Guest Post: Birthing Balance. A Writer’s Approach.

Written By: Liz Sheffield Pebble Balance. Image courtesy of Satendra Mhatre via stock.xchng®

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.

Liz is a talented, thoughtful writer and I’ve linked to her blog and essays before. If you’re interested in reading more of Liz’s work, visit her at Motherlogue. -Jesaka

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24 thoughts on “Guest Post: Birthing Balance. A Writer’s Approach.

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. So interesting and so many things I could relate to. I think it takes a real *event* to spur the creativity in us. For me, it was after a cancer diagnosis. The words flew at such a dizzying speed and led to two of my most creative and successful essays. And from there, it never stopped – although the topic moved away from cancer and more into everyday health. Art imitating life…

    • Sheryl, I completely agree — regardless of what they are events in our lives do spur the creativity. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Liz: Wonderful post! Isn’t it funny how the less time we have the better we use it? In this case – focused writing. Though I think breaking my own board would help me, too! 🙂
    ~Mary Jo

    • Mary Jo, it’s so true — less time always means more productivity for me at work, at home and with writing! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Motherhood also inspired me to write, and to go after my dream of being a writer, since I wanted to be a good role model for my children and have a job that I could do while also being home with them. I used to be the creative nonfiction editor at LiteraryMama, which is a wonderful magazine and a great place for new mother-writers to get started!

    • Jennifer, thanks for your comment. My first published piece was a short story that Literary Mama published in 2008. I wholeheartedly agree — it’s a fabulous magazine! I really enjoy your Mothering Outside the Lines column on Mothering.com.

  4. I’ve written always, but my first published piece came after I had kids. As I’ve become more successful at published work, though, I find that the heart-felt writing I did pre-publication has waned. Writing for an editorial calendar is quite different than writing from the heart. While I very much appreciate being able to earn an income from home so that I can be with my kids, sometimes I do miss just writing for ME.

    • @Kris – Thanks for your comment. I understand what you mean about writing for me. I like to use freewrites or prompts to encourage that uncensored/unedited writing for myself. I’ve also been toying with the idea of keeping a journal again. I haven’t done that for years, but I think it might help me be creative in a different, less structured way.

  5. Lovely guest post – can’t wait to check out your essays. I started writing before my daughter was born. However, it wasn’t until afterwards that my drive and ambition to write really picked up. I think i started valuing the free time I had, which in turn made me realize how much I love writing.

  6. Thanks for reading, Shannon. I’ve taken several great online workshops, one on short articles and another on essays, info for both is here: http://christinakatz.com/register/. Just this past February, I took an online workshop focused on essays offered by Lisa Romeo, information is here: http://www.lisaromeo.net/events.htm and two years ago I took an online workshop about the literature of parenthood taught by Susan Ito: http://readingwritingliving.wordpress.com/about/
    As a mother who writes, I’ve found that online workshops are the best for me — because I can do the writing and reading and online discussions anywhere, in my PJs at any hour! All three instructors were fabulous. Good luck with your journey — have fun!

  7. What great comments, thanks to you all for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences!
    @Marthaandme yes, visceral is a good word, some days more than others, to describe motherhood.
    @ Melanie, the board breaking was very visceral, too…especially in a room of 400-500 people who were all wailing on the boards with all their might.
    @Alexandra, why is it that we wait so long to call ourselves writer? Once I finally took the leap, it felt great.
    @Christine, absorbing everything, including the language, had a huge impact on me, too. I find that now I often turn to experiences from that time as fodder for my writing. It may be a case of needing ten or more years to process it all, or appreciate it in a different way.
    @Kristen, yes, I feel guilty when I shoo as well. One way that I avoid the struggle is by writing late at night when my boys are asleep, or during times when they are otherwise occupied (naps, quiet time, etc.). I also have the luxury of a 30 minute train commute each day and I focus myself on writing during that time. Also, recently I’ve been prioritizing family and writing and letting the laundry, cleaning and other stuff go a lot more.
    @Roxanne, I might have to find one of those punching bags!
    Again, thanks to all of you for the comments! It’s good to process my writing off the page.

  8. See that’s interesting. I think I was born a writer. I wrote all the time as a kid. My entire career has been as a writer, and yet … many of the struggles and strategies are the same. I love the plywood symbolism for breakthrough.

    Oh, I punch our man-shaped training dummy in the basement, but that’s for a whole host of other reasons. :o)

  9. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I too find that my kids inspire my writing work, versus detracting from it. I am curious about if you have any tips about how to sort out your writing goals around your family life. I must admit I still feel guilty at times when I have to shoo away my kids while I’m trying to meet tight deadlines.

  10. This makes a lot of sense to me. Interestingly, my writing flowed less well when I was living in Japan full time. Perhaps being bathed in another language all the time affected my output in English. Or perhaps I was soaking up all that was around me. Nevertheless, like you, I find parenting and parenthood to be my richest source of writing material right now. Thanks for all your thoughts on this!

  11. I started writing after my children were born as well. Took me a long time to allow myself to use the word “writer” as a way of defining what I am.

  12. Jesaka, thanks again for the opportunity to submit this post. As usual, writing about my experiences helped me see things a little differently.

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