I was always creative. I was the type of kid who squirreled away journals, wrote poems and stories, loved to draw and paint, and made weird stuff out of clay. As a teenager I was sure I was going to be a fashion designer. In college I was interested in writing, acting, and film. Writing, however, evolved into the winner and I decided to try and be one.
In the beginning of my adulthood I wrote lots of stuff. I wrote stories, poems, a play, a screenplay, and a novel. Most of it wasn’t very good, but I clung to the few pieces I thought showed promise. I got a story published in a literary journal and felt encouraged to keep going. As the pressures of adulthood took over, I was having a harder time accessing that creative spark. I got a job as a children’s book editor, did some freelance writing work, published some licensed character children’s books, and wrote book reviews, but I still hadn’t published much of my original writing and never seemed to have time to work on it anymore.
When I had my first child, I decided to leave my publishing job. I’d like to say it was a hard decision, but it wasn’t. I liked my job, but unless we were going to starve and lose our home (we were not) I wasn’t going to put that baby down. I don’t think I did actually put her down until about nine months later. I was that kind of new mom and she was that kind of baby.
It was a very intense time for me, but I remember after years of writing little bits here and there, as soon as my daughter started sleeping through the night and I started thinking somewhat clearly again, I couldn’t stop writing. I wrote during her naps. I wrote in the wee hours. I wrote whenever I could fit it in. I had a burst of creative energy I never experienced before. It was like a part of my brain had expanded in the process. Maybe when I was giving her so much those early months, I was storing away something for myself. Then I finally let it free.
The joke is that you become sort of “brain-dead” as a new mom. Maybe you become “fashion-dead” for a while and there are days (or months!) you’re barely conscious from sleepless nights, but beyond that, I think parenthood forces you to access multi-tasking skills you never knew you had and actually stimulates your brain. Once I started writing seriously again, everything felt fresh and new because I was an entirely new person. I was now a mom. Why do you think there are so many “mompreneurs” out there? I can’t speak for the dads, but something happens to women when they have kids. Maybe it’s because parenting challenges you in so many ways, that you can’t help but see the world differently. Seeing the world differently usually makes us smarter and more creative.
I’ve been writing since college (which is now, inexplicably, a couple of decades ago), and wrote a novel during graduate school, but never fully believed in it. Then, during my years in publishing, I started another novel for middle-grade readers. Only after having my two kids, however, did I finish it, revise it a few hundred times, and finally get an agent (yes, the lovely Sara Crowe) who sold my book, THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL, which comes out this January.
Parenting, for me, has been like productivity boot camp and I’ve had to get pretty creative when my husband’s working late, the pasta’s boiling over, my daughter just cut her finger, my son is about dump paint on the floor, the phone rings, and the dog is begging to go out. Yes, parenthood can take over at times and prevent you from doing anything else. I find, though, that when I have time, I’m very aware of what I really want to spend my precious time on, which somehow allows me to access that creative energy faster. But hey, it’s just a theory. Maybe it’s just all that coffee I’ve been drinking.
I’m starting a new teaching job in the fall, my first gig out of the house in a long time, and finding time to write will be more challenging. I’m not that worried though, because I feel like parenting has taught me more about using my time well more than anything else has. It makes me think of the movie Limitless. Bradley Cooper plays a character who discovers a pill that allows you to use a hundred percent of your brain. I had this thought when I saw it: Pill? Just give someone a couple of kids and a cup of strong coffee. And watch what they do.