

Today I'm divorced and support myself.  I write full time. My children have graduated from college and have successful careers. I retired myself from a short career in the social services arena and have free time every day. And, you know what? With a lack of structure and schedule, and no real demands on my time--I find my creative organization, discipline and focus lacking some days! My friends with careers and children at home do more than anyone I know and accomplish great things and, good for them! As a 55 year old, I can no longer run around like I did in my 30's and 40's. Their schedules make me tired, but I applaud them.

I don't think the question should be how many children could possibly interfere and mess up a writing career. I believe it's who we select as the father of our children that's important (since we're talking about women in this blog), if they want children. My girlfriends with children seem to have husbands who support their careers for the long haul. Their husbands seem to be on board with taking turns with household chores, running the kids around and taking them to doctor appointments. As long as the children are well taken care of, it doesn't matter to me who does it as long as it's done and done well. Whatever floats your boat.

What I know--the keys to a successful career are discipline, organization, focus, drive, creativity, money, a supportive spouse (if they're married), family nearby, or excellent daycare (if they have children). There's no one answer here. So why add children to the issue? Children aren't the issue and the number of children isn't the issue.

I can't count the way in which my children enriched my life as newborns, toddlers, grade school children, tweens, high schoolers, college-aged kids and now, as adults!

Did remaining childless make Emily Bronte a superior writer? Were all of Hemingway's children taken care of by a nanny or his ex-wives? Was that why he was such an amazing, prolific writer? Who knows. I believe every situation was/is different and you'll find every possible scenario with any author, male or female. There are plenty of single Dads out there writing and publishing fantastic books with young children at home and women with three or four children pumping out highly acclaimed books. There are single or married writers, men and women, with no children who with all the time in the world, can't seem to finish a book.

After I read the article, I read all the comments (which are sometimes more interesting than the blog post they follow) out of curiosity. Well, weren't my panties in a damn twist by this comment made by a reader I'm assuming is a man:

"On the other hand there is the argument that the quality of women's writing never quite matches that of men, regardless of how many children are involved."

This guy gave me a major wedgie that I'm still having trouble with! Who says that?!

I know that I'll return to that article all day long to check out the comments to this little nugget and this genius' rebuttals.



  1. That's a very good point, Ellie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. But I also think stamina/energy is a factor and the more kids, the more tired women tend to get...usually...But what you say about supportive husbands is totally true--they make a huge difference!

  2. I agree with you, Mayra. Stamina/energy is a huge factor with lots of children. I can't run around like I did in my 30's and 40's! Thanks for adding that, my friend. A supportive partner/husband is key!

    This afternoon, I watched Katie Couric's show on infertility and was shocked to find out from the two OB/Gyn's on the show that women's eggs are the most viable and successful between ages 18-28. That really surprised me! More women are choosing to work on their career and starting families in their 30's, only to find out that their eggs are too old. Shocking and tragic. I guess that's the other side of having children, don't wait too long to have children if you want a family and freeze your eggs if you can!