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What Motherhood Has (and Hasn’t) Changed About My Writing

My daughter, who I refer to as IB.

The first time my husband and I talked about having kids, we were in our early 20s, not yet married, and the idea of starting a family felt so far away it might as well have been on the planet Jupiter. But then 22 became 25 became 29. The years blinked away faster than I thought possible.

In that time, I also quit my job in order to focus on writing. I had grand dreams (or delusions?) of long days at the keyboard, words pouring out of me in a great rush, like rice into a pot. But truthfully, I didn’t write that much more than I had while working a day job. I was just happier, because I felt closer to living the writer’s life that I had imagined for myself as a girl.

I finished a manuscript, polished and queried it, and signed with a great agent. We went on submission. I turned 29.

By then, my husband was itching to become a father. In many ways I was ready too, but there was one major roadblock: I had always envisioned becoming an author first, a mother second. So I asked him to wait a little longer, until my book sold. Then we could try for a baby.

My book did not sell.

I could write a whole other post about that — about the slow, silent grief I didn’t even realize I was going through — but suffice it to say, it became clear that I couldn’t keep putting off motherhood. Couldn’t keep tying it to a day that might not come for years.

Throughout my pregnancy, I tried to write. Through the nausea and exhaustion and discomfort, I tried. Ever the optimist, I thought, “At the very least, I can finish a new manuscript and get it to my agent before the baby is due.”

Nope. Just like quitting my job to write full-time did not magically make me a faster writer, neither did getting pregnant.

The baby came — a sweet, tiny little girl — and for those first few months, everything was about her. (Well, and my own recovery.) For the first time in two decades, I put absolutely zero pressure on myself to write. It was foreign, frightening, and a little bit liberating.

Eventually I lucked into a part-time nanny-share with a neighbor, and suddenly I had a few hours each week to myself again. I thought I would use them to write. I wanted to.

But there were dishes, and laundry, and dog walking, and vacuuming. There was an embarrassing amount of urgent googling. (“Diaper rash,” “peanut allergy,” “nap schedule.”) All sorts of things that needed to get done, and were so much easier to do without a baby around.

After a while, I began to wonder if what I had most feared was coming true. Had becoming a mother cost me a part of myself that I could never get back? Was my passion for writing dwindling away? Had I missed my window for success?

Never mind the literally countless examples of fantastic authors who are parents, I found my reassurance in two close friends who were roughly my age, were writers, and were now mothers. One had been published before having kids, had written her second novel while pregnant, and was now working on a new manuscript while raising the first daughter and expecting a second. All was not lost.

My other friend had gotten an agent with a book that I loved and believed in, but for various unknown reasons, it never sold. In the nearly five years since then, she had given birth to two boys, and zero manuscripts. Once upon a time, I had looked at her situation in disbelief and frustration, wondering how she could have let it happen. Suddenly I found myself standing in more or less the same place and thinking, “Oh, this is how.” Sometimes it just… happens.

The thing is, I don’t care any less about my writing than I used to. I care about it exactly the same amount. I just care more about my daughter. It’s like my writing is a skyscraper, towering over everything in my life, but my daughter is a hundred stories taller.

The other thing is, babies are only babies for so long. The time I spent with my daughter as an infant was priceless, and a great privilege. A toddler now, she has already grown so much, and will continue to do so, becoming ever more independent from me. And as she does, I’m getting back to my bedrock — my writing — both to fulfill myself, and to fill her absence.

So what has changed? Everything and nothing.

What fears have you experienced in regards to your writing? Have you ever felt conflict between your identity as a writer and other parts of yourself? 

Postscript: Actually, one concrete difference in my writing now is perspective. I tend to write Young Adult stories, and have typically projected myself into the teenage protagonist. (Think empathy, not wish fulfillment.) But lately I find myself connecting a lot more with the parent characters… I’d like to think it makes my work richer, and more well-rounded. But maybe I’m just getting old.

About Kristan Hoffman [1]

Originally from Houston, TX, Kristan Hoffman [2] studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and later attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now she lives with her family in Cincinnati, OH, where she writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist, multicultural stories. Her words have appeared in the New York Times, Switchback, and the Citron Review, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel, and is represented by Tina Dubois of ICM. For more, please visit her website [3].