The first ever writing retreat I attended was in 2002. I’d been married for five years, had a poetry chapbook published the previous year, my husband was applying for business school, and we had just broached the subject of having kids once he had earned his MBA.
At the retreat, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the organizers, Christina Daub, about being a writing parent. While Tina was not the first poet I’d ever met who had to juggle writing with parenting, she is likely the first I’d gotten a chance to talk to since I was now considering becoming a parent. I admit I was naïve. I probably said something ridiculous like “you mean it’s possible to keep writing after having children?”
Thinking back, I had been a pretty lazy writer. I wrote when I felt like it, or when I was “inspired.” Thinking back, I probably sounded a bit like the girl who’d approached me after a reading I gave the previous year to say she didn’t think she’d ever get married because then she’d be too happy to write poetry. Sigh.
What I most remember from my conversation with Tina was that she said she had to develop the ability to jump straight into the writing and not wait for some mythical “right moment” that might never come. It was advice that I kept tucked away until three years later, when I had my daughter.
I quickly came to understand what Tina meant. When my daughter was still of napping age, I would put her in her crib, walk straight from her room to my desk in the family room, the static buzz of the baby monitor the only sound other than that of my fingers on the keyboard. I learned how to turn the spigot on and off, keeping the creative waters stored safely in their reservoir until the next naptime. Now that my daughter is beyond napping years, I use times when she’s at skating lessons, or after she’s gone to bed in the evenings. My desk is often surrounded by toys, or covered with little cards and pictures she has made for me, but my focus is honed on the writing task at hand.
Becoming a parent made me a more vigilant writer in that I don’t wait for inspiration or for the “right moment” anymore. I make time for the writing in a way I never did when I could “just work on it tomorrow instead.” And I’ve been fortunate in finding a wonderful community of fellow writing parents (both online and off) whose joys and complaints often parallel mine, and who remain a constant source of inspiration -- and advice.
Bernadette Geyer is a freelance writer and editor in the Washington, DC, area. She received a Strauss Fellowship from the Arts Council of Fairfax County and serves as an instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her poems have appeared in Oxford American, North American Review, and elsewhere. She blogs regularly at http://bernadettegeyer.blogspot.com.