Written By: Liz Sheffield
After college I moved to Japan and had amazing experiences meeting new people, learning a new language, discovering a foreign culture, and eating delicious food. I was single. I had money. I had free time. I had a pen and paper. It seemed like a writer’s dream. Only it was a nightmare: this writer stopped writing. The only words I put on paper were in the letters home to my parents.
Ten years later, I was back in the United States but I still wasn’t writing. I figured the writer in me was gone forever. But then my first son, Henry, was born. With his birth, the words came pouring out. In spite of the lack of free time and uninterrupted sleep, I found myself wanting to share these new experiences I was having as a mother. And, I wanted to share them by writing about them.
Since then I’ve been on a wonderful, renewed writing journey. Thanks to inspiration from mamas who write at Literary Mama and the Writer Mama, Christina Katz, I saw that writing about motherhood had merit. I dove in.
For nearly six years I’ve been balancing motherhood, work outside the home and a passion for writing. I didn’t start out with a strategy, a map or even an idea for how I could make it all work. If I had done that, I imagine I might have stopped before I started. My approach is simple.
Write What You Know
Some people think it’s the sign of a novice writer to write what you know. For me, the concept of writing what I know makes sense and it saves time. I’ve focused on writing essays and articles about the life that I know: struggles with kids’ sleep, using humor to help avoid tantrums, drafting family rules, raising kids with an interest in other cultures, and other parenting-related subjects.
With each new stage I experience as a mother, I find new topics that I want to explore through writing. I benefit from the process, hopefully readers benefit from my experience and writing about the theme of parenting saves time because my research is my daily life.
Break the Board
When I returned to work after Henry was born I attended a workshop led by Brian Biro, an inspirational speaker who focuses on breakthrough moments. During his talk, participants write something on a plywood board that is holding them back. At the end of the presentation, people get in groups and literally use their fists to break the plywood in half.
This was a timely and powerful presentation for me to attend. As a new mom, I was struggling with how to balance work and family. Each day I felt torn between my personal priorities and professional expectations. Sitting in Brian’s workshop I knew that my personal priorities – my children, my husband, my parents – were what mattered most. I broke the board and since then I have kept a focus on managing my work time so that it allows me the time I want, and need, with my family.
Claim the Name
At first I was happy writing essays about parenting that I only shared with my husband. It was a hobby. Then I started taking online workshops. I completed assignments but never considered submitting my work. I mean, I knew I wasn’t really a writer. Then a friend invited me to join her online writing group. The group was made up of other mothers from around the United States who were…writers. If I was going to join a writers group, I needed to call myself a writer. I finally claimed the name.
Taking that leap of faith to join a writers group, to call myself a writer and to finally start submitting my words to publications took time. After feeling so nervous to submit my first article, now I get an immense pleasure in looking for appropriate publications, submitting to them and, hopefully getting published.
Although the conditions in Japan appeared ideal for me to write the great American novel, they weren’t. It took two sweet babies, many sleepless nights, and very little free time for me to wake up and realize my writer’s dream.