Motherhood & Words

I hope you all had a lovely holiday.

We spent the week after Christmas up at my mom’s cabin in Northern Minnesota, and it was just the change of scene I needed. Stella and D cleared an ice rink on the lake, and Stella skated back and forth, undaunted by the number of times she fell. Then it snowed over a foot, so we gave up skating for cross-country skiing.

There is nothing like gliding through the silence of snow surrounded by towering pine trees. It always helps me put the things in perspective.

We also spent time reading and doing puzzles (which developed into an obsession), laughing and eating and drinking wine. Zoë danced and played with Little People and got snugly on the couch with a pile of books. And Stella spent quite a bit of time making earrings and working on a quilt for her doll.

The sewing, crafting gene clearly skipped my generation, but I did the best I could as her assistant, trying not to curse when I pierced my skin with the needle or almost glued my finger to an earring. I kept thinking of Catherine Newman’s wonderful essay, “Pretty Baby,” in which she describes her son Ben’s “most special outfit.” It’s “the one he wears only for such extraordinary occasions as a birthday party or the weekly show-and-tell at his preschool.” It “involves a floral printed t-shirt and fuchsia velour sleeves, and the pants that I myself made (with much saying of the F-word and sewing of my actual hand to the fabric) from the magenta striped terry cloth that Ben picked out from Jo-Ann Fabrics.” I love her.

Over the course of the week, we made several trips to the Ben Franklin in town for more crafting supplies, and I’ll admit I was wooed by their isles of colorful fabrics (which are a steal, by the way.) Ben Franklin has just about everything, from tacky to truly useful. It may be my favorite store. (Do I sound like I’m becoming a crafter after all?)

I tried to stay off-line as much as possible over the holidays, but I did log in a dozen hours on the memoir. Based on insightful feedback from my wonderful agent and brilliant writing group, I dove back into it and cut cut cut.

I always promote the merits of ruthless cutting to my students. It can be such a challenging task, especially for beginning writers, because it’s difficult to eliminate a nicely crafted sentence, even if you know it’s superfluous. I felt those pangs as I cut chapters 3, 4, and 5. But as is always the case after I slice away unnecessary words and heavy-handed back-story, the manuscript is stronger. I did new writing, as well, and yesterday I sent it off to my agent again. It’s closer to being ready than it’s ever been, so I’m celebrating that.

I look forward to reading and writing my way through 2011! How about you?

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Elizabeth on January 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Happy New Year to you as well! Your vacation sounds so cosy — and foreign! All those pines and snow must be beautiful. I look forward to reading more of your writing this year and hearing of your girls' crafting!

  2. Life As I Know It on January 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    We had Ben Franklin in our town when I was a kid. I didn't think they were around anymore!

    Happy New Year to you!

  3. Amber on January 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Happy New Year!

    Way to go on your manuscript!

  4. Andrea on January 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Sounds like a fun, cozy week. Congratulations on being almost almost done!

  5. unfinishedportraitofsam on January 4, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    gliding through snow past huge pines gives the same measure of perspective as sitting in a canoe in the middle of a huge lake. i enjoy both : )

    cutting? i'm terrible at it. you go, Kate. i'm so stoked to read.

  6. Cecilia on January 5, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Happy new year to you, Kate! And congratulations on your manuscript! What a way to start of the new year – I hope 2011 brings all that you've worked so hard for.

    I too am looking forward to stepping up my writing this year!