There are days when I joke with my husband that I’m going to dedicate my next novel: To my children, without whom this book would have been finished sooner. Oh, it is tempting sometimes. My kiddos are my joy, my light, my universe– all those good things. One of the first things you learn as a parent is that all those squishy greeting-card sentiments? When it comes to your children, they are really true. But conducive to long stretches of uninterrupted writing time, small children are definitely not. I do have help– three mornings a week, our lovely babysitter comes and takes my girls to the park for a couple of hours so that I can sit in an amazingly quiet house and wedge a longer stretch of writing into our usually busy homeschooling schedule. But at the moment, she has the audacity to be off on her honeymoon (Kidding! I truly wish her a lovely time!) which leaves me without that luxury for three weeks.
(Right now as I type this, my girls are downstairs. Being suspiciously quiet. Which means that it will probably take me twice as long to clean up whatever mess they’re making as it will to write this post).
But anyway, I thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to remind myself that there are ways– really there are– that having small children has actually been an incredible benefit to my writing career.
You get to experience the world through a child’s eyes. I read somewhere or other that novelists should strive to bring the boundless wonder, curiosity, and amazement of a young child’s perspective to their writing. Look at that huge tree! Wow– look, a brown dog! Mama, you HAVE to see the enormous bug in the back yard. Children offer a daily reminder of the wonder and miracles to be found even in the minutia of daily life– and that awareness inevitably seeps into my writing.
You’re constantly reminded of the simple magic and power of stories. As a writer, I tend to automatically think in analytic terms of all the stories I encounter– those I write, those I read, even those I watch on a movie screen. And I think it’s important to do so– but at the same time, it’s easy to get a little bogged down by that sometimes: thinking in terms of micro and macro tension, character arcs, plot pinch points, etc. etc. My girls and I also read together for hours a day, though– and at 6 and 4, neither of them is consciously thinking about any of that. They simply love and respond to good stories, love getting lost in a make-believe world. It’s a breath-of-fresh-air reminder of the overarching purpose of all those craft techniques in my writing toolbox.
You have a constant, built-in reality-check when creating fictional child characters in your own books. I admit this is a pet peeve of mine, but we’ve all read them, haven’t we? The books (and not to be mean or overly negative, but I’ve read NY Times bestsellers that in my opinion at least fall into this category) that suffer from what I have privately dubbed Utterly Unrealistic Child Syndrome. The fictional child characters who might as well have ‘plot device’ stamped across their tiny foreheads, because they are unfailingly nothing but sweet, charming, precocious, and too adorable for words. The ones who obligingly fall into instant and preternaturally sound slumber the moment their parent/guardian wants to have an important conversation or a romantic tryst. Who have perhaps one meltdown or troubled moment in the course of an entire 400 page novel– usually conveniently timed to coincide with the climactic action of the rest of the plot. Don’t get me wrong, children are miraculous, amazing, extremely adorable, and often wise beyond their years. But they’re also complicated, quirky, random, and rarely convenient to anyone’s schedule or agenda but their own. I haven’t– and wouldn’t, for the sake of their future sanity!– actually based a fictional character on either of my children. But parenting my kiddos certainly informs any child characters who do pop up in my fiction.
You’re automatically forced to use your time wisely and well. For me at least, this is a biggie. For all I sometimes feel the pinch of wishing for more writing time, I know I’m actually so much more productive than I was before I had children. People ask me how on earth I can write on average 2 or 3 books a year while homeschooling 2 young children– but it’s really not that I’m Superwoman or anything (Trust me. So not Superwoman). It’s actually because I homeschool 2 young children that I can keep up that kind of creative output. I know my writing time is limited, so there’s just no time for the kind of procrastination or pencil sharpening I struggled with before my kids came along. When the opportunity arises, I run to the keyboard and start typing.
Of course there are a million and one other non-writerly reasons I’m grateful for my children every day, but those are my writerly ones. Anyone have any others to add? (Observations about fur babies welcome, too!)
Help me out– I still have another 2 babysitter-less weeks left to go. ;-)