The writer fantasy

My agent just compared the emotional aftermath of publishing a book to the postpartum experience, and the accuracy blew my mind. I’ve given birth 4 times. I remember. Unsettling emotions that feel socially inappropriate; fear of expressing doubt or grief or anxiety; head-level recognition of how lucky you are combined with gut-level anxiety or blankness, and confusion about the disconnect between what you’re being told the experience should feel like, and how you’re experiencing the experience in your own body.

I remember a brilliant debut writer saying to me, a few years ago, something like: I thought it was going to be so different. I thought I’d be having all these profound meaningful conversations with other people who love literature. I thought I’d be entering a bigger community, a world of ideas. Now that isn’t to say this can’t happen. I would love to imagine that it does happen. But as far as I can tell, there’s no secret world of ideas, the passcode to which is publishing a book. And yet, I’ve found myself wishing for the same things: for connection, community, exciting exchanges of ideas. I just read a personal essay in The New Yorker by a writer (Darryl Pinckney) who was mentored as a young man by the writer Elizabeth Hardwick (late 1970s, early 1980s), and, oh, his description of her apartment in NYC, her stacks of manuscripts, her writing life and books, her red velvet couch, her country home, her housekeeper, the intensity of her focus on writing, writers, words and ideas! Exquisite! And I thought: oh dear, I recognize this fantasy, I long for this fantasy, this fantasy goes deep for me! It’s overflowing with nostalgia and comfort and wealth and the right amount of solitude, the luxury of being cared for; and like all fantasies it has the potential to wreck the loveliness of what could actually be.

As a new mother, a young mother, I instinctively got through the difficult days and hours by settling into them, accepting what was happening, sleeping as much as I possibly could, paring back the expectations of what I could manage to do, and just doing what I could manage. (To be clear, I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression; and I might have needed different treatment and intervention if so.) Rest, shifting expectations, settling in, accepting where you’re at … in a way, this is how all life gets lived. It’s what’s worked for me, anyway, and I’m applying the same knowledge to my current experiences with my fourth book of fiction, feeling my way forward. Paring down my expectations to meet what’s possible, what’s doable, what’s practical, what matters most to me.

I’m speaking too about caregiving, generally; and how to be kind to yourself; and how to approach with surrender and acceptance the vicissitudes and unexpected crises, and the need to recalibrate, to turn attention to the priority of the moment, even if it’s not the priority you’d planned for. All of this is possible, if you feel at peace with the choices you’re making. If you know that your choices match up with your values, with the things you hold most dear.

Knowing that, I can recognize the writing fantasy, and let go of much in it: the red velvet couch, the wealth, the housekeeper, the country home. And I can focus in on the desire to connect, to mentor and be mentored, to participate in a creative community, to support and be supported, to be nourished by a life that includes art and ideas. That’s possible. That’s doable. That’s worth building toward.

xo, Carrie

Peace on the path
when things fall apart


  1. sheree

    You are wise. Yesyesyes. Love you. xo

  2. Allie

    I love this a lot. Thank you!!


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