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Writing & Mothering Guilt Have An Awful Lot in Common

Mother's & Writer's Guilt - peoplewhowriteEvery year, on the anniversary of my book’s April 6th release, I post a Facebook status/tweet a “birthday” wish to my “firstborn book” (had to link to my baby!). I partially cringe when I do this because I want actual children one day, and something about comparing a trade paperback to a human being seems hammy and sacrilegious. I also do this because, as I “like” pic after pic of my friends’ gorgeous little bambinos, the book is my reminder that I too have “birthed” something in my thirty-something years on this earth. Not a human yet, no, but the book certainly gestated longer than nine months and required daily, weekly, yearly check-ups and sonograms for delivery.

A recent piece in the New York Times shows one actual mother, novelist Amy Shearn, relating the writing process to mothering in another way. In “A Writer’s Mommy Guilt,” she writes:

Writing is so much about the work of noticing. Fiction writing in particular demands intense noticing — studying how the emotional scaffolding of a human is built. When we’re not ignoring our loved ones in order to go write, we are living like watchmakers — picking apart conversations, analyzing recurring arguments, holding up to the light the wheels and cogs of our people so that we may understand them, yes, but also so we can learn how to create new people from scratch. You know, like mothers do.

Perhaps more intriguing to me is Shearn’s guilt analogy. Just as many mothers confess feeling they could be doing more for/better by their children, she expresses the analogous feeling of spending too little time with your work. “’Do you think I’m going to write myself?’ the new novel whines, hypothetically, I assume, from inside my desk,” Shearn explains.

With all the mommy debates swirling in the zeitgeist–Lauren Sandler’s “…Have Just One Kid”, Anne Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, Sheryl Sandberg’s position that women “lean back” on the job when they begin planning to start a family, and Tanya Selvaratnam’s forthcoming book The Big Lie about delayed motherhood, to name a few–Shearn’s direct link between the creator’s guilt and the mother’s guilt presents an interesting tangent. What do you think? Too dramatic to compare childbirth and mothering a human being to alternately staring at a computer screen and spawning characters and ideas? Or not dramatic enough?

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