Creativity is Not a Luxury
Posted on April 16, 2016
I’m sure many of you have seen Kim Brooks’ article in NYMag, with the tagline, “Is domestic life the enemy of creative work?” I find it irksome. Here’s why.
When I started this blog, I wanted to show that writing as a mother of young children is possible, and how. I have published three novels since, as well as birthed three children. Writing is a guerilla operation most days. I type on my phone through naps with a nursing baby. I give the children their own paper and pens to practice while I make notes on plot beside them. More than one of my manuscripts bears the marks of chocolate chip muffins and milk.
I’m trying to combat the myth that one should only write if one has “free” time. That lie paralyzes good writers. More insidiously, it downgrades stories to luxury goods. It belittles the human need for art and story, and it lowers the status of those who create.
Over the past three years, since my debut novel was published (and I had only two small children instead of my current five), I have met dozens of other writers who are mothers. Some of them came to writing later in life, but many of them are writing in the thick of life with children.
Writing mothers share a sense of creative drive that they prioritize as part of their daily lives. Are they writing during day job hours? Not usually. Do they get enough sleep? Probably not. But they write. They create.
The true artist is the ascetic. The true ascetic is flexible. They are “true” because they get art done.
One can garner a lot of sympathy by promoting the prevailing myth that creating is a luxury that should be reserved for luxurious expanses of free time. But it’s not really helping anyone to do so.
I wrote on my Facebook share of the article, “Grow a backbone. Artists can do anything if they have at least one of these: Ego, Virtue, A Cause. Pick one and stop making whiny excuses.” I stand by that [grumpy] pronouncement, but I want to clarify one part of it.
Ego is the enemy of domesticity. If one sees creating as an exercise in egotism, domestic life won’t be sustainable. But the vast majority of artists function and create by means of disciplining themselves, not indulging themselves.
Let me clear something up. There have been a few months when a household of sick persons (me included) and a broken computer have kept me from getting a consistent word count on paper. But did I stop writing? No. I typed myself emails on my phone in the middle of the night. I grabbed crayons and wrote on the back of bills. My stainless steel refrigerator is covered in whiteboard marker – all notes reminding me of turns in stories or telling details of characters.
Writing is not neat. If you think family life equals tidy life, that might be your issue, not creativity.
Writing is not a luxury. I have to write to maintain my sense of balance and focus and meaning in the world.
While I disagree with the unhelpful characterization of writing as a luxury of a tortured romantic state best done far from one’s loved ones, I agree with Ms. Brooks in this: Writers who don’t write die inside.