Novelists Deal with Family – Part I

Be A NovelistWriting is Solitary

Writing is a solitary occupation. You don’t need to have company hanging about in order to complete your novel. But if you have family members in your house, they are indeed hanging about. It’s quite a conundrum. How does one deal with such matters? It’s a subject that has certainly been batted around by novelists for generations.

While Willa Cather was not talking about family when she made the following statement, I wouldn’t be surprised if she made the same application:

“My art is more important than my friend.”

Then there’s the infamous quote from William Faulkner in how he sizes up family versus his writing:

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.

We read that and ponder. “He couldn’t really mean that, right?” And yet history is littered with novelists who, along the way, ignored their families, betrayed their friends, and turned their backs on comforts of life just to reach that goal – the dream of published novels.

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The Enemy of Good Art

Novelist Joan Didion boldly proclaimed that she was a writer first – a wife and mother second.

Then British author, Cyril Connolly, made another well-known statement about art and family: “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway.”

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But then we see in the case of children’s author, Frank Cottrell Boyce (also a successful screenwriter), the presence of children in the home never slowed his work. The Boyces have seven children. That would amount to more than one pram in the hallway, wouldn’t you say?

To my way of thinking, family need not ever be a deterrent to the work of a novelist. If the novelist thinks in this manner (that the pram is the enemy), and if family were removed from the picture (and he or she actually had that longed-for solitude), another excuse would crop up. As you well know, we novelists are masters of coming up with excuses why we aren’t working on our novel(s). The interruptions caused by family could be just another excuse.

Making Use of the Resources

Yes, I admit it. I did struggle with time constraints when my two children were still at home, but I never let that stop me. I have to say in those early days I made great use of the resources they provided to me – antics, funny comments, insights, childlike innocence, not to mention all the great books they brought home from the library that I would never have read had I not had them around. I believe I was a more productive, more creative, writer because I had family close by.

Now I’m a grandmother, and I make certain that time is set aside for playing with the grandkids at least one day a week. Sometimes more often. The ways in which they enrich my life, and my outlook on life, can never be measured. I’m a better writer because they are in my life. When I’m called on to be the designated sitter for the evening, unless I’m pushing an extremely tight deadline, I nearly always say yes.

My writing is my life, but never will it take the place of my family members whom I adore.

All of us will get older. Time passes. I would never want to look at my senior years as having only my authored books for company. I want always to be surrounded by family.

In the next post, we’ll look at a few way to make the novelist/family mix can balance so that everyone comes out a winner.

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