Creativity and being childfree

By Allix Denham 

In what was to be her last interview, Hotel du Lac author Anita Brookner, who died recently, said that she wrote because she didn’t have children. She only started writing novels in her fifties, a time by which most offspring have left home anyway. Most of her protagonists resembled herself – fiercely intelligent, emotionally reserved, and alone. Would her work have been different, or would she have written at all, had she had children?

Two of the things a writer needs most are time and energy, which happen to be the two very things most mothers are deprived of. And writing is hardly lucrative – in the UK, the average author earns around £11,000 a year, making children a luxury only the most successful can afford.

If it’s logistically easier to write as a non-mother, does not having children hold you back creatively? If you don’t go through what is, after all, a fundamental part of the human experience, are you in danger of short-changing yourself on the emotional front?

Author and mother of two Amanda Craig seems to think so. ‘Do you miss out on something essential about the human condition if you eschew childbearing?’ she asked in an article about the late Maeve Binchy, who couldn’t have children, suggesting that motherhood brings about ‘a deeper understanding of human nature.’

Is she right, and if so, does it really matter? I doubt Craig expects authors of crime fiction to have once been murderous psychopaths, or for sci-fi writers to have been abducted by aliens. Specialists in historical fiction can hardly time-travel to gain a deeper perspective of their subjects, can they? Instead, they use their imagination. Why shouldn’t non-mothers do the same?

Take Lionel Shriver. She isn’t a mother, but that didn’t stop her from creating one of the most memorable (and terrifying) adolescent characters in the award-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin.

CJ Daugherty, author of the hugely popular Night School young adult series, doesn’t have, or want, children of her own – but this doesn’t seem to put off her legions of fans around the world.

For some, the choice not to have children has shaped their writing. Had Elizabeth Gilbert wanted to become a mother, she might never have divorced and taken us on the road trip to Italy, India and Bali that was the Eat, Pray, Love. Ten years on, and a book of the life journeys this global phenomenon inspired is being released. Talk about understanding the human condition.

Some women write because they don’t have children, while others don’t have children because they write. Authors, like their books, come in all metaphorical shapes and sizes. Isn’t the world a richer place because of it?

Allix Denham is a writer currently based in France. She and her partner have no children, but entertain the neighbour’s cat on a regular basis.

The impermanence of all things

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