Austin Kleon wrote a nice article advising creators, especially writers, to not fall prey to a belief frequently floated around – “you lose a book for every child”.
I do not think the fact that such a belief exists is much of a stretch. Being a parent is work, a lot of work. It needs time, time that can be spent on other activities, even productive ones. It needs patience, which again eats into one’s own time. Own time where many creative people find their zone, find the space where they can think, they can create. And that is applicable to every creator, not just a writer.
Austin’s post is a follow-up to an account from Michael Chabon of an interaction he had with a fellow experienced writer. He was given this advice, then, to not have any children. Reasoning Chabon was provided, along with examples, was explicit and, as he calls it, brutal.
Writing was a practice. The more you wrote, the better a writer you became and the more books you produced. Excellence plus productivity, that was the formula for sustained success, and time was the coefficient of both. Children, the great man said, were notorious thieves of time. Then there was the question of subject matter, settings, experiences; books were hungry things, and if you stayed too long in any one place, they would consume everything and everyone around you. You needed to keep moving, always onward, a literary Masai driving your ravenous herd of novels. Travel, therefore, was a must, and I should take his word for it because he had made a careful study: Traveling with children was the world’s biggest pain in the ass.
So no doubt, parenting can affect one’s ability to create, to write especially if the great writer from Chabon’s account is to be believed. And so the belief and advice, “for each child you lose a book” – Kleon calls it a bad equation. He refutes it with his own experience.
It’s not that my boys magically made me a better person and a better artist, it’s that my boys make me want to be a better person and a better artist.
“Art is too long, and life is too short,” wrote Grace Paley. “There’s a lot more to do in life than just writing.”
That is very well said. But for me personally, I do not believe creativity and parenthood are variables of any rational equation. How one affects the other is multi-dimensional, unlike in an equation. There are cases where parenthood leads to, unearths one’s creativity. Kleon gives few examples including A. A. Milne’s. And then there are cases where parenthood forces one, lends one the creative energy necessary to complete the story at hand. J. K. Rowling narrates her experience of the origin of the Harry Potter, a story that was in works for 5 years before her daughter was born (emphasis mine).
I knew that full-time teaching, with all the marking and lesson planning, let alone with a small daughter to care for single-handedly, would leave me with absolutely no spare time at all. And so I set to work in a kind of frenzy, determined to finish the book and at least try and get it published. Whenever Jessica fell asleep in her pushchair I would dash to the nearest cafe and write like mad. I wrote nearly every evening. Then I had to type the whole thing out myself. Sometimes I actually hated the book, even while I loved it.
Fascinating that a stuck creation was completed while struggling and juggling the duties of parenthood. So maybe Rowling lost one novel when she became a mother; but that one lost novel gave the world seven new gems.
I myself am a father to a daughter. She commands time from me, and she deserves it. Does it mean it eats into some of my writing time? Oh, absolutely. But do I ever regret that lost time? Certainly not. My life has been a lot colourful with my daughter’s presence. Every day that I spend with her writes a new story. Few I pen down, some I journal and most remain locked in my heart as memories for my life.
I have no qualms in saying that that is one beautiful creation of mine.