I was a mother before I was a writer. Or rather, I was a mother whose nagging question of ‘who am I?’ eventually led me to the words on the page, the keys on the keyboard, the worlds in my head. I was a mother but what else was I?
I had left my career as a teacher behind before I had my son, and now I was home alone with a tiny, snuggling bundle of tiny nappies, midnight wakeups and a brand-new level of guilt and expectation. I didn’t have a career to go back to, and my hobbies were mainly television and food. As I began to question who I was outside of my relationship to this tiny human, I started to write. I honestly can’t remember what those first words were—they surely weren’t prophetic or inspiring, and probably didn’t even make sense—but I was relieved to be creating something from nothing, pulling ideas out of the endless vastness of thoughts that swirled around in the dark ether.
As my infant hit the crawling stage, our family read book after book after book and I began to toy with the idea of writing a children’s book (something I’m sure has gone through many a sleep-addled parental mind). Having no idea where to start, I looked at local writing courses but they fell on weekend days when I worked. So I signed up to a part-time creative writing course through an online polytechnic. Thinking I would only enjoy the paper specifically about writing for children, I was surprised when I found my mojo writing short stories and poetry. Soon I had signed up to a full-time workload and wrote stories that I eventually felt confident enough sharing. The day I received an email accepting one of my stories into an anthology I was over the moon! I had never been validated in such a way before. Never had anyone said objectively, ‘This is good.’
So I continued, passing my course and being accepted into another. I began not knowing what I wanted to write but tried my best to stay away from the trope of ‘Mummy Blogger’ or ‘Parent-writer’ and set my sights on something that was completely out of my own writing experience: Fantasy. The first dozen or so acceptances I received were for speculative fiction stories, in both magazines and anthologies, and I now have a shelf filling up nicely with my words.
But the question for all mother writers —and indeed for most writers in general —is how? How do I become a writer while simultaneously being a mother, a wife, all the things that I need to be? It took a long while to get into a groove, working when my son is in preschool, or at night when my husband is squirreled away in his office. It’s messy and overwhelming but I know that I have found my ‘thing’. Only in the last few weeks would I consider myself a ‘writer’, however, and to this day I don’t think I’ve ever told someone else that I am a ‘writer’ when asked the inevitable question: “So, what do you do?”.
Many mother-writers struggle to fit their writing in around their children who, rightfully so, come first. Then the dinner needs to be made, the floors need to be vacuumed, the groceries need to be bought… but the writing doesn’t need to be done. As so many mothers before us have found out, motherhood is an all-encompassing, never-ending to-do list. And we put ourselves at the bottom. It wasn’t until my mental health took a severe decline that I figured out how to cover my ears and scream in the face of maternal guilt, and take some time for myself. I put my son into preschool an extra day or two a week and gave myself a full six hours twice a week in which to create my worlds.
It certainly took a while, but here are some of the things I’ve discovered on my journey towards being a mother-writer:
- Find the space. Not just physically but mentally. Give yourself somewhere you can sit with a coffee and breakfast and allow the words to flow (or not, let’s be honest!). Add some books, some posters, photos, whatever you like. It doesn’t need to be big; mine is at the end of the dining room table but it has the books I like to flick through for inspiration, a bunch of pens and some notebooks that are too pretty to ever use.
- Find the time. It’s so easy to put ourselves last, to do everything for anyone else, but we need to find our own time too. My husband was always supportive, giving me time to discover what I wanted to write, but it can be hard to find this in a big family. Remember, who gives a f**k if the dishes sit out until tomorrow, if dinner is chicken nuggets once a week. If you’re happy, the kids are happy.
- Build confidence. Easier said than done for most people. But once you’ve written something, have some faith in it. Let others read it if you want to but PLEASE don’t automatically think it’s garbage and throw it in the digital bin never to see the light of day again.
- Know the variety of markets. Okay, so this applies to writers in general, not just mothers, but when I started writing I wrongly thought that if I didn’t write a novel what was the point? I didn’t realise that there are markets for everything. Some of the writing I’ve published recently includes 100-word flash fiction about gruesome ways to die, short stories based on myths and legends, and fractured fairy tales. As a side benefit, writing has vastly expanded my reading shelves. I’ve discovered people write (and publish) poems and tweets and micro-poems, novellas, letters, diaries and even unsent text messages.
My motivation struggles to make an appearance at times, my schedule is a mess—as is the house and often the writing—but I’m making it work. And I’ve never felt better.