Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tillie Olsen, Silences, and Are Writers Really a Selfish Bunch?

The article I've linked to below annoyed me on several levels. It's supposed to be about how writers become selfish  while they are working and how that may lead to spousal neglect. In the article Mrs. Ian Rankin, wife of extremely successful writer Ian Rankin, takes care of the household and makes sure the children are quiet when 'Daddy is working/writing.'  The other writers mentioned are Trollope, Joyce, Dickens, Austen. I got to wondering about all my wonderful female friends in the U.S. who snatch moments to write between folding laundry and making sandwiches while their spouses (please fill in the blank). 

"The novelist Ian Rankin’s wife, talking in a television documentary, has revealed some of the working habits of the busy professional novelist, and some of us will have recognized the phenomena she describes. Some of our spouses, too, because these disasters and pieces of bad and neglectful behavior affect our families indirectly.
Mrs Rankin said, very perceptively, that there is a danger of writer’s block hitting Rankin once he has used up all his initial ideas and vision, prepared before the book was started. She says this happens, almost always, on page 65. That’s absolutely true: the map and ideas and scribbled notions, prepared before anything starts, initially look like enough to get you through to the end, or to the halfway stage. And then you’ve run through your stock of imaginative capital like a Lottery winner on a drunken spree, and the blank page stares at you. read rest here"

Most writers, female or male, struggle with time management but, and I'll probably be very unpopular for saying this, female writers with children struggle even more because when it comes to home and children the onus continues to predominantly fall on women. The fact is the more domestic help a writer, male or female, can afford the more their writing/productivity will go up. And for married couples, domestic squabbles will also go down which is nice because that will free up time and energy for time for writing. My first and last piece of advice to wannabe writers married or unmarried: Do not have children. This is harsh unless you have an incredibly supportive spouse like Mrs. Rankin in which case it might help if you are a  'busy professional writer', or if you have full time, round the clock, 24-7, HELP in which case have as many kids as you want. 
Virginia Woolf acknowledged the need for a room of one's own, but she also had servants who cleaned and cooked and took care of the other menial tasks while she wrote about rooms of her own. And Virginia Woolf had no children. Closer to home, in contemporary Pakistan, most writers can usually rely on the following help: a cook, a cleaner, a laundry person, a driver, a gardener, and maids for the kids. The male writers often also have a wife, and, in the event that they have no servants, let me repeat, they have a wife. As for in the U.S., a male writer who takes time away from his writing to step into the kitchen or play with his children is a 'good, great guy' but a female writer who leaves the dishes in the sink, or tells her kid that no she cannot go to the park right now because she's writing is a 'bad mother'.  With topics of this nature I'm always reminded of Tillie Olsen's book Silences.




1 comment:

Anjali said...

It is harsh, but it is true. Without domestic help, writing with kids is like running on a hamster wheel.