(December 17, 2020) Katie Gutierrez lives in San Antonio, TX, with her husband and two young children, who are 2 and a half years old and three and a half months old. She has an MFA from Texas State University, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Longreads, Catapult, and more. Her debut novel, More Than You’ll Ever Know, will be published by William Morrow in 2022. She describes writer-motherhood in three words as never enough time.
FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES
Texas Highways Magazine (coming soon)
When I got my book contract, any time I tried to sit down at my computer, my toddler would come in as a baby shark, or my newborn would be hungry. I ended up sitting in the dark breastfeeding, looking through the contract on my phone and signing it through DocuSign. You have this fantasy, as a writer, of what these moments will look like, and I never once envisioned it looking like that. But it also felt completely right for where I am in my life right now.
A component of female desire is the desire to be known, to be seen, and to discover who we are in different environments and relationships.
The experiment for me is to look at a character who is acting in an ostensibly amoral way and portray her in a way that very quickly makes her actions understandable. That’s part of the fun of writing for me. And that is when you’re succeeding as a writer.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was overjoyed. But right along with that feeling of joy was this fear, this feeling of Oh, God, what did I do? What is this going to mean for my life? That all came up, and it was not as simple of an emotion as getting that phone call from the nurse. Because I still didn’t really have an idea of how motherhood would fit into my life, and I didn’t really have an idea of what kind of mother I would be.
My biggest fear around becoming a mother was that suddenly I would no longer be a writer.
When we were on submission with my first novel and it didn’t work out, I had this overwhelming sense of, Okay, I’ve got one more shot. I’ve got to finish this book before I have the baby, and we’ve got to go on submission and try to make this happen, because I don’t know what it’s going to be like afterwards. And I think that I was really wrong about that. I had internalized that being a mother is anathema to being a creative individual, to pursuing any kind of art.
It’s been a big surprise, how much being a mother has positively impacted what I do, even though actually getting to work, getting to write, is more complicated.
I spent those first few months not sleeping, because all I could do was imagine every single worst-case scenario that could happen to this completely helpless baby. Being a writer, your imagination is pretty vivid, and I felt like I had to follow each fantasy through to its conclusion. I was surprised at the depth of that anxiety, the depth of my fear around losing my child and how that fear never goes away; it just becomes folded into your daily life as a mother.
When we become mothers, we don’t stop being ourselves, we don’t stop feeling or having our own desires or experiencing the desire for adventure. It becomes a question of: How do you balance these deep emotions–or live with the imbalance?
The days when I’ve become the most frustrated, the angriest, and the worst version of myself—you know, the monster, to my kids and husband—are the days when I wake up with an urgent need and expectation that I’m going to sit down for at least an hour, and revise one chapter or write 500 words. When I set these concrete goals for myself, and then the day explodes and none of it happens, that’s when I find myself extremely resentful of my kids, my husband, the fact that he doesn’t have to have a baby at his boob every two hours.
I try to let go of control and tell myself I’m just going to touch the work at some point today. That’s my only goal. I’m going to touch it at some point, if it’s working on one sentence, so be it. If I get lucky and both kids nap at the same time, I get two hours. Those are the days when things go the smoothest for me, when I can appreciate being with the kids but also whatever time that I actually get to work. Those are the days when I don’t set any expectation for myself, except that I’m going to touch the work and move it forward in some way.
I was thinking about practical strategies for moms with newborns, and for me, what works best is when I read books that seem to be in conversation with what I’m working on. That feels like I’m touching the work. It’s also giving myself permission to daydream and to use those daydreams as also touching the work.
I’m taking this time with a newborn to be active about using my daydreams for the revision process. When I get the chance to sit down, even if it is for 15 minutes, I go straight to it, no procrastination.
In the past, there’s been this conversation around writing as a very solitary, strictly scheduled or regimented existence. There’s so much happening in the background in this patriarchal society and sexist culture that was not talked about. It’s important to have these conversations about what it really takes to make a book happen.
The other day, I held up a book to my daughter and said, “Mommy’s writing these books.” And I could see her trying to put it together. It was a strangely emotional moment for me, having this small child who was starting to understand what I’m doing when I’m not being present with her.
When my daughter is old enough to read my books, I hope she’ll feel proud, whether or not she likes the books. I think that’ll be strange, because she’ll be getting access to some parts of me that she obviously doesn’t see as her mother. I hope it’ll bring us closer.
I just texted a friend the other day—it was one of the bad days—and I said, “I feel like I’m failing on every front.” I was snapping at my daughter and I was so resentful of this baby boy who just wouldn’t sleep. Every time I sat down, I had to get back up. I felt like everything I was trying to do, everything I was trying to be, was a complete failure. Some days are just going to be like that.
You don’t have to be sitting at your computer to be writing, but it’s also okay to just not be writing. It’s okay to do absolutely nothing that touches your work, because you’re also a person apart from being a mother, and apart from being a writer, and you need to be able to occasionally take care of that person, as well. Let’s become the monster, right?