When I first picked up a pen after twenty years of not writing, I wrote at home by myself. At age forty, with three kids under ten, I had a hard time getting anything done. Mostly, it was hard for me to believe in myself. I felt small, like a pebble in a forest.
I could not handle the unworthiness. I signed up for a writing class, but after two sessions, I dropped out. Everyone seemed young and hip and talented. I felt like a midlife loser. I felt like I had nothing to write about except waking up early and making breakfast and fighting with my ADHD kid’s teacher and taking late night walks through the neighborhood eating Sour Patch Kids. I didn’t need a course on writing craft; I needed confidence. I needed someone to tell me that my voice mattered. I needed someone to reflect to me the value inherent in my life experience. I did not feel worthy of my words because I did not feel worthy. Without worthiness, I was creatively constipated. Nothing would come out.
Years later, I have a passion for working with women writers, many of whom are mothers. Moms often show up at writing workshops and tell me, “I don’t know what to write,” “I feel like I have lost my voice,” “I haven’t written in years,” “I’m not a real writer,” and, “Who will care about this?” I tell women that if they feel the call to write, that is enough of a reason to put their words on paper. I encourage them to write without thinking, and definitely without judging. I tell them their voice matters because it does.
At the beginning of my writing journey, I believed my lived experience was not worthy of writing about because it was “too small.” I also believed that “I didn’t have time” to write. Both were untrue. You do not have to climb Mt. Everest to have something to say. You do not have to do or be or achieve anything to have the right to express yourself. Having worked with scores of women, I know how insidious this sense of ‘too-smallness’ can be.
There is a deeply held misbelief that parenting and raising kids and taking care of a home and family are not interesting or important. This is not true. Women’s stories are as diverse as women themselves and yet, moms who primarily parent often feel a huge drop in self-esteem. This affects their willingness to write and share their stories. Moms may be particularly vulnerable to an insidious, nay-saying voice that tells them their stories are unimportant because it touches the place inside where we are told that being a mom is not of value. More than one mom has apologized for wanting to write. As if she is taking up too much space by engaging in creative self-expression. (She is not!)
Creating space for creative self-expression is at the bottom of mom’s list…if it’s on her list at all. Moms deal with kids, family, meals, work inside and outside the home, scheduling, schooling, grocery shopping, and so much more. We are so often embedded in the lives of others that our sense of self and our belief in the power of our own voice feels “lost.” This is where the “I don’t have time to write” belief comes from. It is astonishing how once you discover the power of your own voice, little windows of time magically appear.
In my own life, writing with women who nurtured and supported my creative journey changed the trajectory of my career. I went from barely writing at all to, over the years, having essays published in my dream outlets, completing my first novel, launching women’s writing courses, and developing a new book proposal. Along the way, I have discovered wonderful mentors and developed a tribe of women writers. I believe that when women write in community, it revives a lost sense of purpose, nurtures female kinship, and assists writers to go deeper and grow bolder. This is reflected in the power and authenticity of the work.
For moms who feel the call to write (and any other writer-curious person), these four tips can help begin the journey of ferociously finding your voice on the page:
TIP #1: Set a timer and write without stopping:
Set your timer for fifteen minutes and write without stopping. No editing. No crossing out. No thinking. Just write until the timer goes off. Let your mind wander wherever it wants. Let it meander down paths and rummage around the attic of your insides, unlocking old trunks, and peering into old jewelry boxes, examining everything, commenting on everything. Do not impose structure. Keep the guardrails down. Let your writing settle where it wants to settle.
TIP #2: Don’t think. Just write:
Be aware that what you think about your writing does not matter. When writing, do your best to avoid judging the quality or content of your writing. We are terrible judges of the value of our own work. Judging leads to self-censorship, which can cork you up. You are not committing to publishing your work, or sharing it — you can decide that later. Just write and ignore any judgments that may arise from negative voices in your head.
TIP #3: When sharing your writing, do so only in a safe and nurturing community:
Do not ask for critique or edits or revisions on freshly written material. Simply ask: What resonated? What feelings were invoked? What images stood out? What questions arose? When you look at your work and find what is beautiful and what little universes are contained in your writing, you will want to write more. Look for encouragement and support along your writing journey. EXTRA TIP: If feedback makes you want to write less, the problem is the feedback, not your writing.
TIP #4: You already have everything you need:
You are not too small or too busy or too late or too old or too overwhelmed. You are not too inexperienced or too experienced. You are not too dumb or too smart or too anything to write. You do not need to take classes. You do not need an MFA. You do not need to go to the library or the bookstore or the local college or the Seven-Eleven or the grocery store. You don’t need a fancy pen or a leather journal or a laptop computer. You don’t need to get rid of your kids or spouse or to get some kids and a spouse. You don’t need to do anything or go anywhere or have anything to express yourself. Your words are worthy. You are worthy. Because you are. That’s all there is.
Writing led me back to Who I Really Am. If you feel the call to write, I encourage you to root out and release any misbeliefs that your work is not important, that you have nothing to say, or that no one wants to hear it. None of this is true. And, frankly, it does not matter. Your desire to express yourself is enough of a reason to write.Whether you choose to share your writing, or not, never apologize for wanting to express yourself. Your work has value. It matters.