My guest today, Anne Michaud, is a veteran political journalist who writes a regular Newsday op-ed column, has won more than twenty-five writing and reporting awards, and has twice been named “Columnist of the Year” by the New York News Publishers Association and the New York State Associated Press Association. Helaine Olen describes Anne’s new book, Why They Stay, as an “engrossing and important” look “into the heart of some of the most famously troubled political marriages of the past 100 years in an attempt to understand why accomplished women … put up with men many others would have quickly kicked to the curb.” I hope all writers will find her post inspiring, particularly writers who are parents, too. – Meg
Caution: Writing While Parenting
Forty-five minutes before I was scheduled to discuss my book in front of a crowd at a local library, the program director and I were chatting. Adorned in chunky azure jewelry, she asked, what did my family think of my success?
“This book has been a piece of performance art,” I began, “conducted for a very small audience: my two daughters.” She laughed, getting my joke.
Many will tell you that becoming a parent hinders one’s art. I remember reading an interview with the talented author Pam Houston, in which she said her mother advised her not to have children or her life would become ordinary.
Rarely do we hear that having children watching can drive an artist forward.
After my second daughter was born, I stayed home with my girls for about three years. I tried many rhythms for our days but found it usually worked best to get out of the house in the morning for a walk, a shop or a play date.
Soon, I went back to work full time as a journalist. Weekend mornings, I would observe my husband and daughters enjoying “CatDog” or “The Fairly OddParents” on TV and wonder, do I have the energy to motivate all four of us out the door? Is a morning on the couch really so bad after a full week of work and school and gymnastics class and music lessons?
I felt anxious at times during these days, the kind of anxiety that psychologists call free-floating. Yes, kids in front of the television made me feel like a bad mother, but there was more. I felt as though there was something, undefined, that I should be doing. I signed up for a class on how to write a non-fiction book proposal. This meant that I was out late one night a week, getting home long after the girls had gone to bed, and I spent more time when I was home sequestered with my assignments. This caused me added guilt about my mothering, but the strange anxiety diminished.
Over the course of about five years, I would write and quit, start again and quit. After one long hiatus, I engaged a writing coach who, via Skype, helped me find pockets of time. I spoke into a digital recorder while commuting. I sent myself snippets in emails from home to work, and vice versa. I woke up early. I walked my daughters to the school bus stop and then put in an hour of writing before heading to my newspaper office.
My daughters never said they would be disappointed in me if I quit for good, but I felt it. Each time they witnessed me packing off to the library for a couple of hours, making notes on a draft or otherwise giving time to this dream of mine, it solidified my commitment to keep going. I couldn’t break off and admit that it had been wasted time or, worse, that I had given up on myself.
Eventually I secured an agent and a book contract.
My daughters are a junior and a freshman in college now. They’ve witnessed the physical book arrive from the printer, and their mother with index card notes in hand, rehearsing for book talks. They’ve offered useful suggestions on blog posts before I hit “publish.”
This year, while my older daughter was home for summer break, she took a class online that required group participation. Some in the group were slackers. When she complained, the professor said, “Figure it out.” She did.
This isn’t unusual, for either daughter. They have grit, they persist and they pursue their passions. Each time I see this, I take a little internal bow. – Anne