In my years since college, I've spent a significant amount of time thinking about the reasons why I shouldn't be a writer. First of all, I had a happy childhood. I hardly remember it because so few traumatic things happened! Doesn't that disqualify me right away? And then I went and married my first boyfriend. How could a writer not have survived a traumatic break-up? I also hate conflict, which has in fact been an issue in my writing. Often I think a character has done something so outrageous, I think an argument I've written has been monumental, and yet workshop feedback is still "up the drama!" I've learned that in order to give average readers enough tension, I have to push my characters way beyond the point where I'd be having an anxiety attack, apologizing, running away from the situation. And speaking of wanting everyone to get along, while I might have a boring life, my friends and family have fascinating ones. I hear a lot of stories—juicy ones, full of drama and conflict and pain and fear—from people I love and don't want to upset. But then I show up at my computer and they all pour out and mix together—the writer Nell Freudenberger, with whom I once took a class, said that when borrowing stories from your life, you should always combine two together, as one usually isn't enough for a piece of fiction. This advice has really helped me, but despite the mixing and matching, things I write might look familiar to people I know, and those people might get mad at me, which is my actual nightmare. So probably, I'm not brave enough to be a writer.
Then of course, there are the logistics. Writers need chunks of time alone. And one of the hardest parts of being a working mother is that you're always either working or mothering. The schedule doesn't really allow for much more, and when there's an hour here or there, I'm always deciding if I should write, exercise, run an errand, talk to my husband, read a book. If I write when my kids nap on a Sunday, I don't run that day. I don't meet a friend for coffee or drop off the dry cleaning. Being a writer, I've told myself, is too big of a time commitment. And all that time, for what? I'm not skinnier, we're not more organized, I didn't earn any money or help my community. In fact, it's self-indulgent. Who do I think I am to force my fiction onto the world? I should have some humility and stop.
But I don't want to. It's really as simple as that. I've solved my logistical challenge by just becoming okay with the fact that my time to write is really late at night. My kids are asleep, their lunches are packed, my lessons are ready for the next day, the dishwasher is churning, I've caught up with my husband. Just as I sometimes wonder what children I would've gotten had they been conceived on different days, I wonder about what stories I'd be creating if mine weren't all written in the dark. But my writing time is like my dessert. I wait for it all day, sometimes getting agitated by all I have to do to earn it.
I think if you're a writer, you experience the world with a heightened awareness of what's around you—what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what others are feeling. It's hard to take it all in if you don't get to spit it back out somehow. The world can become too heavy. When I'm most tuned in to my writing, everything around me is more interesting. Chores like picking up toys are less mundane. Instead of feeling rageful that I'm stuck cleaning, I observe each toy, I think of how it's used, what it resembles in my son's pudgy hands, how my foot feels when I step on it. It's a blessing, I suppose, to get to live this way.
Most people in my life don't know that I write, but nearly a decade ago I was lucky enough to be in a writing class at the 92nd Street Y with two women who have become my sisters in this journey of fiction writing. We've said in our group that being a writer can be like turning yourself inside out. These two women are caring and funny and honest and insightful, not to mention brilliant writers. I can be truly vulnerable with them. We share our newest work almost every two weeks, and their belief in my writing has been one of life's greatest gifts. One of the women reminds us often that we must write fearlessly—there is no point in doing it otherwise. I know she is right.