Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.
The Girl in the Cabinet (I Read What You Wrote and I Hate You), Melissa Chadburn (@melissachadburn), Electric Literature
In this fierce piece, Melissa Chadburn wrestles with the potential cost of taking a stand in your writing or penning something that's not so easily swallowed.
Having an unpopular opinion is a completely different thing. People don't like you for it and when people don't like you, you see their ugliest sides. Sometimes this side stares you in the face. Sometimes it's a dozen quick sharp slashes—being shunned.
She cites, among other things, the unsavory experiences of several authors from Meredith Maran's recent compilation, Why We Write About Ourselves—instances of hate mail, rape threats, being targeted over social media. But, Chadburn insists, it's worth it to press on, to put it out there. For the sake of reaching even one person, we cut ourselves open and bleed on the page:
For every doo doo ca ca angry face, for every email seething with hatred, for every gala or shindig to which you are not invited there is a child somewhere–a girl–and maybe she will pick up a book or peruse the internet and she will find your words. And in your words she will discover a world of the possible and she will climb out of the cabinet and she will put down the razor.
The Secret to Work/Life Balance? There Isn't One, Curtis Sittenfeld (@csittenfeld), The Pool
Sittenfeld responds to a question oft asked of her as a novelist and a mother of two: how does she balance parenting and writing books? While she expresses understandable irritation at the inquiry (would such questions be put to a male author?), she proceeds to answer: it's different for everyone. No two novelists' schedules or circumstances are identical, and ultimately each person has to pick and choose what's important to her and triage her time accordingly.
If there is plenty in our culture to make people, including but not limited to women, feel bad and inadequate, there also are choices we ourselves make about what we allow to bother us.
She describes how she prioritizes writing over showering, rarely throws dinner parties, sends holiday cards sporadically. But, she acknowledges, motherhood has made her far more efficient:
On some days, I have only two and a half hours at my desk, and I'm determined to use those hours – in contrast to my pre-motherhood days, when I'd sometimes fritter away an entire morning reading celebrity gossip then start writing.
I appreciate Sittenfeld's focus on the positive reciprocal relationship between motherhood and writing—on how these twin pursuits make us more efficient and effective in each role. (And I have to laugh, as I paused several times to rock my one-week-old while composing this post.)
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Mom, Kim Brooks (@KA_Brooks), NY Mag's The Cut
Pair the above with Kim Brooks' incisive analysis of the tension between parenting and writing. Throughout the essay, Brooks presses on the question of why parenting seems so at odds with the creative life. Here she is quoting a mother-writer friend:
"Because the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn't be anyone's goal as a parent."
People make art, in other words, for exactly the opposite reason they make families.
I don't want to believe it — that parenting itself makes art hard, that you must always sacrifice one for the other, that there is something inherently selfish and greedy and darkly obsessive in the desire to care as much about the thing you are writing or making as you do about the other humans in your life.
Ultimately, she arrives at a conclusion echoing Sittenfeld's—recognizing that while the pursuits of parenting and creating are certainly in conflict on some practical level, they also fuel each other, enabling humanity and art in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
To Write, Stop Thinking, Joe Fassler (@joefassler)/Kathryn Harrison, The Atlantic
Drawing on a stunning line from a Joseph Brodsky poem ("For darkness restores what the light cannot repair."), Harrison offers a gripping and beautiful proposition: that writing comes from the dark, unknowable part of the mind.
I'm not calculating about what I write, which means I have very little control over it. It's not that I decide what to write and carry it out. It's more that I grope my way towards something—not even knowing what it is until I've arrived.
There is, of course, a role for the cerebral, the intellect—in revision, in later drafts. But not initially.
A book might be inspired by darkness, but it is a material, concrete thing made from words—real things that, put together, mean approximately the same thing to me as they do to you. That's what I do, what a painter does, what it means to engage in any creative act: balance there, on that line between the dark and the light.
What a compelling call to stop thinking and just write.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!