Like Being a Good-Enough Mother, Being a Good-Enough Writer Is Enough
I love and care for my child unconditionally. Maybe I can do that for my writing too.
If you can be anything other than a writer, be that. If you can’t do anything else, write.
I’m a writer because I have to be. I’ve always known I would be a writer. If I don’t write every day, I go crazyWriting is like breathing, or like air. Write every day You’re a writer if you write.
If you can do anything else, do it.
[title of show]
When you have so much less time, you’re suddenly motivated to use the time you have better.
How can I tell myself “I’m doing my best” if I can see all the ways I could be doing better?
Whatever you’re doing now is the best you can, with the resources and skills you have available. You can build your skills, change your resources. Situations change. Your best tomorrow may be different.
The perfect writer I can envision myself being has a calm, steady routine. She does morning pages every day and writes before she checks her email. She blocks out her time rationally, balancing freelance projects and creative work. And her creative work, of course, is lovely. But the quality of her work is incidental to her perfection. She makes a perfect picture in the ways that can be seen, beyond the private channel of thoughts to fingers to keyboard to screen.
She reads to enrich herself, to expand her horizons, to cultivate ideas. When she reads other writers in her genre, she annotates and analyzes and learns from their work. She also reads widely beyond her own field, with curiosity and with the attention span to sate it. She did all her homework in college.
Is she any different from the other perfect mes I’ve imagined throughout my life? The thin and (thus) happy ones, the ones who don’t bite their nails? The ones who volunteer regularly and put things away instead of into piles, or who got to spend spring 2020 learning a new language on Duolingo rather than having a monthlong panic attack while taking care of a ten-month-old baby?
The image of the perfect writer I could be exists in tunnel vision, nothing beyond the edges of the desk.
The vision of the perfect writer is a vampire, to be clear. Whether she’s you or someone else.
The Good-Enough Mother was easy for me to accept because a baby cannot wait for you to wait to be perfect. He’s in front of you, taking whatever you have to offer, and he’ll be awake painfully early to do it all again the next day. You do it because you have to. Whether or not you compare yourself to others, you still have to keep the kid alive. You can’t put him in a drawer like a novel. Maybe that’s what those martyr-teachers were getting at—if they put their art in a drawer, they’d hear it wailing in protest, banging its fat fists on the walls.
My art has never been as insistent as a baby. But still, I wrote my book. I wrote it by telling myself “shitty first drafts,” by setting deadlines, by panicking a little (about the book instead of and alongside the world). It’s not the best book, but it’s the best book I could write.
If I learn to love my writing as unconditionally as I love my child, it will be a triumph of good-enough. It will be because I see my writing’s specialness and magic, utterly itself whether it’s frail or robust, mild or stormy, eloquent or nearly silent, compared to no one and nothing. It will be because I learn to love my writing process as mine, the weird path I’ve found to a part of my brain that invents from whole cloth. A prayer: May I look at my writing as my own mother sometimes looks at me and whisper as she does in wonder, I made you.
If I were the best possible writer that I could be, I would not be a good-enough partner, or friend, or person. Or mother. (You can swap any of those nouns around.)
Winnicott has pervaded much of the parenting discourse. We are blessedly in a moment—or I’ve found a corner of the internet, a circle of friends—where we’re constantly reminded not to compare ourselves to what we see of others’ mothering, not to fall for Instagram’s lure to extrapolate perfection from one composed shot. Not everyone is a crafts mom, not everyone is a messy-play mom, not everyone is an adventure mom,we’re (thankfully) told. I’m a validating-emotions and reading-books-and-making-up-silly-songs-together mom. You will not find a single finger paint in my home.
So what kind of writer will I be?
I’m not a reading-craft-books-after-the-workday writer, not a bleed-onto-the-page writer. I’m not a singular-focus writer nor a quitting-Twitter writer. Because I went and had a kid, I’m not a weekend writer either. But I’m a fast writer, a flow-state shitty-first-draft writer. I’m a deep-revision, curious-research, happy-with-my-weird-turns-of-phrase writer. A writer who is also a mother and a TV watcher and early bedtime haver. A writer who loves writing and loves doing other things too. And that’s going to have to be good enough.
Jaime Green is a full-time freelance writer and editor. She received her MFA in Nonfiction from Columbia, and she has taught writing at Columbia, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, BuzzFeed, The Cut, GQ.com, Popular Science, Backstage, American Theatre online, and elsewhere. She is associate editor at Future Tense and series editor for Best American Science and Nature Writing. Her book, The Possibility of Life, will be published in 2023 by Hanover Square Press.