Thursday, January 04, 2007

Writing and kids

In response to Justine Larbalestier's post on her blog about things that make people better writers, I wrote:

Having children definitely made me a better writer, but it’s not necessarily a great reason to have kids, because it makes all those other things hard (like learning a language, working in a bookshop and travel) and writing itself becomes an exercise in logistics. But you learn a lot more about people, character, psychology and personality when you see a person grow from nothing and it also helps you identify more with your characters’ parents if you write YA. Seeing language develop at that level too makes you really think about the way language works and how the world is made up. Babies also make you see how everyone is connected to everyone and it makes writing feel important again, because it’s an act of humanness and vulnerability. You notice dust in the air again, you watch insects and birds with new eyes, in some ways you experience the fantasy of being able to be a kid again knowing everything you know as an adult. Nothing is ordinary or taken for granted. Plus you get to fingerpaint.

And it's all true. Sometimes I get frustrated at the limitations having kids puts on me as a writer, like not being able to write in sustained bursts for days at a time, or being able to travel in order to develop an idea or sense of place or just to challenge myself. Sometimes I miss moving solo through the world, not having to slow down for someone else, or stoop to lift them, or have my head physically turned in the direction they want me to look (children are not gentle). But being a parent means you live a different kind of life. In some ways you slow down. In some ways you miss out. But in other ways you have a window into the heart of the universe, into what makes life matter and it's constantly fascinating. And of course it's often very funny; humour is such an essential part of being human. Maternity and domesticity brings you back to this essential kind of living - much in the some way travel does. You live in the moment, your needs are simple and basic - toilet, eat, sleep, play. But instead of living for yourself, you're living for a community, you're facilitating others as well as your own needs. And in the end that too, that enforced selflessness, will make you a better writer because you're no longer only concerned with your own experience, your own way of seeing the world. Through new eyes, you've learned to see.


  1. Nice post, dude. I agree... that is, I don't have kids, but I agree with your argument... I think you get a lot of that stuff from getting older too...

  2. I've been thinking about your response since you typed it! Thinking about how much insight kids particularly give you and how much is just about getting older and mellower, how much the expectation that everything has to happen RIGHT NOW diminishes as your life begins to take a particular shape (whcih I have attributed to having kids but maybe all 30somethings see their future as a bit more finite).

  3. love this Pen :) For me (it's all about me) it's the enforced selflessness of being responsible for a child. Very doubtful that age, adult love or cancer would have been able to drag me to the brink of the abyss and poked toothpicks into my eyelids, in the way that children have.