Tips for the Mother-Writer

In honor of International Women’s Day:

 This list began as a series of notes to myself, things I’ve needed to hear these first four years as a mother-writer. I hope something here can be of use to you as well. (As for you fathers, or you writers-not-parents or even artists-not-parents, I see you too; feel free to find resonance here as well.)

1. These aren’t rules. There are no rules. You’re a writer and mother, so mother and write.

2. You don’t always have to love the journey.

3. Love the journey.

4. A paragraph written with spit-up on your shirt will look no worse in print.

5. Hide from your children. The bathroom is good. Caves are good. Child care is better than diamonds (hint, hint, partners, relatives, friends).

6. Take yourself seriously.

Sometimes, my friends, the baby gets to The New Yorker before you do.

7. Steal time to write.

8. Keep your sense of humor. Rinse. Repeat.

9. Read. It’s hard to make the time, I know, I know. But don’t skip it. That’s like a pro athlete who skips exercise. Or a chef with anorexia. Reading is the essential foundation of the love affair with language that lets you make art.

10. Steal time to read.

11. And sometimes you can’t read. Sometimes there’s barely enough energy left to get your teeth brushed before collapsing on the bed without pulling back the covers. I know. Relax. You’re still a writer.

12. Did you hear that? You’re still a writer.

13. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and books are a bit like cities. Try not to get overwhelmed by all the skyscrapers left to erect. Recognize the brick you laid today.

14. When you can’t read: they, too, are text. Your children. They are wondrous and complex enough to leave Homer speechless. You know this, don’t you? So “read” your children. Drink them in. Let them fill the well.

15. Sometimes, when you think that the Muses have abandoned you forever, it’s really just sleep deprivation, and will pass.

16. Sleep. It’s medicine. Steal time to sleep.

17. Take yourself seriously.

18. It’s even possible that the Muses, whatever they are and however you understand them, love that you’re a mother, too. And that therefore they’ll be extra kind to you and hold your visions with extra care until you’re ready. (Is this true? I don’t know. But if the notion works, use it.)

19. Use everything. Your children are dazzling human founts of inspiration. So is motherhood. Even the hard parts. Especially the hard parts. Who knows how you’ll draw on them one day.

20. If you’re reading this at a computer, if you’re decently sheltered from the

In 2009, two months into motherhood. (Note that baby's nails need cutting. Possibly, because I was writing.)

elements, if you feed your kids nutritious food every day, then you’re more fortunate than the majority of the world’s population. You have so much. So, go on, give thanks. And write.

21. Think of all the female ancestors you have in your lineage who secretly burned to write but who, for so many reasons, could not. How many of them? Hundreds? Thousands? Can you imagine their joy that you are here, writing?

22. See #6 (and #17).

23. You are breaking the pattern of centuries if not millennia in which literature was the realm of men and childrearing the realm of women, and it was considered laughable if not downright seditious to strive, as a woman, to do both. You shatter the glass ceiling, not only for yourself, but for future generations of mother-writers, and all the readers that will benefit from their voices. This kicks ass.

24. You are breaking the patterns of centuries if not millennia, etc, etc (see #23). So for God’s sake, go easy on yourself.

25. Your road is full and messy and radiant and unscripted and, quite possibly, perfect.

26. They don’t have to be in conflict, writing and mothering. That’s actually the false construction of a patriarchal (yes, I said it) society. The fact is that writing and mothering are two good roads, nothing more, nothing less. And they are not separate roads, because you exist—because they twine together in you.

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17 Responses to Tips for the Mother-Writer

  1. Emma A Johnson says:

    I love everything you write Carolina, you make me feel…….all of it.

  2. Sass says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. #9 is my favorite. I find the more I read, the better I write and the easier the words flow.

  3. KristenSO says:

    Stunning, true, and absolutely what I needed to read today. Thank you for being a mother and writer and inspiration to people like me!

  4. caren ang-oay says:

    Thank you for inspiring me again! I am a a mother too of a teen-age boy and at the same time a breast cancer survivor . Sometimes I feel I really want to write a book of my experience but mothering and surviving the big C drained my thoughts that after writing about my first 100 days of being diagnosed I stopped . Your tips are the inspirations I need for me to get back and start writing . again!

  5. Carolina says:

    Caren, this is incredibly moving. Thank you. I salute you. May the writing flow!

  6. Nina LaCour says:

    I love this, Carolina! As I get ready to embark on this journey, I will be sure to remind myself of your words. Maybe I will print this post out and tack it to the wall of the room that has up until now been my office, and will soon be shared with my baby girl.

  7. Sophia says:

    Carolina, I am so moved reading this post, it is EXACTLY what i need to hear right NOW, there is this bubbling urge in me to write again and since Marc was born six years ago, there have been so many other ‘more important’ things to do…Your words and tips are so complete, and full of humour and wisdom. Thank you thank you. The push I needed to pick up my pen again!

    • Carolina says:

      Sophia: I’m so glad to hear this. Truly, you have made my day. I’m thrilled to hear that that pen of yours is leaping back into your hand! Love and inspiration to you.

  8. Serena says:

    I wish I could say I can hide in the bathroom….but my daughter is now just interested in the bathroom and maybe soon potty training…so if I go in there, she often follows me. LOL

    • Carolina says:

      Serena – yes, the truth is that my four-year-old follows me into the bathroom too! And so the plot thickens. On to the caves.

  9. Wow! Thank you so much for this encouraging inspiring list!

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