At the AWP conference in Chicago, I was lucky to attend the panel on pregnancy called Writing Motherhood. I was surprised by a few things 1) how many of the people in the audience were not pregnant, and 2) how many of them were men. It was standing room only in a rather large room (more than a hundred attended) – and the Q&A ran so long the next panel was hovering impatiently at the door.
This is clearly an issue, people.
At the panel, one of the writers admitted that her means of securing real mental space to write is to leave her daughter with her husband for the weekend, every other weekend, while she was working on a book. In case of emergency, mommy was a phone call and a ten-minute drive away, but otherwise, someone else was cleaning, cooking, hugging, reading bedtime stories, curing boredom, shopping and schlepping, and mommy was working her fucking ass off. Again, the guilt-factor was at work. She knew she was 1) spending family money on a hotel. Parents don’t take large expenses lightly. 2) incurring spousal debt. Believe me all favors this big get paid off. 3) only allowed to do this if she really did produce great work.
The power of guilt. It’s astonishing. The writer, by the way, is Hope Edelman and she is the author of 5 books and two memoirs and has a lovely happy daughter.
She is not the only writer to check into a hotel for the weekend. There were lots of parents in the audience nodding in empathy as she discussed her method. Even more writers, particularly, those that are urban-based, pay to use a writing center. Easily 2/3 of the writers we have presented on the Pen Parentis stage are or have been members of an offsite office space. Some have chosen writing centers for the flexible hours, but others have signed up for rental workspace or even leased small offices away from the home.
I myself did the best writing I have ever done when I won a fellowship to the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg Russia. There's nothing like leaving all your responsibilities behind, immersing yourself in art and thoughtful seeing and just living a writer's life. I came back with a rewritten opening to a novel and a short story that will be published this coming March - after making the short list on three different contests. It's great writing - and it reminds me how high the bar has to be set...even if I have to pick up the kids after school in the middle of writing the best paragraph ever.
I hear all you single parents – I agree it’s not fair to hear solutions that require not only dual incomes but also free babysitting. Next time I’ll talk about what two successful single moms said at our Salons.