Motherhood & Words

I was tagged by kyra at this mom with this writing meme almost a month ago, and I’ve been avoiding doing it. I am supposed to identify five writing strengths and list them here, but I find it so difficult to identify my strengths as a writer when I haven’t actually been writing.

Before Stella was born, I was a writer who didn’t write much. I was getting my MFA, so of course I would turn in stories and essays for my classes, but I let the long hours of summer slip away from me, doing nothing. It makes me feel a little sick to think of all those responsibility-free hours I senselessly squandered. What was I doing? Sitting in front of the computer? Reading? Waiting for inspiration? How silly.

It was only after Stella was born and I couldn’t read or write for months that I really started to write. Then, when I had two hours away from her, I went to the coffee shop and vomited onto the computer. I never waited for inspiration. I had a story to tell and I had to get it down. (It helped, of course, that in a few months I would have to return to the U with a thesis in hand. It was no time to procrastinate.)

In the following two years, I experienced a few dry months of no writing. Maybe I was teaching or busy with a freelance project. I took three months off when I was fifty pages away from a full draft of my book because I was lost. I wasn’t convinced I had a narrative arc. I didn’t know how to approach two difficult scenes in the book. I didn’t know where the book ended.

After the time away, though, I knew what to do, and I wrote like crazy for four months until I completed a full draft.

I love it when, right before bed or in the middle of the night, a thought comes to me: a way out of a narrative problem or a paragraph that sets the tone in a difficult chapter. That moment of excitement—yes, of course, why didn’t I think of this earlier—is my favorite part of being a writer. And I miss that feeling when I’m not writing. I’m a little less alive. But the reality of my life right now is teaching, family, too much work, and an exhaustion so profound that I can’t manage to get up an hour early to write in the morning.

A dream: to have daytime hours three times a week to write and explore and experiment. I’m not going to hold my breath for this, but I thought putting it out there might, in some small way, help.

Maybe focusing on my strengths will also help. It’s worth a try. Here they are:

1. I’m not afraid to tell the truth, to make myself look bad or bitchy (human) if that’s how things went down.

2. I’m willing to say things about motherhood that a lot of people are afraid to say. (You’ll just have to read the book. Some day it will be out in the world. I hope.)

3. I’m not married to anything I write. I’m willing to rewrite and edit and rethink scenes and chapters that aren’t working. (After I thought the book was pretty much done, I went back in and cut chapter 2 and 4 and wrote a new chapter 4 and a new second-to-last chapter. I’m sure I still have more of this to do.)

4. I’m willing to experiment, push myself out of my comfort zone and try something different, even if it flops.

5. I’m always learning—from what other writers say and write and from the world around me.

Okay, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. A little self-affirmation. Maybe I should write these on Post-Its and stick them around the house? (Just kidding.)

So, I get to choose five people to tag with this writing meme: K, moonlight ambulette, A, suzanne, and emmie.

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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. Sheri on November 3, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    i got this meme too and never did it, but wow! your doing it made me remember why it might have been good for me. thank you.

  2. Melissa on November 3, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Not post-it notes. Print them out and frame them. 🙂

  3. K on November 4, 2007 at 8:01 pm


    Thanks for taggng me. I would agree with your assessment of your strengths and add: you have a good sense for a story and I trust you not to bullshit me. You touch on this last one, but I think it needs to be said separately.

  4. A on November 5, 2007 at 1:51 am

    All I have to say about your honesty is: that awful bag full of rice. OUCH. You took me to places I didn’t know I needed to go to.

  5. kate on November 7, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Thanks, guys.

  6. kyra on November 10, 2007 at 8:55 am

    those are wonderful strengths! can i have them? is this possible? to give me your strengths?