On Writing and Mothering Well

By Mahala Lettvin

Since Mother’s Day was last week, I have spent the last couple of days reflecting on the way I raise my children. As both a writer and a mother, I believe the way I raise my children, particularly the advice I give to them, influences the way I approach my writing.

For instance, my children, just like everyone else, are unique individuals. My son prefers to choose outfits for me, nurture his baby dolls, and dress in pink, while my daughter enjoys playing in mud, stealing her brother’s unwanted toys, and dressing up as a superhero. I take extraordinary efforts to nurture my children’s self esteem, especially since both are defying gender norms and will need confidence to combat whatever negativity they attract. Even though I tell my children to be proud, as a writer I am constantly shaming myself: convincing myself I should be a different kind of writer, comparing my writing to others’, looking for ways to fix myself and my writing.  Yet, if I were to take my own advice, I would write with that confidence that I attempt to instill in my children.

Another piece of advice I regularly offer to my children is to take a “time-out” when they are feeling completely overwhelmed. The other day, my daughter started missing her grandparents who live in Massachusetts. She started yelling at me for not having money to buy an airplane. This led her to crying about being too young to get a job to make her own money to buy herself an airplane. When I informed her that she would have to wait a few months before we had enough money for a visit, she became furious at the mere notion of time. At that point, I had to just let her cry. Although this type of tantrum is generally associated with her young age (and therefore can be soothed with lollipops and other bribery), the truth is, I have found myself in similar situations as a writer.

My writing process is to make an inordinate amount of revisions. I will begin by changing words that sound awkward, then changing sentence structure, eventually moving paragraphs so my writing flows in a more logical way. Then I will start analyzing the overall topic and purpose of my writing and realize nothing is making sense. Questioning whether I should even bother trying to write anything ever again, I tear up the paper into tiny bits and pieces, and just for dramatic effect, put it down the garbage disposal so no one will ever know how bad my writing truly is. I know I am not alone – as writers we often become so entrenched in our own work that we lose perspective. Like a child missing her family, we can be led down a dangerous path where everything seems more drastic than it is. Taking a time out to let our emotions subside, or have a lollipop (whichever works) can do wonders to prevent these frustrations from becoming paralyzing.

There are other pieces of motherly advice that I try to apply to my own life: always remember to use your manners (cite your sources); don’t curse in public (be aware of your audience); remember to share (talking about your writing with others provides valuable insight); and wash your hands and brush your teeth (no metaphor here, it’s just basic hygiene!).

Photo Courtesy of:
Stein, P. (20 October 2006). Crayon Test. Flickr Photostream. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kapkap/274808215/
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2 comments

  1. Linda Dodge

    Mahala, Enjoyed your article comparing writing and mothering. (My own daughter also marched to her own drummer by owning Ninja Turtles.) : ) Especially liked your reference to, “remember to share (talking about your writing with others provides valuable insight)” which is the topic of the blog piece I have been working on.

    • Thanks, Linda. I am glad you enjoyed this piece. And Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles ROCK! It is required viewing for everyone is this household!

      Looking forward to your blog entry.

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