Has having children changed how you write? Interesting stuff from Zadie Smith...

(5 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 30-Aug-12 15:30:09

Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival last week, Zadie said that there would probably be a long gap before her next book: "Lady writers with children, we're on a different schedule".

"When the childcare is over," she went on, "it's over on the dot. You immediately have to go into child mode; there's no down time. I would stop writing and would have no chance to think about the book at all, nothing. Then in the morning, it was as if someone else had written it."

Ironically, Smith thinks this actually improved her writing: without 'headspace', she had to look back at her work with fresh eyes - just as a reader would, in fact.

In a great post earlier today, blogger Catherine McNamara finds a crumb of comfort in this possibility. What do you think - has having children changed how you write?

OP’s posts: |
MissAnneThrope Thu 30-Aug-12 16:05:18

Hmm. It's definitely made my writing a lot more.. irregular ;).

She makes a useful point tho. The concept of 'mummy brain' is one which the media is keen to promote. And I know I bandy it about regularly blush, possibly as a means of protecting myself from perceived criticism..

I don't think there's any doubt that it's blimmin hard carving out time to write once you have kids; the bitter truth, for many of us, is that family responsibilities are not evenly shared between the father and the mother, and that means that time - and headspace - is at a premium. But the idea that headspace isn't necessarily conducive to the best writing is really interesting. I might print this out and stick it above my desk!

Interesting, too, that in the same speech Smith said that the form of her writing changed with kids - she no longer had the stomach to write 80 page chapters, and her new book is 'tighter' as a result. I think this is definitely true for me - the thought of writing anything whose themes develop at a leisurely pace is exhausting - I'm in and out in a jiffy now...

marytuda Thu 30-Aug-12 17:53:44

Improved? I don't know. Certainly having a child introduced me - threw me kicking & screaming more to the point - into a whole world of playgroups & one-o clock clubs, early parenthood, in other words - and of course mumsnet! - I'd thought as a v mature first-time mother I'd never experience first hand. And that has been enriching beyond my wildest imaginings, which must feed into my writing, sooner or later. When I finally find time to do any again!
Seriously, becoming a mostly-adequate parent against my forebodings has I think done a lot for my inner peace/confidence/call it what you will. That makes me better able to listen to and take criticism, bounce back after rejection and so on. Right now, for instance, I'm awaiting a probably-negative response from an agent with a degree of equanimity I would never have mustered in the old days. That can only be good.
& I do know what Zadie Smith means. & I think she has a point. Nothing like looking at last week's work with fresh eyes to see its flaws - and strengths. But the "break" wouldn't have to be your child, necessarily. It could just be, you know, your day job! But I doubt though that Zadie has needed one, since "White Teeth" . . .

MissAnneThrope Thu 30-Aug-12 19:03:00

That's v interesting about your equanimity, marytuda.

I'm suffering from a kind of emotional inverse, which is related, kind of. Since forever I've longed for A Room Of My Own. It would be decorated with a few carefully-chosen objets, some paintings found in junk shops, and piles of books. I would really be able to write there.

It now looks possible that I might be able to have this room. I am shitting myself.

italycat Fri 31-Aug-12 16:01:37

I actually wrote my novel over one summer in the chicken shed attached to my house - that way my kids couldn't find/be bothered to find me for several hours each day. It was the only way to write something that wasn't a jagged short story!

My children are older now, no longer miles away at school all day, with uneven timetables that bug the hell out of me. A Room of One's Own? I have one but end up scribbling or typing all about the house...

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