You Cannot Have Kids and Be a Writer

When a bird lands; a real moment

For my friend Matticus, who is raising a young family and striving to write at the same time.

I have quite a few kids. Let’s say it’s a number that’s more than three, and they’re all young. I also have an executive-level job that keeps me ridiculously busy, but most importantly, pays the bills. I’ve heard it several times, that you cannot have kids and be a writer… such nonsense.

Soliloquies of Sandbars

Writers are dreamers. That’s all human beings are, in the end. Dreamers. Some dreams lead to dark places… others into the brightness, to light and beauty. My dreams are mixed, swirls of paint, the artistic skill akin to finger painting, but art nevertheless.

How do you write when you are raising kids and working a full-time job? Let me show you.

The Sounds of Fury

You write despite.

Yes, you do. You write despite how tired you get in the evenings. How desirous you are of sleeping-in even on the weekends, when you have time to yourself, or on holidays, when you could get so much writing done but inevitably don’t.

You write despite deep deep weariness and inability to summon the energy to create.

You write despite the mental exertion of dealing with an upset kid who is completely inconsolable. Won’t eat their dinner. Won’t go to school this morning. Won’t brush their teeth or wear a jacket even though it’s freezing outside.

You write despite Lego all over the place where you can step on it, or a step stool where your toe is going to hit it. You write despite rotting food under the couch, a crack in the tv screen, a long deep scratch in the dining room table. A smashed light fixture. Forty minutes strapping everyone into the van before you can even leave for the trip. Fifty-nine stops on the highway for half a gallon of urine.

You write despite grandparents coming over and staying for a week, because they should have time with their grandkids – and you can’t write a word, because it’s so busy taking care of a fuller house.

You write despite these things. You do.

Real Wooden Trees

Stories are ages old, and complex. They’re oft-repeated. Occasionally unique. Our children are the most profound stories we’ll ever be involved in. You are in a story. You’re living one. You’ve helped create new stories. They’re hard to fully describe, and often it’s tough to remember one year ago, when your children were a bit younger. The story a little less refined. You’re sure they were there, and different, but it’s hard to recall. The photos are surprising – were we like this? Yes we were. We were.

Elements of stories:

Unexpected hugs. A hand in yours.

The moment when they actually laugh at your jokes, or play a board game with you, or demonstrate an understanding of a complexity that you didn’t even know they’d thought about. The second they become quicker and better at math than you.

The first time you show them a movie that you loved as a kid; the first time you Star Wars. The initial Christmas when they’re old enough to wake up before you. Times when you could still pick them up. Pull them in a sled.

When they have friends of their own, or learn to ride bikes. When they get up despite that first fall. When they show a resilience that you aren’t sure you ever had. When they demonstrate an ease of interacting with others that you in your introverted existence can’t even fathom. When they exhibit kindness for others. When they show acceptance of the differences in people, and a pang of hope shoots through you, like the world is going to be fine, if these are the people who are going to shape it. When they show a clear understanding that they have one world in which they live, and they better care for it, better than we did.

When they read your latest book and think it’s great, worthy of being read, even though few others believe it. That they actually think you’re a fit, that you’re someone who has a story to tell.

These stories are immeasurable. But as much inspiration as you take from life, from the dark and the bright parts of it, how do you write about stories that you’re intimately a part of? I don’t. Because I can’t do them justice. This story I’m living with my kids is far too profound, too comical, too complicated, too emotional, for me to ever write about. Same with my wife, a person that is indescribable, the one human being that I don’t think I could ever fully describe in words. You’d have to meet her to understand.

My proposition is that the greatest story you live, is the one you’ll never be able to write about. And that gives you something to strive for. Feelings of glory and beauty to push for, in your words, because you’ve lived grace. Now sit down at your desk, or wherever. Stare at the screen if you must. Think on the incredible story you’re already a part of. Stretch your thoughts. Move your fingers. And just fight. Fight for your stories. Fight for your dreams.

Inshallah, Inshallah

In some future, your kids won’t be living with you anymore. For just a moment, you wonder in a speculative sense what that would be like, how much time you would have to yourself. But then comes this awful tang of guilt for even thinking it. Then afterwards, terror for what this means: that they won’t be with you. That the story is changing, a twist you saw coming but were never prepared for. That yes, you’re in a story yourself, with these other human beings who are intimately connected with you, and that this story is now going to change.

Looking through photos, amazed at where this all started, and realizing that you’re shaping a novel every day. Multiple novels, far more profound than anything you could write. Stories that make you weep, and make you tired, but elevate you into a state that you could never have expected. That make you proud and elated, and make you feel so so loved.

We write despite. And we write for. We write in the moments that we get. That we took for ourselves, even though it’s so hard, the moments so few. We write because stories need to be told, and those stories come from us, sometimes in ways that we don’t even understand. I don’t write about my children. But I take inspiration from them, and that inspiration is endless, a wellspring of enthusiasm and joy and heartache that fuels me no matter how tired I am, how lacking in time. My kids make me want to fight for a better world – a thought that makes me grit my teeth, to fight through what ails me, and to dream my hardest.

Dream hard, rage hard.

30 thoughts on “You Cannot Have Kids and Be a Writer

    1. I think amazing things can be born in those five minutes. Just amazing, and there’s no telling what they will end up creating. We won’t know unless we engage.

  1. Boom. Called out.
    Just do it, despite, you say?
    It won’t be grand. It won’t be world changing. But, for you, I will find some words.
    Thank you.
    Maybe being called out is just what I needed.

    1. I have such empathy for you, my friend. I hear you, I understand the quandry of time, the frustration of the moments flying by like you can’t grasp them. I so hear you, and I so sympathize. I just want to encourage in the ways I know how. You do have this. You absolutely do. In a few moments here and there, to jot down the idea, to put a seed in the soil, to revisit, to make words come out. You have this. I know you do. You’ll make me look like a genius, right? Because I need that!

    2. I’ve left a more detailed comment below, but find the way to write in the in between moments of everything else that is going on in your life. It may just be the best writing you do.

    3. I replied and it disappeared, so this may end up being a repeat … but … I posted a more detailed comment below about my own experience. All I can say is that you should find the time in the in between moments and write when you can. You might be amazed at how much you can get done in those moments. If there is something in your head you want to write, find a way.

      1. I think the biggest problem has been the lack of ideas because my head is so full of the day in and day out. But, I had two ideas today and have already posted one. The other will get worked on as I can. Thank you.

        1. My ideas are fleeting… they come at unexpected times, and I email them to myself on my phone to keep them. Lump them into a single Word document that contains all my ideas, and then I pick them off one by one – at any one time, an idea seems more appropriate than another. More writeable.

          1. I’ve tried similar in the past but it didn’t work for me. If I don’t write while the idea is fresh I can never seem to recapture whatever the spark was that made me want you write it in the first place. Which is a shame because I’ve lost so many stories…

            1. I know this feeling. Even when I write down the idea, the original inspiration is lacking, but sometimes in reading the words again, a new one arrives and i take things in a different direction. it’s an uncertain, fluid way of looking at ideas, but I don’t have a better idea!

  2. You, Trent, are amazing. I can only write about my life, my experiences. That’s why they are all so short. Little snippets, if you will. My imagination is not quite as wild and wonderful as yours is!
    You are absolutely right, though. We can always find time to do the things we love and are compelled to do. Write, art, read, whatever it is that gets your blood pumping.

      1. And, I came back to say, not expecting your reply so quickly… that I love the photo of your daughter (I assume) with the chickadee…

        and to also say that I have not dissed your last story in many parts. I am sitting down shortly to read them one after another. Is it my imagination or is this a revamping of one that I have read?

        And you are welcome. If I can fuel your fire, hey… that’s a good thing!

        1. Yes, my daughter with a chickadee. This was such a personal post that I used a personal photo! The chickadees would not come to me… but they flocked around her. Another moment of reality that I can’t explain, and haven’t yet found a way to put in words.

          Yes, I think you have read that full story before, I sent it to you once. You’re the only person who ever read that thing prior to this posting.

          1. A beautiful picture. I was lucky enough to have them come to my hand. Then I brought my mother and her thrill was palpable. Such a simple thing to bring so much joy. Wonder why they dissed you? And isn’t it funny how some things we feel too deeply to write while others it’s the opposite?

            I knew I wasn’t crazy. I was thinking, bloody hell, I’ve read this… I was the only privileged one? Really? Now I am touched. Deeply. That you entrusted me with an as-yet unpublished work. Thank you.

            1. Yes, only you, I think it was several months ago. Maybe even a year. I totally forgot about this story, but it came back to mind, and I just wanted to share it.

              Here’s to chickadees and the deep forest!

              1. Wow. Only me. How to feel special 🙂
                And yes, I remember. It was quite some time ago. I’m glad you decided to share it here.

                Here’s to chickadees and yes, the deep forest!

  3. Your post gave me feelings like when I listen to Max Richter’s music … I agree about being in a story with our kids that’s impossible to write that it could adequately describe the scenes and emotions. Those moments that are immense with joy, when I feel astonishingly lucky to be in that spot and witnessing my daughters’ joy — when they’ve had fun on playgrounds, climbed a rocky hill and proudly reached the top, saw our lit Christmas tree, and so on. The moments of not only seeing a chickadee, but when it lands on fingers. The amazement in our children’s faces that makes us glow with wonder and makes us ridiculously happy to be alive and in that very spot. And when it comes time for writing, I know I can’t write that story, because of my shortcomings and tears of gratitude would blur my vision and I’d type nonsense. I try to write about people in my daydreams. I write knowing I have shortcomings and the story will be imperfect. And I embrace those imperfections, because they make me who I am.

    1. Writing about people in your daydreams… I love that. And i agree so wholeheartedly with your sentiments, Dave. Imperfections, the lack of balance in life (what is balance, anyway?), this makes fertile ground for something that’s indefinable. I’m glad my children are somewhat with me on my journey. They read some of what I publish, at least the longer pieces (and the less controversial ones). I don’t even know how to tell them exactly how much of an inspiration they are to me, in the moments they provide, but they are.

      I don’t know who Max Richter is! But I will look up this individual!

  4. I finally got to this after it lurking in the background all day.

    You capture perfectly the joy and mystery of having kids and how that particular tale is far greater than any we can actually write.

    That said … my most productive writing time was when my kids were younger and more demanding on my time. I started when they were 8 and 6. I was coaching both of them in baseball and soccer. An effort that basically spanned 10 months out of each year for 12 years. I had my full-time job. I was running a lot. Baking, gardening, cooking on weekends. And somehow in the midst of all that, I found a way to write two novels in five years. Dozens of short stories. The starts of a handful of other novels. Before the curse of writers block descended and shut everything down.

    I look back at those days and wonder how the hell did I do that. Because I certainly ain’t doing it now, with my kids grown and out of the house. The work life much less than it was, including not just time but stress. It’s extremely frustrating that I can’t figure out a way to set aside some time in each day — these days when I have so much time — to move forward on writing. There’s another curse besides writers block … the curse of too much free time. Why write today when I have tomorrow?

    Every day I say to myself, “It starts today.” A regular effort, a commitment to the thing. And … well … every day something happens to push it back to the next. When back then 15 years ago or so, I had no choice. The only opportunity I had to write was an hour here or a couple of hours there. And I did it because I had no choice. Now, I have a choice and those other choices always seem to pull me away.

    I need desperately to find a way over the hump that has developed over the last 8-10 years and commit to writing every day (or at least almost every day). It ain’t the kids that are stopping me. It ain’t the wife. It ain’t work. It’s me. I’m stopping myself and that needs to stop.

    1. The curse of too much free time… I’ve never had that, and it sends a shot of fear through me. Will I be like that one day? I don’t know. Possibly it’s the endless busyness that fuels me now… what do they say… if you want something done, give it to the person who’s already busy… even now, I’m up at four in the morning, because when else will I have time? It forces me to bear down, to sharpen the point on the narrative, to really go for broke.

      I hear your frustration, Mark. I wish I could offer any kind of advice. You’re a distinct writer with stories to tell, and a powerful writing voice. I hope that worms its way into your day-to-day existence so that you set aside the time, and stop stopping yourself. I know you can do it.

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