Should I label myself as a “writing mother”? Is it a real category? Does being a mother affect my writing? Does it matter in my writing career?
Here’s the irony – I had scheduled this topic for my blog for last week, Weds 15 Feb and the reason it’s not live until today is precisely because I am a writer and a mother. Last week was half term and my children were off school. I decided to put down the laptop and be with them. I made that choice for me, for them, and for my writing.
All writers – single, in a relationship, full time job, part time job, carers, parents – broadly face the same challenges. Believing in yourself, finding a pattern, finding inspiration, holding on to all of that – apply to all of us. The particulars of our lives as writers bring their challenges and their fruits. I cannot write about the challenges and gifts of other set ups. There are challenges particular to being a writing mother. They are not more important, they are not worse, but they are specific and I can speak to them.
I am a mother and a writer. This makes me a “writing mother”. I find it useful as a label. I was a writer before I became a mother. I have always enjoyed writing, it is a vital part of my day, of sorting my thoughts. Publications aside, taking time for myself daily, even if it is just my seven minute write, helps me personally as a mother because tapping in to my inner self keeps me balanced. First and foremost, that is what it means to me.
There is a great deal of cultural expectation, globally, as to what a being a “good mother” looks like. Culturally, the image of the “good mother” shifts frequently. However, it is not someone who takes time to creative to their own ends. Creative with crafts, baking, making clothes – these creative endeavours are easily acceptable. Outside of the home, a creative “side hustle” that earns money can also be part of the “good mother” image, though that one is a bit trickier. However, if you are a writing mother who is yet to earn some decent coin, it can feel very hard to balance the creative time required to write – thinking, planning, drafting, re-drafting – with the needs of the household without feeling guilt that you are somehow letting down your children. Combined with the constant distractions of parenthood (I am typing this with my children and two wee pals in the same room playing collaboratively online, punctuated by snack demands!), the endless brain space being occupied – did I put a wash on? Did I get a present for the party? Who am I picking up from the activity? Have I signed up for lunches? Etc – it can feel very hard to find the space to write. Certainly, it is not just for the mother to pick up on these tasks but even if they are divvied up fairly, these demands don’t vanish. Often enough, my seven minute write allows me to clear my mind and focus on what matters. It's like a form of mediation.
The fact is I don’t wait for the perfect space or moment. In my previous blog STAY MOTIVATED AS A WRITER (charlieroywriter.com) I talked about the fact that you can write in short bursts and in a myriad of places. Much as I’d love to have hours to type away in my own study, the majority of my writing, and this includes my debut novel THE BROKEN PANE (Leamington Books) and my forthcoming poetry pamphlet with Red Squirrel Press have been written in all sorts of places – sat in the park, in soft play cafes, sat in the dark in my child’s bedroom when they needed me to stay as they fell asleep. I do not think this makes me a bad mother. An opportunistic one maybe! This certainly helps me to deal with the guilt. It can be tricky to piece it all together but it does mean that I have the time.
That said, I do sometimes need a longer burst to focus on my writing, more often than not in order to do the piecing work. This I put in the diary – often I use the time when my husband does the football run and I have the house to myself. It’s the best part of two hours and I protect that. Being a mother and having to plan for this time means I make the time. In this, having children supports my work. I tell the children that is what I’m doing – I think part of being a good parent is modelling putting time aside for one’s own pursuits and needs. Being a writing mother is part of that.
Mother in writing
I have many friends who are mothers that write. Some write for a living. Others write for pleasure. Prose, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Some wrote before, some started after. Time – creative writing time – is an issue for all of them. A regular writing routine is hands down the most effective tool for all of us. We have various different ways of noting down the things that inspire us, but we all note them down to use in the time we have. We can’t afford to wait around for inspiration to hit and we while we all agree that the lack of time is frustrating, we are far more productive when we protect some of the time. Being a writing mother gives us a sense of identity and a way of seeing the world that is wrapped up in who we are as mothers. There are writing mothers who write primarily about motherhood, and some who never mention it, but in finding a way through the chaos of family life to make their voices heard, they have all found a sense of empowerment – the writing shapes the mother, the mothering focusses the writing. Having children, especially young ones can feel like a insurmountable obstacle at times but it can be a gift to the writing mama, both ways - to your practice as a writer and to your presence as a mother.
That said, I rely heavily on coffee to find the energy to parent, work and write, I have days and weeks when I struggle to keep myself in the groove of writing every day – the trick is not to dwell on what I’ve missed and just get back to it.
Then there’s last week. I had decided in advance that I would write every day though the children were on holiday. I managed three days of train-of-thought braindump. I felt very frustrated. As we were away, I decided to take the remainder of the week to focus on being mother. A wee break with my family and this week I felt refreshed and motivated to reclaim the space. There were times with my book, I had to be more absent with the kids. Sometimes, that’s the trade-off. You can’t do it all, all of the time. Kids, work, writing, and leisure time and friendships - it's all about the balance in the long run not minute to minute!