The annual Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Writers was founded in 2010 to encourage writers to produce new works of quality fiction at the very busiest point in their parenting...
[Learn more about the Pen Parentis Research Project.]
“When I’m writing, I don’t torture myself about what else I should or could be doing…. There’s always something that needs to be done, but I set all that stuff aside and focus only on my writing.”
- L. Annette Binder, Author of Rise (short fiction)
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
AB: I care for my daughter, who is six. We live in a rural setting and spend lots of time outdoors.
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
AB: Because our daughter is still in a half-day school program, writing time is hard to come by. I try to write in the mornings after school drop-off and any other spare moment during the day. My writing tends to be slow and research-intensive—especially in the first draft phase—and some days I write only a paragraph or two. I used to have all sorts of rituals about when and where I would write, but having a child has made me much less fussy. I can write pretty much anywhere.
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
AB: My husband is a great supporter of my writing and has been since the beginning. I don’t tend to talk much about my writing with family and friends because I find it distracting, but they are always there when I need them.
Focusing on only one thing at time helps me keep things in balance. When I’m writing, I don’t torture myself about what else I should or could be doing. Paying bills, filing, working around the house—there’s always something that needs to be done, but I set all that stuff aside and focus only on my writing. No e-mails, no texting, and I use the internet only for research. One hour of focused writing works better for me than three hours of semi-distracted writing/computer time.
“And you can be incredibly busy with other stuff, but if you really want to write, you’ll find a little time for it. It’s incremental—a little bit every day, and your story will grow.”
Parenting is the most wonderful thing my husband and I have ever done. It’s a delight and we feel so lucky to have this smart and funny little person to share our days. Being a parent has affected my writing in many unexpected ways. You tell and listen to stories all day long. You spend hours playing pretend. You relive memories of your own childhood and you watch other parents interacting with each other and with their kids. It all feeds into your writing in ways that are sometimes surprising.
PP: What’s challenging about it?
AB: The biggest challenge is time and sustaining a productive writing regimen. We don’t really have a regular babysitter and we live far from family who could help with childcare, so there are some days where there just isn’t time to write. Too many days like that and you can lose the thread of your story, so even when I’m really crunched for time, I try to look at the section I’m working on—even for a few minutes—and jot down a sentence or two of prose or a few notes to keep me going.
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
AB: The best advice I can give is just to write, as often as you can. Don’t use all your other obligations as an excuse not to write. You can have all the time in the world to write and still find reasons not to. And you can be incredibly busy with other stuff, but if you really want to write, you’ll find a little time for it. It’s incremental—a little bit every day, and your story will grow. I wish I had known this when I first started. I spent far too much time punishing myself for being a slow writer or wondering whether I was being crazy for even trying to write fiction. This time would have been better spent with my characters instead.
“Having a child has given me greater focus and made me much more productive in less time.”
I also think multi-tasking is overrated and—at least for me—is the enemy of my writing, so I’d say focus on one thing at a time. Whenever I can, I do my writing first, even if it’s just a half hour or an hour. If I try to do everything else before I sit down to write, I’ll end up with no time to write or—worse—nothing to say once I finally am at the keyboard. When I’m writing, I don’t torture myself about what else I should be doing and I try not to punish myself on days when I can’t write at all. I jot some notes down and keep thinking about my characters and their story. Sometimes daydreaming about them is all I can do, but that can be enough to keep things going.
And finally, don’t be precious about your writing. Rituals are fine if they help your productivity, but they can also hold you back. I used to write at a certain desk with a certain view out the window, and I had a set of hourglasses right next to me and I’d listen to the sand fall as I worked. Sometimes a red-tailed hawk came by the window and then I’d know it would be a good writing day. Those days are pretty much gone. I write now whenever and wherever I can. In a hallway, in a parked car, on the floor outside of my daughter’s judo class—I’m so happy to have some time to write I don’t even notice where I am.
Having a child has given me greater focus and made me much more productive in less time. My writing hasn’t changed dramatically over the last few years as my daughter has gotten bigger. Writing that used to happen during nap time now happens when she’s in kindergarten. There should be more time for writing once she’s in a full-day school program, but we’ll see!
* * *
L. Annette Binder‘s debut collection of stories, Rise (Sarabande Books), received the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in The Pushcart Prize XXXVI, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, One Story, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, others. One of her stories was performed as part of Public Radio’s Selected Shorts. She is currently at work on a novel based on her story “Dead Languages,” which appeared in The Southern Review. She lives in New England with her husband and daughter.
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 busy lives. Support the project with a contribution to the Pen Parentis crowdfunding campaign.