ON MARCH 29, at the Cambridge Public Library, PEN New England hosted a conversation on “Mothers & Writing,” about the challenges and pleasures of writing while raising children. The discussion, moderated by novelist Heidi Pitlor, and featuring writers Lily King, Kim McLarin, Megan Marshall, and Claire Messud, was frank and wide-ranging, addressing everything from ambivalence about parenthood to tricks for getting work done, and the unheralded advantages of writing as a mother.
What follows is a selection of highlights from the conversation, as observed by a note-taking audience member.
CLAIRE: One thing I “knew” growing up was that one mustn’t have children if one wanted to write. My husband wanted six children; I wanted none. Then a gynecologist told me I might have trouble because I had an oddly shaped uterus.
Tell me, “No” … then I immediately want to get pregnant…
LILY: My experience was like yours. I remember how anxiety-filled I was about trying to become a writer. I did want children—but way in the future.
Then a doctor told me I had a lot of endometriosis. I think I was probably pregnant within 24 hours.
CLAIRE: Sometimes it felt impossible with small kids.
I would think about writers who didn’t have children—how much they must be reading, the number of drafts they must be able to write … the amount of sleep they had!