A dear friend had a baby girl early this morning. This, of course, makes me all sentimental about being mommy. I started thinking about when my own son was born and what a crazy ride it was. I also start thinking about diapers…shudder. But congrats, N! Have fun with little Emily!
I always tell new moms to have fun. You get such a ridiculous amount of advice from so many people when you’re pregnant or have a new baby. But I don’t think anyone told me how much fun being a parent was. I love it. My son is a huge gift. Being a parent isn’t for everyone, but it’s been a huge blessing in my own life. And, I’d say it made me a far better writer.
What? You mean the constant distraction, incessant noise, and hectic schedule make you a better writer? Ha! Well, there is a lot of that, but being a parent has taught me some things about life and the human condition that I don’t think I could have learned any other way.
- Little cave people: Children and character motivation. You want to delve into base human nature? Visit a playground full of toddlers. Seriously, they’re like little cavemen, just cuter (sometimes). You think humanity has a core of decency and love for its fellow man? Um…that screaming three year old throwing sand in her baby brother’s hair says no. If anything will make you look long and hard at human nature and basic questions of civilization, it is children. I never had to teach my son to lie, hit, or steal. He did all those things on his own. Civilizing him, on the other hand, is a constant chore. Think human nature has changed much through the ages. Think again the next time you’re delving into a character’s motivation, desire, or actions.
- Filter? What filter?: Writing the internal monologue. In the same vein, children are also affectionate. Enthusiastic. Full of wonder and excitement. They think something, they say it. They feel something, they express it. They see a really overweight lady at the grocery store, they mention it. Loudly. Children may show the dark side of human nature, but they also reflect the wonder of the world around them with clarity and simplicity. Think about that the next time you’re writing an internal monologue. Adults usually think the same way, we just filter it.
- How I became capable of kisses and murder at the same time: Deepening characterization. Nothing will make you a better writer than just experiencing life, and parenthood is a huge part of that. You may not want children personally (it isn’t for everyone) but you can’t deny that the continuation of the species is a big part of the human experience. Children will broaden your mind, if you let them. Children will also help you remember your own discovery of the world. The range of emotion they provoke is like nothing else. For instance, I never thought of myself as a particularly violent person until I became a parent, but when faced with the idea of someone harming my child, I easily say that violence is an option. Conversely, I loved my husband on an entirely new and different level when he became my son’s father. Parenthood opens you up, in good ways and bad, but it all combines to create a fuller human experience.
- Welcome to the club: Understanding context. When you become a parent, you enter a club that has no international boundary. It has no ethnic culture or language. It is not bound by time. The love/pride/fear/etc. that I feel for my son is not unique to me. It is shared by parents the world over, in all times and places and cultures. It is utterly unique and completely common, all at the same time. Try that on for perspective. As writers, we often try to capture what is unique and what is common to all our readers. We struggle to connect that which happens now to the past, or place our characters and their lives in the proper context. Becoming a parent has opened my eyes to that more than anything else.
- I’ve been covered in poo, nothing can embarrass me now: Using humor. I don’t even need to explain this one, do I? My son is hilarious. And I am funnier because of my son. I have more self-deprecation because I have been covered in poo in public. (After that, it’s a lot harder to think of yourself as better than anyone else.) When my son was younger, if I didn’t feel like I’d had a complete day until I was humiliated in front of others at least once. Now that he’s older? My turn. (“Mom, stop it.” “Oh my gosh, Mom, what are you doing?” “Mom, my friends are right there!”) Payback is fun. Kids are fun. And kids are funny. Need a little more humor in your life? In your writing? Connect with a kid.
So, what’s the point, E? Are you saying I have to become a parent to be a good writer? No, of course not. Parenthood obviously isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you are a parent, just take a minute to appreciate the things your kids have taught you, whether they realized it or not (probably not) and explore those ideas in your writing. Think about what you have learned from them, not just what a distraction they are. Appreciate the time when they’re begging for your attention, because it’s precious.
And don’t forget to have fun, with writing and with your kids.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Also, don’t forget to spread the word about our November Promotion for A Hidden Fire. All my proceeds for the book this month are going to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, in honor of National Adoption Month.