Sunday, July 28, 2013

How do our lives as writers affect our children?

by Michele Young-Stone

Recently, I was reading an article in the New York Times about the memoirs of children of famous writers: William Styron, Saul Bellow, and John Cheever.  It was a fascinating article and it got me thinking about the impact my writing might have on my son.

For starters, we writers have to have extremely thick skin.  One mantra that I recently taped above my desk reads: This is my book.  This is my book.  My story.  My book.  My fucking art!!

My son, who is eight, thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever read, so he immediately shared it aloud with our house guests.  He knows that I hate the F word (fart), but I'm not so offended by the other F word, so I sat calmly by, amused at his attempt to shock the room.

My book.  My fucking art!!

Sometimes I need a reminder.  Sometimes I feel pulled in multiple directions and I have to remind myself that ultimately the buck stops with me.


My son has had a big part in my writing and publication journey.

He came with me on the day my novel debuted.  We went to see it on a bookstore shelf.  We bought a copy.  Next, we visited the library.  A month later, we saw it in Hudson News in JFK airport.  He knows that I was holding him in a Baby Bjorn, one month ol, when I graduated with my MFA in fiction writing; the early draft of my first novel was my thesis.

He was an infant when I got my first feedback from my illustrious agent, Michelle Brower.  She remembers hearing him in the background.  I was trying to breastfeed and simultaneously take revision notes.

He's been to New York a half dozen times, and even made paper towel airplanes with my genius editor in the bathroom of the French restaurant across from Random House (my former publisher).

He got on stage during my first and subsequent readings, and he sometimes says, "I might be a writer when I grow up."

I don't know if he'll be a writer.  I think that an electrician might be a good career path.  We all need light, but no matter what he decides, I hope that my profession is having a good impression on him.  The obvious difference between me, Cheever, Styron and Bellow (aside from their well-deserved fame) is that I am a woman.  I don't take a break from being my son's mother because I'm writing.  It's not
1950s America.  Domestic duties are allocated more justly, and my son knows that when I am writing, I am "not here" in the sense that I shouldn't be cooking or washing dishes because the water will boil away.  The sink will overflow.  Trust me.  It's happened more than once.

I guess that what I'm getting at is that no matter what career path a parent takes, the child is going to be affected.  My mother was a nurse and my father was an Industrial Arts teacher and Jack-of-all-trades.  They were just as capable to be neglectful terrible parents as Greg Bellow reports Saul Bellow was.  It doesn't have to do with the profession, no matter what that profession happens to be.  I think it's more about priorities and responsibility.  It's a balancing act.

Ultimately, I am grateful that my son has watched me pursue and be successful at my life's dream. That's the biggest impression I hope to impart upon him.  You can do and be anything you want in life. You just gotta work hard and go for it.

Michele Young-Stone is the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, available wherever books are sold (nearly).  She has two books under contract with Simon & Schuster.  She is a very proud mom.  Follow Michele on Facebook.    And Twitter.


  1. Love this, Michele. And I love those pics! Beautiful one of you and your son.

  2. Michele, I'm thinking I need a note like yours on my bulletin board! At least one! Great post and I'm going to go order your book on Amazon now!

  3. Aw, thanks a lot Sheila! I will do likewise.

  4. Love it, especially: "My fucking Art"!!! I read that article, too, and look forward to reading those memoirs, as well as your novel!