The life of a writer has always been romanticized. We tend to think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in bars, not bent over a typewriter. Graham Greene wrote 500 words a day, and strained and struggled over those words, but he often did it on a yacht. That was the life of a certain type of manly author, who were, of course, men.

Dorothy Parker could have kept up with the men in the bars, as could Patricia Highsmith. Virginia Woolf divided her time between writing book reviews, essays, and novels that changed the way novels were written. All three women were incredibly prolific: two had unhappy, childless marriages, and one was a serial womanizer.

The women writers who had children in those days were, oddly, mass-market paperback types: Agatha Christie still tried to dote on her daughter Rosalind in between pounding out her whodunits. Mary Higgins Clark had a rule for her boys that I’d think about adopting if I had kids: don’t interrupt me unless there’s fire or blood.

Having children and great literary success is no longer mutually exclusive: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Joan Didion all had children, though they kept it to one girl. They were the first of generations of women writers who felt like they could do anything, and did. Until recently, I’m not sure anyone had thought about a woman writer’s balance between work and family for a long time. Among my older female writer friends, I know equal numbers of parents and non-parents. While many of my writing galpals are still young, their desire for kids seems to be more dictated by their personalities rather than their professional goals. But after Amanda Craig wrote a piece about how the late Maeve Binchy’s writing would have been different had Binchy had children, all hell broke loose.

Craig’s error, to me, is that she implied Binchy’s writing would have improved with a few kids. That’s silly. That’s like saying that Flaubert’s Bovary isn’t a masterpiece because he didn’t have Emma’s anatomy. You can write what you know, and doubtless your knowledge strengthens your writing, and you can also write what you don’t know and still do just fine. But Craig does raise the same point that Anne Marie Slaughter raised in a more general professional capacity in an article in the Atlantic: that women still don’t have it all. Neither extreme, the well-balanced life, or the archaic choice between family and work, holds true for the modern women: extremes rarely hold true for anyone.

There still aren’t many high-ranking, powerful women in the professional world.  Much like women supposedly go into English and History because they don’t like science and math, many assume women choose less structured, demanding jobs because of the demands of family. What I would resent most is if anyone assumed that writing was a better way to balance work and family life than a foreign policy career. Both Craig and Slaughter cite cases of women rising at ungodly hours of the morning to work, but ask yourself: did P.D James have an uncomplicated job?

We no longer picture hard-partying, glamorous writers. The bar has been replaced by Starbucks, the typewriter with a MacBook. Other than fickle vagaries of temperament that require coffee and ambient noise, writing seems like a job you could do from home, with a batch of cookies in the oven, and children piling blocks on top of blocks (or waving around Wii controllers) in the living room. But even though I have no children, and don’t know if I’d want to, trust me on this: it won’t be any easier to write a novel with kids in the living room. And they won’t make your writing better, either.~Liz