Wow. George you are a sage and a kind one at that. While I'm still getting over my religious indoctrination, there is a concept in Jewish literature called mussar, which loosely translated is something like self-improvement or spiritual practice, and this newsletter is a wonderful example of that. (I felt so compelled to write, I haven't finished it yet.)

This is actually super personal for me: A week-and-a-half ago my wife gave birth to our first child, a boy named David Julian--who is probably the youngest member of the Story Club. He's still in the nic-u right now, but I've been thinking about this question a lot. (He's doing great! Thankfully. It was a complicated pregnancy, but he's healthy and just a tad on the small side.) I survived religious life by believing that art could save me; that I was writing something, that writing was the special thing I and only I had. Needless to say, that perspective has eroded as did a lot of my dedication to writing. But I can say that holding my son in the nic-u has given me something in ways that I can't express. Tenderness as George writes, it is as if I've joined the human race. Even though I've been so disillusioned lately with my own writing (for years now), I think inevitably whatever writing I do will suffer a bit, but I think it's a worthwhile exchange for what I hope will be a deeper insight into this strange endeavor of life.

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Personal questions demand personal answers. I know I wasn't the one who was asked the question, but I have something to say about it, because I faced similar questions forty years ago when I was considering marriage and a family. I'm reminded of a story about Raymond Carver. When he had small children at home, and money problems, and shitty jobs, he would steal time for writing by sitting in his car, a notebook propped up against the steering wheel. I don't know if the story is true, but I often thought about it when I made excuses for myself, for why I wasn't writing during the years I had small children at home, and a demanding job, and the sorts of pressures that probably all of us experience.

I have a friend who is a literary agent, and I was talking to her one day about this, and she said to me, "Writers write." So for some years after, I didn't think of myself as a writer at all, because I simply wasn't writing. Then, a dozen years ago, something changed, and I couldn't not write. I felt compelled to. And I began to use my other responsibilities as a kind of foil. I would avoid them by working on a piece of writing, an assertion of sorts, maybe the assertion of a creative self.

Now my kids are grown and starting their own families. I'm lucky enough not to have to work for money anymore. And I'm writing again more seriously now, and my children and my experiences as a parent and the four decades of being a part of what I used to think of as the "real world" are all sources and inspirations. I love my family. Being a parent is the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Now, aside from climate change, the threats to our democracy, and the pandemic, all I have to worry about is having enough healthy time left in my life to accomplish something as a writer. I don't know what that means yet, but I'm working, and it's enough for now.

Side note: Story Club has been a blessing. I think of us as a community. Thank you all.

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I am appreciative of the fellow who submitted this question because it's one that women writers have had to grapple with FOREVER and it is wonderful to hear men starting to grapple with it too. I'm glad that at least in some tiny quarter of our society, we are past the day when the Male Writer assumed he could work all day and then emerge from his study at 5 p.m. for gin and tonics, a nice dinner with some writer friends, and a pat on the head for his bathed and pajamaed children.

I fretted a lot about becoming a mother. Not just "what will happen to my writing time," but "will I lose myself as a person." I feared becoming a small figure in a housecoat in the background of someone else's picture. Ultimately I took the plunge but had only one child, which allowed me time to be a parent but also do other things in my life. Now in my 60s, I do not regret it at all, although the first three years or so were probably the most challenging of my life and my marriage. There will be really hard times when writing is lost in the shuffle, but they pass.

In the long run of your life, writing can be a disappointment -- unfinished or unpublished work, lack of recognition, work that you're not proud of. Children can also turn out to be a disappointment -- estranged and angry, making bad choices, even Trump supporters. ;-)

But writing can be a consolation when the children are frustrating, and children can be a consolation when the writing is frustrating. While a monastic devotion to art is often praised, maybe there is something for the "not all eggs in one basket" approach to life.

Ultimately I agree with George: It comes down to "know yourself."

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As a father and writer I couldn’t agree more with this beautiful answer by George.

For the person asking, if you’re reading this, I believe becoming a father will ‘unlock’ a way of writing that is deeper than you could’ve ever imagined—just like it unlocks love on a deeper level.

I, for one, am very grateful for having my kids (even after almost losing one, with all the pain it entails, twice!). They’re even regulars in my writing now. ;)

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“It was as if I’d joined the human race, for better or worse.”

I read this as I’m sitting here in the delivery room with my wife, excited and terrified in equal measure, waiting for my first child to born. What a gift. Thank you, George! And thank you to the other amazing comments here. (We, too, are looking at a week or two in the NICU.)

Can’t wait to join the writer-dad-human club.

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This is a difficult topic for me. I wandered into some of my emotional baggage on the issue of not having children in a reaction to Olsen's story, and many in this group took it the wrong way; however, I find this group to be a place of honesty so I hope my words are taken the right way. To quote Mary G., I hope my words are taken "as they were meant--not as an attack, but as an addition to your thoughts and experience."

I made a choice as a young man not to be a father. It had nothing to do with my artistic vision; rather, as a child of the 1980's I saw a world heating up and likely to face a nuclear disaster that would leave those still on the planet in a wasteland of human misery. I chose not to inflict that hell on any child of mine. Now, at 58 years old, I regret that decision greatly for the great absence that pervades my soul and heart. On Father's Day this year I cried at the realization that I am not a father and will never be a father. I have plenty of love to go around. I am my nieces and nephew's favorite uncle. I am a 30 year veteran educator and am everyone's favorite teacher. But I am not a father. While I am plagued with doubt and self-loathing for the choice I made, I would make the same decision again because I could not imagine sending a person I loved so much into a worse future. I have no hope in humanity's capacity to avert disaster. Conservative estimates have the planet heating up 3.2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. When I compare the summer of 1970 to the summer of 2022, I see the evidence in my own being and it reaffirms my rational choice, and I must live with those emotional consequences as the result of my love for the child never born. And that emotional aftermath is the stuff of my art.

I often feel on the outside of society because of my choice. From my perspective, society forms itself around families with children and rightfully so from my point of view. Even the comments in this thread where people affirm that they were not truly alive until they had children reinforces my outsider status and I bet many other childless people in this group may feel the same.

I went to a bunch of elementary school graduations today and I was emotionally gutted. There was a profound sadness that I will never know the pride I saw in parents' faces today, but I was nauseous at looking at the beautiful young faces knowing what the world will look like in 2050 when these very children turn 40.

I guess my question is do those with children have a greater hope than I? I pray I am wrong and I am just a bitter 58 year old guy justifying a poor choice, but I really do believe this planet is doomed. Do you ever look at the world your children will inherit and have the reverse of my sadness and regret?

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I loved the question. So many of us have fears and worries, we fret over that fork in the road ahead. I guess it's a way of trying to control the future. Anyway, I never wanted kids (even as a little girl I'd tell people I didn't want kids) and I don't regret it. None of my childless friends regret not having kids. My choice had nothing to do with thinking that kids would interfere with any goal I had. I do think I'd regret, at the end of life looking back, "putting all my eggs in one basket" as some wise Story Clubber just wrote. I put time and energy into my marriage, my friendships, my yoga practice, and now this kick ass class right here.

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"So writing at night was possible and writing on the bus on the way to work, and so on. It turned out that I didn’t really need much peace and quiet – I could write well in the maelstrom of the office and maybe, at that time anyway, even benefited from it."

If low wages and status don't bother you, then as a writer you could do worse than working, for a few years at least, as a security guard, a job that can provide plenty of time for writing on duty.

I was working as a nightguard in a psychiatric hospital, and was close to being sacked for falling asleep on the job. Reading just wasn't keeping me awake, or coffee or Red Bulls, but then I discovered that writing fiction is so demanding, and therefore so stimulating, that it did the trick. It felt quite odd to rush off to some violent incident in the hospital and still be working out sentences in your head, but as George suggests, the writing itself may have benefited from the maelstrom.

Regarding this thread's wider issue, all I can say is that I've definitely noticed an increase in the quality of writing if I can spend 10 to 12 hours per day on it, rather than the apparent industry standard of 3 to 5. I wouldn't claim to be in *the* zone at such times, but I'm certainly in *a* zone that seems to allow that subconscious so beloved by our mentor to take over. It can be quite draining, obviously, and you're more than a little mad, especially if you keep this routine up for months. But it's the only time when (I think) I've ever significantly improved.

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Today's question is lovely for, among other things but most especially, its bravery; George's answer lovelier still for its honesty. And thank you both. I'm guessing that I'm older than the Clubber who posed the question and if experience, mine or anyone else's, counts for anything, I'd say this: listen to your heart. You'll hear it & will know what to do. Writing, or any sort of art or activity, and life are not either/or. They're both. And constantly. No escaping. When I was young I never thought I'd marry. I never saw myself as "marriage material", though I wasn't entirely sure what "material" meant, only that I saw myself as alone. Not lonely, just alone. (No cats involved!) Then I met the man who has been my husband for the last 37 years. When I clapped eyes on his handsome face for the very first time, I heard it---that all-essential word: "kind". I literally, quite literally, heard the word in my head. Who spoke? I think some version of my heart. Which I had the good sense to heed. All I can say is that his kindness has guided my days, writing & otherwise. So, if there's anything I'd suggest, such as I can offer anything, it would be to encourage you to listen, to pay close attention, to trust that you'll be guided, that you'll know what to do, that it isn't an either/or, it's a yes!, when you hear it.

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Jun 23, 2022·edited Jun 23, 2022

A scarily honest question and a wise answer from George.

Some quick thoughts from my experience. Please draw your own conclusions. I am a man. I had similar trepidations. I had three children. I realised how much time I wasted before becoming a father. I ended up working more but in a shorter time. I worked as a TV writer in a low stress medium paid job and was a stay at home dad while my wife worked full time and then did a PhD. Then my wife said to take some time to concentrate on my writing and not to worry about taking TV jobs I hated. I became a dilettante again with all that spare time. I have achieved nothing in 8 years while having near total freedom. I love my children. My life as a prose writer is unproductive and seemingly pointless. I’m pretty happy. I have few money worries if I live sensibly, but not as a result of my prose writing. Who knows what’s going to happen? I would not and could not have planned this but am satisfied with the circumstances. I don’t know what any of this means. Honestly, it probably says more about white privilege than anything else.

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I love the first paragraph of George's answer. And I'm looking forward to many smart comments. Such a very personal question and so depends on who you are! Maybe the decision is not entirely ours to make? Who knows, will you find the right person to make that commitment to? And even if you do, you still might not have a child. So complicated!

Having just started reading Silences (which is amazing so far), I could see how reading it (and a million other things) might make you think twice. I haven't gotten too far in it, so maybe she touches on this, but in the end, looking over your life, this life, our life--is art the only goal? Maybe for some it is. As I get older though, I start to think that maybe it's okay for that part-time art to exist. Our lives aren't only about one thing, our lives are multidimensional, and sometimes those other dimensions can be better than art.

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I became a parent just a few weeks ago. Sharing some of the fears posed in this question, I treated the due date as a deadline to finish my novel. Ha! Didn't happen. I got blocked for the last four months of the pregnancy. All the time I was telling myself, "You won't get this freedom back, you're wasting an opportunity..." and that self-applied pressure did not help one bit.

But you know what happened? My life changed overnight. You can read books about parenting, take courses on it, ask people questions... but nothing can truly prepare you for it. And just as George said so eloquently, there's a new layer to everything in your worldview. Life feels different. I think that unlocked (and unblocked) something in me.

Despite the broken sleep and overwhelming sense of responsibility, I'm back writing again, the ideas are flowing, and I'm lovin' it.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

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My wife is an artist. She has had a good career, nothing earth-shattering (she's not famous), but she has had 40 one-person shows in New York City and in Maine, and is well-respected by her peers. Neither one of us ever thought we would have kids, but we got together in our thirties and had children fairly late. She managed to be a great mother and keep her serious work going, and our three children lived with her commitment to her work and never suffered for it. They watched her work hard and be with them totally when she was not in the studio and a wonderful example was set for them, and for me. They suffered my absences more; supporting a family in the city required a lot from me. My wife's experience demonstrates that it is possible to do this, to have a creative life and a family life, all at the same time, if one feels compelled to do both. I think that's the key, to feel compelled by something deep and fundamental inside oneself. Luck plays a role too, of course.

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What a gracious answer. I feel that there is so much more to write about once I set about living, rather than simply training and setting up to write.

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I have no business really, commenting here --- I don’t have children “of my own” --- Godchildren and stepchildren who came to me past the time when their survival depended on my devotion. I spent 3 years in my 20’s as a governess for a small child, but I was not her mother. I’m in my 60’s now and my observations could be blurry, but…

Over and over again, in my 30’s and early 40’s, my close male friends would express some version of the following at the birth of their first child, “yesterday I understood 1%, today 90%” or “we think we bring a child into the world but it’s really the other way around, a child brings us into the world.” (Galway Kinnell crafted an entire collection of poems (“The Book of Nightmares” ) inspired by the birth of his first child.) But I don’t know a single mother who expressed this thought --- that having children fostered a kind of induction.

I do know a woman who finishing her PhD research at John’s Hopkins listened to the voice recordings of black boxes retrieved from flights that had crashed and who do you imagine in this dark moment the pilots were calling for? One after the next.

By now I have witnessed many different styles of mothering and at close range, but always with my nose pressed to glass separating me from the viscera of that experience. I know mothers who judge me for not having made the “great sacrifice.” I know mothers who rely on my home as refuge. I know mothers who leave their children in my care as temporary relief. I know mothers who have given up a writing life so as not to aggravate a sense of being divided. I do not know any mothers who have a working life who do not feel divided.

For years I hosted an annual brunch for my women friends – ranging in age from 24 to 70. We’d gather at a long table and every year by the end of the brunch the mothers were all at one end, a law of gravity. All of them, every single one, bemoaning NOT the lack of time or lack of freedom, but a divided self. I’ve come to think that mothering does this, divides the self, in a way that fathering does not --- as if inside every mother’s body is a tiny amplifier, with a lifetime warranty, set to the frequency of the child’s need.

There may be mothers out there, for whom this is not your experience – I would be pleased to know.

In the meanwhile, every summer I devote myself to a writer --- reading a few books by the same author. For the last few years, I’ve privileged women who have written books with children underfoot. My modest way of honoring the willingness to endure this divide.

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George said it so well. I would add the following:

I echo your sentiments about needing time to do deep thinking and close the door and write. I have always known on some level that I am an introvert however this has crystalized recently as I have been reading "Quiet: The power of introverts in a world which cannot stop talking." I wonder whether you identify as an introvert and if not it is something perhaps to consider going forward.

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