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Sure You Can! Janet E Cameron

Writing.ie | Magazine | News for Writers | The Big Idea
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By Janet E Cameron

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Two weeks ago, I posted an article on writing.ie about a question that’s been bothering me for almost as long as I’ve been writing seriously: can you be a mother of small children and a full-time writer as well? I ended the post asking for comments and advice. Here is what I found out.

Can you have both? Of course!

janetcameronA fair number of people, both friends and strangers, left comments on Facebook, Twitter or my website, and most assured me that having writing and children in your life is more than possible. One successful published novelist said that there was no dichotomy, and that parents have been working and being artistically productive throughout history. Another pointed out that writing in your spare room at home will give you a lot more flexibility and time with your children than a typical office job would.

Others seemed to give off a palpable sense of weariness as they advised me that it was challenging, exhausting, an uphill struggle, but in the end, workable. A mother of twins suggested that I’d probably have to take five years off from doing anything at all but caring for the children, that being a mother is a twenty-four hour job. However, another mother of twin babies said she was more productive than ever after her children were born – she’s written three books and has started on a fourth.

All very encouraging. Yet, I found I was reluctant to call this case closed, which leads me to my next point.

I’m a complete dope for thinking I could settle this question on the internet. I ended up with a lot of thought-provoking advice, but found it difficult to apply these words to my own life and situation. In retrospect, I suppose asking for general advice on a problem that is made up of nothing but specifics might have been a bit silly. There is no reason why women can’t write and look after small children at the same time. There are any number of reasons why a particular woman might find it a struggle. Or as a friend on Facebook put it: ‘This is not a question for a status update comment. It’s something for a long night’s discussion and a bottle of wine.’

I also find I’m still puzzled by the question of how childbirth and motherhood affect creativity. Nobody seems to have a definitive answer, which is not surprising, seeing as the creative process itself is such a mystery. One friend described a surprising influx of creative energy that would hit late at night in the months after the birth of her daughter, and how she’d be writing furiously and painting as well. But I also remember hearing from friends over the years who said that after giving birth they had no creative urge at all, except in finding new places around the house to fall into exhausted sleep. Again, it all seems to depend on the person.

One disturbing idea became clear as I sifted through the pros and cons: this is still largely a women’s problem. It struck me that none of the women commenting about writing and motherhood mentioned that they were able to cope because their partners helped with the domestic workload. (In fact the whole phrase seems like another symptom of this problem – when was the last time you heard a woman talking about ‘helping’ her husband with the house and kids?) Of course, the commentators could have meant this to be understood, such an obvious point that it wasn’t worth bringing up. But I’m still not sure if time for creativity isn’t seen as a luxury, something you might be reluctant to ask for, or expect help securing. After all, for a lot of us, it’s not exactly a paying job. It’s just a hundred times more demanding than one.

Overall, the point everyone agreed on was that there will have to be compromises, but that the rewards are worth it, or as one commentator said: ‘Love, hugs, creativity and success go hand in hand with worries and exhaustion….If I had my time again, I would have more children and write more stories, but never clean the house.’

I couldn’t agree more.

(c) Janet E Cameron

A Canadian writer and teacher, Janet E. Cameron has been living in Ireland since 2005, where she teaches ESL at Dublin Business School. She has also lived, worked, and taught in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, and Tokyo. Last year she graduated from Trinity with an MPhil in Creative Writing, and her first novel, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was published by Hachette in March of 2013. Cinnamon Toast was also one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre’s inaugural Novel Fair contest. For more information or to contact, go to www.asimplejan.com

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