The most common question I’m asked (and the most common question I ask of writer/parents in return) is: HOW? How is it possible to be a primary caregiver and work in the arts at the same time? What’s your secret? Do you spend approximately eleven million dollars on babysitters? Do you get up and write at 4am? Do you ever sleep at all?
The short answer is: I don’t know, we’re all crazy, so much coffee, so much anxiety, a dash of wine.
The longer answer is, of course, that I can’t speak for all of us out there. And I certainly can’t claim that I’ve entirely figured out this balancing act, but I can let you in on the single most important thing I learned about forging a career in the arts while raising a toddler:
There is no time to wait for inspiration.
This was an entirely new concept to me, one that came about after my daughter’s birth in the winter of 2014. Before she was born, even with a day job, even with acting gigs on the side, I, maybe unknowingly, felt the luxury of time. I reasoned: If I didn’t have time to write now, then I would have time later. And surely, if there wasn’t time later, there would be time someday.
And so, I waited for magic.
Before Kait was born, I could write only in “this” exact chair, in “that” corner of the café, with my coffee twenty degrees to the left. The restaurant’s music couldn’t be too loud, and the customers should speak only in respectful whispers. And if all of that didn’t line up properly, then it was earbuds in– a Cello Concerto station– something I had learned inspired me by walking past a roving string quartet in Penn Station one morning, one fall, one gorgeous day in October.
But do you want to know a secret? Or, maybe more accurately: A glaringly obvious truth? I accomplished very little. I would sit at my lucky table in that café, type a few hundred words, and then slam the laptop shut. You see, I wasn’t inspired. Poor baby, tapping those metaphorical fingers, waiting for her muse. A unicorn, maybe. The sounds of a harp. A breeze, stirring through the trees.
It took me five years to finish that first novel—a novel that I needed to write to learn how to write a novel—crucial to my growth as a writer—but not something I could sell. Five years waiting for unicorns. Listening for harps.
And then, my daughter came along. And I was still working, and still doing those acting gigs—with the addition of a newborn, who, as all newborns do, became an infant, who is now a toddler. Time was no longer on my side. I felt (still sometimes feel) that as her life was opening, as she grew more beautiful and more wide-eyed about the possibilities of the world— my life was closing. Time to write was scarce. If it wasn’t now, it wasn’t going to be later, either. And if it wasn’t later, it was never.
I couldn’t handle never. Not when writing fiction was the only thing I had ever wanted, since I was eight-years-old and my third-grade teacher had said, you can do this. Since my Grandma had said, you’re going to be a writer someday. The other kids wore lab coats or sports jerseys to career day. I brought pens. I brought notebooks. And even then, I knew that these were only props, that writing was something that happened inside, not out.
It couldn’t be never. And so, it had to be now. Right now, today, this moment.
And so, I began to do what real writers do. I wrote.
It didn’t matter if I wasn’t in the mood, it didn’t matter if I didn’t feel inspired, if I had no ideas, if I had a headache. Forget the writing table, forget the café altogether. During my maternity leave, I wrote as quietly as I could at the kitchen table, while my daughter napped in her swing. I wrote for fifteen minutes at a time while she was engaged in her pack and play. I wrote through the music of electronic toys, on weekends, when my husband was home to watch her, during commutes to New York City, my laptop balanced precariously on my bag like I was in a kind of strange circus act.
I finished my second novel in three years, and blessedly, astoundingly, signed with an agent in the fall of 2015. I finished up my agent’s revisions in Mexico, hiding out in the bathroom of our hotel room, because I didn’t want my daughter to see me while she napped.
I finished my third novel a few weeks ago, which I wrote in under a year.
It isn’t easy. I feel like I want to shout that through a bullhorn. It is really, really, damn hard, to be fully committed to a day job, to be a fully committed, involved parent, and to pursue my writing, too. But it’s not a choice. None of these things are choices. They are musts and they are nows, and I won’t let them turn into nevers.
With my loss of time, I became a more efficient writer. I learned to push myself on word counts, and take every single offer of babysitting my mom or mother-in-law offered. I told myself: don’t feel guilty, say yes, you are working, this is your work. Every hour is usable. Every page counts. And that? That work? That’s the magic. That’s October. Those completed pages? The unicorns. The harps.