But to live is to have something to say.
Lately I’ve read a number of essays and posts on writing, finding the time to write, and the impact of living — having children, a job, obligations — on one’s writing. It is no secret that women have less time to write than men. We bear children and raise them, and even if we work hard not to gatekeep, it is usually our time spent in the drudgery of child-rearing, not our husband’s.
I read somewhere that Ursula Le Guin felt she lost a novel for each of her children, that the time she would have had to write was given over to motherhood. Implicit in this statement is a sense of frustration, no matter how matter-of-fact she may have said the words.
And yet. We don’t have to bear children to lose time. Anything can take it from us — illness, caregiving, and even good things like travel, moving house, a career, a sport, a hobby. We can lose time by wasting it, by deciding that writing isn’t what we want at the moment, until we want it back again. Writer’s block can force us to wait, impatiently, for inspiration to strike, for long-atrophied muscles to get back into the habit of daily word.
We can be blocked by fear and we can be blocked by joy.
We should not blame our children for not writing. The physiological and mental changes of being pregnant and giving birth are real and undeniable, and there is a price to be paid for motherhood that fathers don’t tend to pay. Lack of sleep, the very fact of giving our bodies to nourish our young, the emotional changes that both challenge and exhilarate, all of these factor into a barrier to sitting down and writing. Post-partum depression is real and debilitating, and the crushing melange of fear, love, exhaustion, rage, and happiness that accompanies the first year of our children’s lives should all be acknowledged and accepted and bitterly fought, and negotiated, and bartered, and challenged every step of the way. We should understand why we are blocked, and we should never let it stop us, and we should also know that it’s very purpose is to stop us. Biology grabs us by the lapels and screams at us — stop! You have only one job now, and that is to nourish the next generation at the cost of your self because your self doesn’t matter. Only protection of your genetic legacy matters. And we feel this from deep within our core, because it’s programmed in our cells. As far as biology is concerned, your soul, your desires, your ambition, and your emotions are useless. The only thing that matters is being a mother.
Be warned: Biology is a selfish asshole. It doesn’t care about you, and you should not care about it.
The point is this: life gets in the way of writing all the time. You don’t have to have a baby to be kept from writing. It’s only that women are made to feel bad about it.
From Bea Ballard’s obituary of her father, J.G. Ballard:
He had raised three of us single-handedly following my mother’s premature death when we were five, seven and nine. It was the 60s, when single fathers didn’t do that sort of thing. Most of his friends were sceptical. But he did raise us, as father, mother and much more besides. Fortunately for him, and for us, his work as a writer meant he could work from home and juggle writing with the care of us. So in between school runs, ironing school ties and cooking sausages and mashed potato, he wrote his novels and short stories – one minute conjuring up wild dystopias, the next watching Blue Peter.
There are a lot of things to unpack here. One is that for everyone, writing time is at a premium. Women have less of it than men do. Sometimes that is because our time is devalued by others and sometimes it’s because we devalue it ourselves, and we hand over the time we should be keeping to ourselves.
Another thing to unpack: writing time should be at a premium. We should be living. Doing. For some women, that means raising a family, whether we stay home or have a career outside the home. But that’s not the only path. Think of all the things you want to do, that fulfill you.
Long drives by yourselves. Painting. Woodworking. Learning languages. Dancing. Singing. Playing softball. Arguing politics. Having dinner parties. Volunteering. Dog training. Bike riding. Hiking…
It’s not writing. It’s living. And we should all be doing more of it, not less.
So when we think about the ways that our lives have constrained us and kept us from writing, we should think, yes. Yes, my life has kept me from writing.
But at least now I have something to say.