How can a busy mother possibly do any serious writing?

Shirley Jackson

Dear Literary Ladies,
I’m having trouble juggling parenting and writing. I can’t live without writing, but every day brings a thousand interruptions, and I’m just not getting anything done. How can I make this a more positive experience, and feel less frustrated? Did any of you manage to raise a few kids and create a body of work simultaneously, and if so, how did you do it?

Perhaps the most useful thing about being a writer of fiction is that nothing is ever wasted; all experience is good for something; you tend to see everything as a potential structure of words. One of my daughters made this abruptly clear to me when she came not long ago into the kitchen where I was trying to get the door of our terrible old refrigerator open; it always stuck when the weather was wet, and one of the delights of a cold rainy day was opening the refrigerator door.

My daughter watched me wrestle with it for a minute and then she said that I was foolish to bang on the refrigerator door like that; why not us magic to open it? I thought about this. I poured myself another cup of coffee and lighted a cigarette and sat down for a while and thought about it; and decided that she was right. I left the refrigerator where it was and went in to my typewriter and wrote a story about not being able to open the refrigerator door and getting the children to open it with magic. When a magazine bought the story I bought a new refrigerator . . .

It is much easier, I find, to write a story than to cope competently with the millions of daily trials and irritations that turn up in an ordinary house, and it helps a good deal—particularly with children around—if you can see them through a flattering veil of fiction. It has always been a comfort to me to make stories out of things that happen, things like moving , and kittens, and Christmas concerts at the grade school, and broken bicycles; it is easier, as Sally said, to magic the refrigerator than it is to wrench at the door.

Shirley Jackson, Come Along with Me, 1948


The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery
is arguably Shirley Jackson’s best-known work

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