Twelve Pieces of Advice for Mother-Writers


In the May/June 2021 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Susannah Nevinson interviewed writer Lara Ehrlich about hosting Writer Mother Monster, a podcast featuring conversations with mother-writers. To complement the interview, Ehrlich curated the following selection of the best insights and pieces of advice offered on the podcast since it premiered in October 2020.

Claim and honor your time. “It’s tempting to feel that any time you take for yourself, you’re taking away from your child. That can be heartbreaking,” says Blair Hurley. “But it’s important for children to see their mother valuing herself and valuing her work. And it’s important to have unfettered time, however you manage it, and to do your best to honor that time and only focus on writing.”

Take baby steps. When working toward a goal, whether it’s a short story or an epic novel, Liz Harmer establishes a routine with manageable steps. “I’m just going to finish a story. And then I’m going to finish another story. As time passes, you end up with fifteen or twenty stories. The habit perpetuates itself." 

Abandon the pursuit of perfection. “You will not be perfect, you will not have a perfectly clean house, you will not have a rigid schedule—no,” says Carla Du Pree. “It’s not going to be perfect, but life isn't either, and neither is writing. Quite frankly, that first draft is usually horrible.”

Find fifteen minutes a day. “I realized when I was pumping—that was fifteen minutes. It was terrible writing, but I was exercising a muscle in the dark,” says Jennifer Chen. “All those fifteen-minute sessions gave me the muscle to write as fast as possible without thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is good.’ I just did it. I don’t have time for self-doubt.” 

Value your work if you want others to value it. “Work—and your passion—don’t always make money. We will not be valued unless we value ourselves and what we’re doing, and I always saw the value in my writing time,” says Ann Hood. “If you see your writing as worthwhile, then it is.” 

Redefine writing. The concept that an author is only at work if she is hunched over a desk is old-fashioned and limiting, especially for new mothers. “What works best for me is when I read books that are in conversation with what I’m working on. That feels like I’m touching the work,” says Katie Gutierrez. “It’s also giving myself permission to daydream and to use those daydreams as [part of] touching the work.”

Don’t strive to be superwoman. “There’s never going to be enough time for everything, and I just have to make peace with that,” says Daria Polatin. “I’m always probably going to feel like I’m not doing enough in a certain area, whether it’s this project or that project or my son or my husband. There’s only so much pie, you know?”

Write true. In experiencing and writing about the loss of a child Shannon Gibney says, “I feel deeply that if you’re writing and you’re not telling the truth, I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t know why you would write. We can’t choose the truth we’ve been tasked to document. Sometimes it might feel too heavy, and sometimes it might be too heavy. That’s just how it is.”

Prioritize writing. Lyz Lenz says, “My writing is my career, and it is a priority, and that means it’s a priority over folding clothes, it’s a priority over raking the lawn, it’s a priority over all those things that we somehow think we need to do that are really just ancillary to the task of living.” 

Embrace the joy of work. Many mothers feel as though we must assure our kids we’d rather be with them than working. But why make it out to be a chore? Rachel Zucker says, “I’ve been trying to do a better job of telling my kids how much I love to work and not feel horribly guilty about it.” 

It’s okay not to write. “If it’s becoming too difficult, it’s okay to take breaks, especially when you first have a kid and they’re really dependent on you,” says Elle Nash. “They’re really little for a very short period of time. If you need to take that break and spend that time with them, that’s 100 percent okay.”

Just show up. “The contract I have with myself is to be at my desk and in the right mental space, which means I cannot have checked e-mail, I cannot have looked at internet banking,” says Beth Ann Fennelly. “I go to my desk as close to my dream life as possible. If I’m there, and nothing happens—if I can’t write, that’s fine. I was there. That’s all I asked of myself. I’ll try again the next day.”