There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall. – Cyril Connolly.
I’ve never read anything by Cyril Connolly (except for his hilarious 007 cross-dressing spoof, ‘Bond Strikes Camp’, which is probably not relevant here), and I’m prepared to bet money that he didn’t take responsibility for childcare, so I’m not entirely clear what makes him a guru on good art and family life. However, he said it and people quote it, and the recent Zadie Smith/Lauren Sandler kerfuffle has brought it up again, so here we go.
The thing people tend to say when I tell them I’m getting published is, ‘How do you find the time to write?’ This is because I’ve got two kids. In fact, I’ve got two kids, a full time job, a marriage, a house that needs maintenance, and a cat. At least the cat looks after himself.
How do I find the time? Well, for a start, when my kids were very small, I didn’t. There may be people who can make up stories while cripplingly sleep deprived, or disappear into the worlds in their head while changing nappies. I am not one. The only thing I wanted to write for a very long time was ‘HELP ME’ in big jagged letters on the toilet wall. The pram in the hall is the enemy of sanity, Cyril, art be buggered.
Now the kids are out of the damn pram, the itch to write is back. But I still have the job/marriage/house. So how do I find the time?
Well, I don’t. I make the time with the twin gods of communication and selfishness. My husband and I agreed we would pay for a cleaner rather than dedicate leisure time to housework. We agreed that Wednesday and Thursday nights and Saturday mornings would be my writing time. Not ‘just put on that load of laundry’ time, not ‘crap, the kids have drawn giraffes all over the hall and it needs scrubbing off’ time. My writing time and mine alone. (My husband gets triathlon training time in return. I’m not a complete cow.)
It’s not much. At most two hours a session, six hours a week. Six hours a week is damn all to write in. It’s also a huge slice out of my non-job non-child non-sleep existence. It means I don’t watch TV (no Killing, no Wire, no whatever the hell everyone’s raving about this week – I do not have time) and I read far less than I’d like, and I don’t do the evening manuscript-reading that would make my working life more manageable, and any writing session where I feel tempted to surf Twitter is time lost forever that can’t be made up. It kind of means the house may occasionally be a disgusting tip.
You need a very understanding family for this. (I am in awe of single parents at all times, but particularly ones who write. I have no idea how you do it.) You need to talk clearly and frankly about what you can and can’t have, and stick to it. You need to be – just for a bit, just at the agreed times – selfish.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But the pram in the hall doesn’t have to be a sombre enemy. It can just be something you bark your shins on.