(January 18, 2021) Elle Nash is the author of the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books), which was featured in O – The Oprah Magazine, and hailed by Publishers Weekly as a “complex, impressive exploration of obsession and desire.” A small collection of stories, Nudes, is forthcoming from SF/LD Books in Spring 2021. Her short stories and essays appear in Guernica, The Nervous Breakdown, Literary Hub, The Fanzine, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine, a fiction editor at Hobart Pulp and Expat Press, and runs an annual workshop called Textures. Elle has one child and she describes writer-motherhood in three words as, “boundary-building, productive.”
FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES
Elle Nash’s Website
Elle’s Book: Animals Eat Each Other
Textures, Elle’s writing workshop
Heartbreaker, Maryse Meijer
While I was working in the office, I was like, “I can’t imagine being a mom this way. I can’t imagine working full-time and trying to manage a household and a relationship and be a mom all at the same time. I don’t know how working moms keep it all together.” Now I am a working mom, and you just figure it out.
I had been working on a manuscript, and I was in the fog of breastfeeding, too. There’s something hormonally about it that made me feel not as sharp, a combination of exhaustion and having this new person always around. There’s this weird mind-melding thing that happens, where your identities kind of fuse, which I think is on purpose so you can understand and know what your baby needs. I had trouble breaking out of that when I was working on my manuscript.
I sat down and wrote my novel in 11 weeks. I just woke up around four or five in the morning, and my daughter was starting to have more regular naps, so I would write every time she was asleep during the day, too. I just committed to it. And that’s how I got my first draft done. It was definitely a lot of not sleeping.
I don’t want to speak to this as if it’s a universal experience, but it seems like new moms struggle with identity and feeling like their own person, and some moms struggle with this for a lot longer. Part of this is when moms feel guilty for taking time out for themselves. I experienced that, where I felt bad for asking, for example, for time to write on the weekends.
“It seems like new moms struggle with identity and feeling like their own person, and some moms struggle with this for a lot longer. Part of this is when moms feel guilty for taking time out for themselves.”
It was easy for me to think: I’m staying at home and don’t have a job, even though I’m literally running an entire household, and I’m taking care of a tiny human. It was easy for me to think that I didn’t deserve the time, because there’s all this time already, even though that time is actually spent. I had to go through a process of seeing my alone time as valuable and important for me and setting boundaries.
I believe in everyone’s personal agency and a person deciding what is right for them and what their boundaries are, but in a coming-of-age story or this life experience with a new human, those boundaries can become really blurred. It can be difficult to figure out where the boundaries are.
[Elle’s advice to writer-moms:] The first step is to have really clear goals. The second step is not having excuses, being able to write whenever you can. My third step was making it known to my partner where I was, like wanting to write for four hours on Saturday morning and trying to negotiate that and making it known that it’s important for me on multiple levels—mental health, happiness, life goals, all those things. It also means being pragmatic about your time.
You have to have a good balance of being disciplined and being clear with what you want. But also, not beating yourself up when you don’t do it. I think the beating yourself up part of it can contribute to having low self-esteem, and that can impede you from being able to reach your goal overall.
“You have to have a good balance of being disciplined and being clear with what you want. But also, not beating yourself up when you don’t do it.”
I know that most bestsellers don’t tend to outlive their generation, and I’m also really interested in legacy, to a degree. It’s hard for me to look 10 or 20 years down the line and say, where exactly do I want to be? I would say I really don’t want to peak until I’m, like, 60.
“It’s hard for me to look 10 or 20 years down the line and say, where exactly do I want to be? I would say I really don’t want to peak until I’m, like, 60.”
I loved being pregnant in Arkansas. People were really wonderfully nice. It’s very family oriented and a bit more traditional and conservative there; people would treat you like a very high-class citizen when you’re pregnant. People would let me cut in line at the DMV. Everyone’s just really nice to you when you’re pregnant. They’re also really nice to you when you have a brand-new baby–but it drops off when the baby’s older and no longer cute.
“Everyone’s just really nice to you when you’re pregnant. They’re also really nice to you when you have a brand-new baby–but it drops off when the baby’s older and no longer cute.”
I find it very interesting how society treats pregnancy and pregnant women and what kind of pressure that can put on a person who wants to be pregnant but isn’t.
The first few months being back in your hometown that you left after high school is definitely really freaky. It’s almost like people still dress like it’s 2005 here sometimes. It did feel a little bit like going back in time. I also forgot just how powerful mountains are. Growing up, I never really paid attention to them, and now, every day, I stare at this mountain and I’m just like, “Holy shit. It’s majestic.” I don’t know why I didn’t care about it before.
“The real world kind of sucks. It can be really harsh, so I think having a community of people who are interested in the wonderful aspects of art that you’re interested in can make things feel less lonely.”
We can all do magic. It’s pretty practical. I think everything we do in terms of ritual is a form of magic. When you’re writing, and you’re creating a particular atmosphere in another person’s mind, that’s magic. It’s a very practical type of thing that we do every day. The simplest definition of magic is putting your will out into the world. We do that with art, we do that with our intentions.
“The simplest definition of magic is putting your will out into the world. We do that with art, we do that with our intentions.”
My dad pretty much was like, “Well, you’re going into college or going into the Army,” and I really was not wanting to go into the Army, so I went to school for journalism.
Continue to try every day, and whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to other people and where they are—if someone has a book announcement and you feel saddened by your own lack of that—just try to recognize that you’re relating to that person because you want to be where they are. It’s demonstrating to you that there is a pathway forward for you.
“I hope that seeing me doing something that I love can demonstrate to–and encourage–my daughter that she deserves that type of space, too.”
Writing is a balance of not being too hard on yourself but continuing to show up and do the work as much as you can. Accept that sometimes you have to sacrifice certain elements: If you want that extra hour of writing time, make your dinner as low effort as possible.
If it’s becoming too difficult, it’s okay to take breaks, especially when you first have a kid and they’re really dependent on you. They’re really little for a very short period of time. If you need to take that break and spend that time with them while they’re little, that’s 100% okay.