Pen Parentis is running a transformative pilot program this school year (starting Fall 2017) to teach an innovative community-building creative writing workshop to the parents of middle school students in...
“There’s a tendency among writers to be dangerously free, to skate around reality. Parents can’t do that.”
~Will Chancellor, Author of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall (Harper 2014)
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
WC: Most of my week is spent teaching Math, Chemistry and Physics, primarily, to high school and college students. My high school students are almost all in Europe and the Middle East; my college students are in the east.
My daughter is five years old. She’s with me for half the week. We live in Chinatown (NYC).
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
WC: I teach almost every day, usually from about 10am to 5pm. Sunday is by far my busiest workday; Thursday and Friday I only work while my daughter is in school (PS 40).
I don’t really write in the morning unless I’m under deadline. I’m pretty good about getting significant work done in a thirty-minute window—again, this doesn’t really happen unless I’m under deadline. Guessing I’m not alone in this, but I find it easier to utilize those small swatches of time when the book/story/essay/whatever is well underway. At the outset, I need bigger chunks of time. For me, these are chiefly late at night on the days my daughter is with her mom.
Compositionally, I try to get the images for the story in my head and repeat them over and over, seeing them in more detail so that when I get that day with four or five hours of nothing, I can roll.
“I literally wrote the first draft of my first book on a scroll of vellum in a house in the woods. Now I’m writing on the back of credit card receipts and on the Notes app of my phone.”
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
WC: There are two novelists with children who let me vent. My boss is incredibly supportive. My mom flies in from Texas to stay with my daughter when I need to travel for writing.
Eradicating any trace of preciousness from my conception of the writing process [gives me work-life balance]. (See failure of this above.) Books are written in scraps when you have big real world responsibilities at work and at home. I literally wrote the first draft of my first book on a scroll of vellum in a house in the woods. Now I’m writing on the back of credit card receipts and on the Notes app of my phone.
PP: What’s most rewarding about being a writing parent?
WC: I’m inside a much bigger life now. There’s a tendency among writers to be dangerously free, to skate around reality. Parents can’t do that. Frost has a line I like a lot, “The best way out is always through.” To me, this means rather than avoid responsibility with a life in books, you have to confront Time and the reality that you are a small, small part of a bigger world, which is also the world you must lead your child through.
PP: What do you struggle with?
WC: Transitions. It’s tough to go from teaching Math to world-making. [I need] energy prayers. And money.
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
WC: My daughter is hilarious. I didn’t really see that coming. I might have to write something funny at some point if I want to win her admiration. [I wish I'd known] there’s no rewind button.
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Will Chancellor is the author of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall (Harper 2014). His essays, profiles and criticism have appeared in Bookforum, Interview Magazine, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and The White Review, among other places. He grew up in Hawaii and Texas. Learn more at WillChancellor.com.
The Pen Parentis Research Project is a series of interviews with parent authors in order to learn how they mange time, publish, earn a living, nurture creative community, and care for their kids. Managed by Mary Harpin, the project will culminate in a book with stories, data, and helpful information that other parent writers can apply to their own lives.