Saturday, July 06, 2013

Some Musings on Different Takes on Successful Women (sort of)

So, I originally wrote this post very specifically to be a comment on a post by Laura Vanderkam on "Millennial women and ambition." But my "comment" ended up as almost 700 words long. Hmm. Well.... So I decided to put it over here. Um... go read that link first, this one would be a little odd standing on its own. Heck, I feel like it's a little odd even if you read only that one post, I wrote it in the context of many posts and a few books by Laura Vanderkam. There are things I didn't need to clarify as a "comment" that I probably should clarify here. Meh.

Speaking of different kinds of ambition... Though it might not be as inspiring to the women in Zeno's survey response group, I'm really curious how a study of successful creatives (and mothers with kids at home) would compare to your study of women earning over $100,000 a year. It would be harder to create objective measures of who to include, but perhaps those who have won specific awards, for example?

This post made me wonder about that because of recently reading a piece by Shannon Hale on her blog about how she manages to both write and mother. She's published twelve books since 2003, including a Newbery Honor, and is successful by most measures... at least for novelists. But I'm sure she doesn't come anywhere close to making $100,000 a year. She also has four children, including toddler twins.

I know you've interviewed individual successful creatives before, like LeUyen Pham, but I'm still curious how they would compare as a group.

I guess this kind of study wouldn't do as much to topple the cultural narratives, as people think of high executive positions as being far more demanding and inflexible than artistic positions are. On the other hand, I feel like I've read SO MANY men put something in their acknowledgments about "thank you to my wife and children for tolerating my disappearance while I worked on this," and given how many people are trying unsuccessfully to publish even one book, I think of those who publish critically-acclaimed book after book after book as wildly successful, on a level in some ways with those top executives. (And one I'm far more interested in emulating, personally.)

Shannon Hale's piece was interesting in the context of your posts, because she does seem to subscribe to the larger cultural narrative, for example saying both, "By the time I had 5 published books and two non-napping children, I realized this writing thing was technically a career and I didn't have to be a martyr and I could give myself permission to get help," but also going on to say, "Originally I had a sitter that came over 9 house/week [sic]. This past year, it's up to 17 hours/week. And it's not enough to do all I could/should do. But it has to be. Because I don't want to have a full-time nanny even if that was feasible. I want to be a stay-at-home mom." That made me wince just a little bit, even though she's very clear she's talking about what she herself needs, not what she thinks other mothers should do.

Another wince moment is along the lines of the assumption you mentioned, "that men don’t care about not seeing their families." She says, "And all of that is a lot a lot a lot harder as a mom. Writer dads I know who aren't the primary care giver have a different situation. They can go off when they have a deadline to a hotel for a few weeks and write, or they work from morning to night for weeks on end and their wife picks up the slack. But I'm the primary care giver, and I don't have that luxury. I don't want it." Well, maybe her description of how to both write and mother can help the writer dad who doesn't want "that luxury," either. Meh.

Anyway, she does seem to follow some of your "most successful" patterns. She "makes the minutes count," saying "And for the most part, I seem to be writing as much as my non-parent full-time-writer friends even though I have a part time schedule." She rests on the weekends. She talks a lot about all the things she can't do because she can only manage to write and to mother, but it seems like if you just changed the focus a little bit, she'd be another one of your stories of a very prolific and successful professional who spends lots of quality time with her kids. Fascinating.

Okay, sorry for this novel of a comment, but I was really interested by the combination of these posts.


nicoleandmaggie said...

17 hrs/week is probably just a little under optimal in terms of straight writing time, especially if she's working on one novel at a time (and not doing things like research during that time). Writing is one of those things you need to put time in and let your subconscious work on while you're doing something else.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Thanks for doing this post. I probably "write" -- as in putting words down on paper -- about 17 hours per week, but it's everything else that takes the other time: interviews, coming up with ideas, marketing, etc.

My focus on $100k is obviously not a perfect measure of being successful. But there are successful creatives who do earn that amount. I suppose there could be a different study looking at people who had won certain prizes. But there's nothing stopping a writer mother from going to a hotel to write either -- she's choosing not to. That's fine, but it's not a difference of mothers vs. fathers -- it's her life.

Marcy said...

Nicoleandmaggie, true. But if that's her only time guaranteed that she can work, my guess is that she does a little bit more than just write. She talks about business and publicity demands on her time that take away from her writing. On the other hand, I'm sure that's why she turns down some publicity, to minimize that. Obviously it works for her though -- stressful or not it's enough time for her to be fairly prolific, and her books are good.

I don't remember what she's said about working on more than one book at a time. My guess is that for the majority of her writing time, she probably only switches books when she's waiting for edits to come back, that sort of thing. But that's just a guess. I do know many novelists will work long hours when they're nearing a deadline or the end of a book, though. I hear it's easier (for some people) to write for hours and hours when they're on the home stretch, and then they'll take some time off and recharge when the draft is done.

Overall I liked her post, and I love her, IIRC her blog was the first one I ever started following, back in college. Her language just made me cringe a bit because, well, it's fine if she wants to be a stay-at-home mom, and call herself that, but normally if anyone *else* labeled a professional author as a stay-at-home mom, that would really bug me. I don't think I've ever seen anyone call a professional author a stay-at-home dad. There was a day I wouldn't have thought twice about it, but I've become a bit more feminist since then. ;-)

Laura, no problem, thanks for reading it. On the hours, that makes sense to me.

About the money, right. It is a convenient objective measure. My first impulse is to say that sure, musicians and artists can make a lot more than novelists. But then I remember that no, some huge authors really do earn a lot, too. Kind of a tiny percentage of them, but hey, it works for study purposes.

That was my take on the hotel thing, too. I'm not quite sure why she framed it like that, unless it was a Mormon view of gender roles coming out there. And perhaps she's surrounded by a conservative enough audience that she feels more need to defend her time spent writing than she does her time and attitude about mothering. Everywhere else in the post she was so careful to say that these were *her* choices, to achieve the particular things *she* wanted. To be fair, she has occasionally done the equivalent -- she's gone on book tours, if not as many as she could. And once she even went on an extended trip to England for the filming of a movie based on her book, Austenland. I believe she took her baby and a sitter with her. But I suppose she didn't mention those things in this particular piece because they were when she had fewer kids, and she was writing an updated answer to the question of how she does it all.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I won't tell anyone if you won't, but *shh* I bet she doesn't spend all the rest of those non-17 hours completely engaged with her kids the entire time. I bet she lets them do things like play on their own, nap, spend time with their other relatives (maybe even their father(!)) and so on. It may be easier to do things that don't require as much focus during those times.

It's interesting the narratives we tell ourselves, and how they do or don't change the choices we make. I was just on some pf blog where a woman was talking about how the mommy-guilt forced her to drop to part-time work and that's a good thing. My narrative is that I reject mommy-guilt.

I'm sure both of our sets of kids will grow up into wonderful people, but I bet I'm a little happier while doing it. (Though who knows, maybe her kid falls asleep at 6:30 instead of 10:30.)

Anandi Raman Creath said...

There's a very successful author/teacher/crafter in the papercrafting world who writes in her bio in every one of her books that she's a "stay at home mom" and it always bugged me too. I don't know why she can't OWN her awesome career, or call it at least "work at home mom" even if it's not that, since she travels to conferences, teaching engagements, etc.

But I can understand this author you reference and her desire NOT to have full time child care help. I'm of the same mind (and also have kids that sleep A LOT). I'd happily outsource everything else household related, but want to keep the kid stuff.

But one thing I can do is happily hand off the kids to my husband while I do my own thing. I just haven't (yet) found the job that will let me work on my own schedule. I suspect self-employed creative folks have a lot more flexibility this way.

Marcy said...

Sorry, I meant to reply to these earlier.

Nicoleandmaggie, ha! I think she herself might admit as much -- she never actually says otherwise. Just that she needs help, and has a sitter 17 hours a week. Saying that she doesn't want a full-time nanny isn't the same thing as saying she never does any work in those non-17 hours. She says she doesn't want writing to take over her evening-husband time and that the sitter saved her in that respect, but even so, that isn't saying she NEVER does ANY work in the evenings.

The language and framing made me do a double-take, but from my days of taking my own baby to work (recently my mother-in-law has watched her most of the time, GLORY HALLELUJAH), I should know that yes, work CAN be done with a baby around, though yes, it is hard.

I only have a part-time job, and would love to quit my job entirely, but then... I'm not particularly fond of my job to begin with. I mean, I'm grateful to have it, and there are definitely aspects I enjoy, but... meh. I'd much rather be a writer. I can easily sympathize with wanting to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, but mommy-guilt? Probably not a good motivation; I like your narrative!

Anandi, thanks! I'm glad it bugs someone else, too!

I can understand the desire to not have full-time help as well (especially if kids that sleep a lot), and really, the more I think about it, the more I think she had a very conservative audience in mind. I think she's probably surrounded by stay-at-home mothers who question her decision to hire a sitter and have a writing career. She explains why she has to do it. ("I cannot give up my writing. I would go insane. I would be the woman staring at the yellow wallpaper.") She is rejecting mommy-guilt, as well as rejecting the other kinds of people-pleasing guilt out there, and doing what she has to do. ("I constantly have to remind myself that I have to say no, no, and no, again and again, to the many requests and pleas and invites I get. I feel guilty constantly. I get angry emails. I disappoint friends and extended family. I'm accused of not giving back enough. Sometimes I think only other writers understand how hard you have to fight to keep your writing time.") As a people-pleaser myself, I'm glad she's doing that. You just can't make everyone happy.

As for the more flexible schedule, yes. A non-self-employed spouse would limit it somewhat, though... depending on how much time you want to spend engaged with each other. I know that my husband and I don't spend every potential minute staring into each others' eyes, heh! But I can understand wanting to protect good chunks of that time, too.

And... I should stop critiquing her post and follow her advice to turn off internet and TV, get some writing done!