Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood

The Atlantic published a great article about creativity and motherhood this week. As the mom of an almost-2-year-old, I think a lot about how motherhood has changed me and affected my writing. There seems to be a misconception in popular culture that once a woman gives birth, her writing (or other creative endeavors) suffer. In this blog, I will discuss my own experience as a writer both before I became a mom, and after I gave birth to my daughter. Having a baby improved my creativity and my writing, and has driven a personal creative renaissance. I will not discuss the idea of “having it all” because I think that idea is total bullcrap, and sexist. When is the last time you heard people debating about whether or not a man had it all?

These little people are delightful, but they take up a lot of time.

I’m going to be honest here. Prior to having my daughter, I was writing sporadically. I have fond memories of writing in my office at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls during the two years I taught in the English department there. I would commute in from the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, often arriving by 7am. I’d dim the lights in my office and write essays and poetry, before the students arrived for their 8am classes and the hustle and bustle of the day began. It was a lovely way to start the day.

After I left UWRF for the 9-5 world, I went long stretches without writing. I just didn’t know what to write about, and I flailed, looking for a topic that grasped my interest. I look back at that time and think I should’ve tried harder, that I should’ve been more disciplined, but I also know you can’t force writing. So I just went out and lived my life, and I began to think of my writing life as my former life. I was also not sure how Purge: Rehab Diaries, and the subjects in my book, would be received by my colleagues at work, so I went underground, until it felt safe to emerge.

It took until my daughter was almost one-and-a-half for the desire to write to return, but it returned with a sense of urgency. Like many new moms, I felt like I needed to do more than work my 9-5 job and be a mom. I love my job, and I love being a mom, but I am so much more than that. I started thinking about an idea for a novel, and began taking notes on my iPhone, and an old notebook from UWRF. As a new mom with a full-time job, I did not have much time to write, and I was exhausted a lot of the time. I took novel notes while I pumped milk for my daughter, while I was on the bus or light rail, or in the few quiet moments before I fell asleep for the night.

I spent 1.5 hours pumping every weekday for 13 months…sometimes I would have ideas about writing. Sometimes I would just want to watch trashy TV on my phone.

Now, I have a bit more time to write, and I cherish that quiet time in which I get to inhabit another world. I’m writing this blog at 9pm, after my daughter’s bedtime. My husband is watching TV and I’m sitting here with a glass of pinot noir and our laptop, luxuriating in the relative peace and quiet. In the last few months, I have felt just driven to create again. I owe it to myself, and my daughter to honor that impulse to create. Taking the time to do this sets a positive example for her. To use a popular buzz-phrase, writing is self-care. By making time to write, I am taking care of myself, so that I may be the best mother I can be for my daughter.

We owe this to our children, not to be subsumed by parenthood, but to remember who we are outside of parenting, and our jobs.

I am thankful for my daughter, my husband, and my job. I am also thankful for the urge to write. Motherhood and parenthood do not need to diminish the desire to create. It can instead cultivate creativity.

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