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We who are about to breed: Naomi Williams.

September 26, 2011 \am\30 11:00 am

[In which WWAATD asks writers and other artist types about life as breeders/parents/kid-keepers.]

Name: Naomi Williams

1.    What are your kids’ names, ages?

Two boys, ages 12 and 15.

2.    How do you balance your time between parenting and writing? 

I don’t, really. I’m not a particularly good multi-tasker and tend to give my all to one thing at a time, whether it’s parenting or writing or reorganizing my bookshelves. As a result, I always feel like I’m being a bad mother or writer (or manager of the home library). But I’ve kind of made my peace with feeling this way. Things are certainly easier now that my kids are older. I can write in the same room with family members who are quietly occupied with reading or homework or even computer games (with the sound off!). Frequent interruptions don’t really bother me. This is good, as I’m decidedly not one of those people who can wake up at 5 a.m. and write for an hour or two before the family wakes up. Nor am I particularly productive late at night, after everyone goes to sleep.

These days I try to set aside for writing the hours between when the boys leave for school and my own late lunchtime. Things come up, of course: doctor’s appointments, kids home sick, field trips requiring chaperones, etc. I also juggle several paying gigs–freelance editing, private tutoring, and part-time teaching at a community college–and these commitments can eat into the writing hours. When they spill over into late afternoon and evening, they also eat into family time. I just try to make sure most days include all three elements: writing, paying work, time with spouse and kids.

This would all be much harder without the complete and unwavering support of my husband, who is the perfect writer’s partner: gainfully employed, a fabulous cook, totally involved as a parent, an avid reader of literary fiction with no writing ambitions of his own, and a big fan of my work!

3.    What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer? 

I was lucky enough to take a workshop with Yiyun Li at UC Davis a few years ago. She’s a mom too, and encouraged me to apply for an artist’s residency. I’d considered it, but felt daunted by the prospect of being away from home so long. She suggested I’d get so much done in a month away from home that I’d be able to be more present for my family when I returned. And she was right: I spent four weeks at Hedgebrook last year, a residency for women writers in Washington, and wrote more during that month than I had in the previous year. When I came home, the pace fell off, of course, but I was okay with it because I’d just had this concentrated time to devote to writing.

4.    How has your writing changed since becoming a parent? 

I actually didn’t start writing seriously until after my children were born. One thing having children did for me, actually, was clarify how very much I wanted and needed to write. Parenting–especially in those early years–is so all-consuming, and one necessarily pares down the commitments that matter less. I stopped doing a lot things, many of which had been meaningful pursuits. But writing I wasn’t willing to drop. I don’t think the content of my writing has been particularly influenced by parenting. I’ve written stories with characters who have (or are) children, but parenting per se is not one of my topics.

5.    Tell us something we don’t know about you and being an artist- or writer-slash-parent. 

One thing writers’ kids probably experience more than other people’s kids (besides having their grammar constantly corrected) is getting dragged to readings. Mine do, anyway. The most memorable one by far was in 2007 at the Tin House Writers Workshop in Portland. My husband is a huge Colson Whitehead fan, so all four of us attended the reading he gave one night. He read from his novel Sag Harbor, and brought in a big chart to illustrate how his characters put together their extremely colorful insults. My kids were all eyes as he demonstrated how you combine a modifier, a verb, and a noun to get epithets like “fake-Adidas-wearin’-motherfucker.” (You can see a version of this chart here.) Afterward, my younger son, then eight, turned to me with a big grin and said, “That guy was totally awesome!” So that’s what it’s like, sometimes, when you mix the writing life with parenting.

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