Writing and Motherhood

A dear friend is expecting her first baby, while writing her first novel.

The baby news filled me with joy, the kind that put tears in my eyes. But the news also led me to think about threading that needle known as Motherhood and Writing.

I want my friend to cherish motherhood, and I want her to finish her novel.

With two kids, six years homeschooling, five published novels, and ten-thousand readings of Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, I almost feel qualified to offer some advice.

MotherGirlBeach

So here’s my humble five-point offering to every mom serving in the happy trenches while trying to write.

1. Don’t quit writing. 

There will never—never—be a good time to write. Never. Ever. Stop thinking the world will someday agree with your compulsion to put words on paper. The world doesn’t care. But YOU care and frankly, God cares because God made you a writer.

If that last statement strikes you as pretentious, congratulations. Feel free to pick up your glue gun and complete all those Martha Stewart projects. You’re not a writer.

Meanwhile, we blessed wretches will continue to comb through our minds, searching for meaning and wrestling with words.

Writers need to write. Need, not want. The same way some birds were designed to fly south every winter whether they feel like it or not, writers were designed to translate thoughts into words. You will know if you’re among that flock if deep down inside, you feel like you might suffer some kind of death if you don’t write. Soul, spirit, emotion. Maybe even physical death. Frank McCourt once said that he wrote Angela’s Ashes because if he didn’t, he would “die howling.”

The sooner a writer recognizes this built-in need, the sooner they become a productive person rather than a garden-variety dysfunctional oddity understood by precisely nobody.

2. You’re a mom. Make it manageable.

Motherhood comes first.

Scratch that.

Your husband comes first, even after baby arrives. Then baby. Then writing. Break that order and you’ll build an idol.

But because of where it stands on the totem pole, mom-writing needs manageable goals. When my kids were toddlers and took naps, I placed a note card over my computer that read “500 words an hour.” My daily goal. With a background in newspapers, my five hundred words seemed like a cake walk. Some days I was surprised by 1000 words. Other days I could squeak out six. (Yes, six: “My brain has turned into Jell-O.”)

But on those difficult days—both in motherhood and writing—remind yourself that this glorious gift of life will only make you a better writer, eventually. If you don’t quit. I guarantee this. With motherhood, a heart grows new chambers of understanding. It only improves your writing.

If you don’t quit.

3. If somebody understands your blessing/affliction, cherish them.

My first novel, The Stones Cry Out, arrived like a thunderclap. The story came complete with a cast of characters, a setting, and a plot.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse: I was seven months pregnant with my first child.

But God’s timing doesn’t resemble man’s timing. And the gift seemed perishable. So, despite the gasps of horror from polite ladies who probably had good intentions, I waddled into the FBI’s forensic mineralogy department, asking questions about murder and mayhem.

Only a handful of people understood why I was starting a novel when it looked like my water was about to break. My husband. My dad who was battling stage-four throat cancer. My mom who was also a writer. And an elderly uncle who once attempted to write a novel but quit—he really understood.

The rest of the world treated me as though the novel was a betrayal of the child in my womb.

Fourteen years later, not much has changed. The other day, a homeschool mom asked me in a baffled tone of voice: “Why do you even feel the need to write these books—I mean, are you making a ton of money or something?”

4. You can answer those questions, but it probably won’t help.

Any explanation will make you sound like a televangelist who can’t afford glittery clothes (“God called me”), or just plain weird (“The day doesn’t seem quite real until I write about it.”)

Most people won’t understand. But writers don’t live an either/or existence. They live two lives. Here, and not here. Experiencing life, and imagining it.

Yes, I know. I just described a dual personality.

But as Dorothea Brande writes in her essential little book Becoming a Writer, the writer’s double existence is not a bad thing:

“A dual personality, to the reader who has a number of half-digested notions about the constitution of the mind, is an unlucky fellow who should be in a psychopathic ward; or, at the happiest, a flighty hysterical creature. Nevertheless, every author is a very fortunate sort of dual personality, and it is this very fact that makes him such a bewildering, tantalizing, irritating figure to the plain man of affairs who flatters himself that he, at least, is all of a piece.”

5. All interruptions come from God.

As though stating the case for me, my kids just knocked on my office door. They want pancakes. They want to start their school work. They want me.

And I am happy to go.

Very happy to go.

I can always write about it later.

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