Once, some blog posts ago, I mused about being a writer in Boston. I’ve been thinking a lot about that subject again as Kid B’s birth looms large in my future. I’ll admit, this is partly because it’s more fun than thinking about usable baby names, though obviously less fun than throwing around the ones you could never use, like for instance Romulus. (Yes, I really saw that on a list of suggested “unusual” baby names.)
I’ve read and re-read Lynn Melnick’s “A Curious Thing: Motherhood, Confidence, and Getting the Work Done” in the past couple of weeks because it advocates a way of writing that I’ve not yet mastered: the art of writing around your child. She says, quite correctly, that once you’re plunged into the responsibilities and time-sucking vortex of mothering babies/small children, you don’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for inspiration to hit, and so you either decide to squeeze in an hour of writing while your child sleeps or resign yourself to being something other than a writer. For me with my first child, unfortunately, the time squeezed in would have been minutes and not hours, which is part of why writing during nap time didn’t go so well. There was also the problem of sleep deprivation making me a zombie who couldn’t spell or form a full sentence some days, but that point is long past with my first kid, and I have to decide how to approach things with my second. This is why I keep returning to her article: inspiration. It says that you can do it, that it is possible, that even if you think that it will ruin your work to pull out of that dreamlike writing state when the baby wakes up, it is better to have spent that half-hour writing and get rudely awoken than to skip that time in favor of the perfect moment that never arrives. She also acknowledges that sometimes what ends up on the page is terrible, but frankly, some of what ended up on the page when I was in college and grad school and had all the time in the world was terrible, too. In other words, this shouldn’t deter me at all.
Since I still get a real copy of the newspaper delivered to my door once a week as I’m old-fashioned like that, I read Jonathan Gottschall’s “How Fiction Changes Your World” this morning (if you want to read it, sign up for a free trial of The Boston Globe here). In it, he argues the case that reading and creating fiction – and for him, this includes television, film, and theater – is not only a moral pursuit but also beneficial for society as a whole. In his first paragraph, he talks about fiction being treated as dangerous to society – “mentally and ethically corrosive,” he says – by some people, and my first thought was, who is stupid enough to think that? How I had forgotten about book burners and the crazies who love to create banned book lists for students, I don’t know.
Anyway, Gottschall discusses the ways that experiencing fiction improves us as people and in turn as a society, and it is mostly through the ability and likelihood to empathize that develops when you get enveloped into a story or fall in love with a character. The importance of the good being rewarded and the bad being punished, aka the idea of the happy ending, is an equally important take-away from fiction. He and several colleagues are aiming to prove this with scientific studies in a book called Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning, coming out in about a week. It looks too heavily academic for me to pick up, but I think it’s an interesting concept to tie evolutionary and literary research together. It also suggests a primary reason to write fiction as well as read it: to explore what you think reality is, how it should be, what it can be, and what shapes it in your culture.
All of these things coming at me together are making me anxious to return to writing fiction. Sure, my writer’s group has lapsed indefinitely, and lately the amount of time I’ve spent writing blog posts has far outstripped time spent on stories. But for some reason, in the past month I’ve had more ideas for stories and articles than I have in a long time. So it looks like all of this random, rambling nonfiction writing has paid off in more ways than one. Thanks to everyone who’s reading it!
And now I’m off to try to fit in a few more minutes on a different writing project before I fall asleep on my keyboard…