Honoring my Reality as a Mommy-Writer

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300The DIY MFA book by Gabriela Pereira is coming out soon. I was lucky enough to gain access to an advanced copy and I am loving it. I have been a fan of Gabriela since stumbling upon her DIYMFAradio podcast after reading an article of hers in WRITER’S DIGEST. One of the things that hooked me from the get-go was Gabriela’s philosophy of writers having to “honor their reality.” As a voracious reader of books on the craft of writing and memoirs of authors concerning their writing life, I started to beat myself up over my inability to “fit in” to any of their writing worlds. I started to think, If I can’t write like them, if I can’t create writing schedules like them, then maybe I can’t be a writer at all.

Thanks to Gabriela I learned that I don’t need to fit into anyone else’s mold of what writing is. I learned that I needed to honor MY reality.

Gabriela’s third question to the DIYMFA Street Team dealt with this topic head-on.

QOTW 3: Tell a story about a time when you had to honor your reality.

unnamed(1)My reality has been a bit of a bitch. Please excuse my French, but there it is. I “became” a writer in the midst of the worst of it – two chronic conditions were kicking my butt, threatening my vision and had already stolen the career of my dreams. I was home, on disability, lonely, sick, and scared. I started writing. There was no big publishing end goal – there was only a desire to connect with humanity. There was also a desire to prove that I still mattered. The words came, my story was told, and then I began to make up other stories. Writing filled my days and nights. Audiobooks fueled my imagination and the Internet kept me connected.

There was no question of when or how I would write, I just did. It was all I could do in the beginning – with my zoomed computer screens and inability to walk without getting dizzy – there was no question of honoring my reality, my reality offered me nothing else. For this reason, since writing came as easily as I desired it, I never foresaw the obstacles that may arise in my writing in my future.

In 2013, with both of my chronic conditions deciding to take five at the same time, I became pregnant. I felt healthier than I had in YEARS. It was magnificent for so many reasons. I laughed. I danced. I partied. I enjoyed every aspect of life but one:

I could not write.

I couldn’t tell you why. My theory is that my creative energies were too focused on the human-building project within me, but I have no scientific proof that such things happen. At first I battled. I tried forcing myself to the page. I began so many stories and finished none. I continued attending my writing group meetings, but not regularly. The guilt crept in, but then the joy overwhelmed it. I can’t say that I honored my reality at that time, I was too busy celebrating it.

I didn’t discover DIYMFAradio until my son was already born. It was a year after he was born and the writing was still spotty. I had told myself that the path to being the best mother was being the best me. I told myself I needed to embrace my writing for my son’s sake. All of that clicked and made sense, but the writing was still not coming – that’s when the guilt came in. That’s when I looked to other’s writing lives and wondered why I couldn’t fit mine in. Just about when it was all about to crush me I heard Gabriela’s podcast episode about Honoring your reality.

I reassessed my situation: giving birth, no sleep, breastfeeding, no sleep, fever/sickness, surgery, colicky baby, teething baby, exhaustion, quality time with my son, old illnesses reemerging, new ailments presenting themselves, juggling chores with a newborn… my reality had a lot going on. A lot of brand new things showed up that required my attention to ensure I learned the new rules. I decided to give myself a break. I was still a writer, but I needed a bit of a sabbatical to figure out what had become of my life.

My guilt was lifted. I told myself my job was to look for where I could fit writing into my new life – little by little – and to practice new routines. I scheduled writing group meetings that worked for my whole family and made those days a priority for me.

My son just turned two and sometime since he was born and now I have done three revisions on a novel I wrote before he was born. I have already pitched it and I have plans to begin the query process before the end of the year. I can honestly say that if I did not allow myself the time and space to honor my reality, none of this would have happened. I would still be spinning the wheels of guilt trying to figure out why I have not been as productive as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman!

QUESTIONS:

Do you honor your reality?

Have you ever looked to someone else’s writing life as a model to follow? Whose life? How did it go?

 

How Did I Become a Writer?

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. As we build toward the release of this book, Gabriela has asked us to answer some questions about our own writing journey. Here is question #2:

QOTW 2: How did you become a writer?

imageIt is without question or pause that I say I was born a creator. Invention, the arts, storytelling – they all spoke to me. I had dreams of being a scientist, a journalist, an artist, and, above all – the one that won the day – a teacher. I never dreamed of “being a writer.” Even as a child I had no concrete idea of its possibility. I loved books. I even loved inventing stories to entertain my little brother, but the idea of making writing a part of my life plan wasn’t something I ever consciously thought about.

And, yet, it permeated every stage of my life. In my elementary years I invented stories for my younger brother and loved my creative writing assignments. In middle school and high school I constantly wrote endless “notes” to my friends, and kept a diary. In high school I added to that by writing poetry. In college the poems continued and the emails began. Upon graduating I found a job as a high school mathematics teacher – a place often bereft of writing – but I wedged it in. I created math worlds for my students with characters and problems of their own, inciting them to mathematical action in order to save said worlds. When illness stole that life from me I found my salvation online where I first wrote my story of loss, and then began to create fictional tales as well. It was then, when every other mark of my identity had been torn from me, that it finally occurred to me that – maybe – I was a writer. And, when my son was born two years ago, I decided that part of being the best mother possible meant being the truest form of myself possible. In searching my soul for the answer to what that meant, one answer rang truest:

I must write.

So when the question is asked of me: “Nicole, how did you become a writer?” there are a number of answers, but the truest one of all is that I became a writer by allowing my truest self free.

 

QUESTIONS:

When did you become a writer? Was there an exact moment that you can point to?

If you have long thought about becoming a writer, but have been holding back, why? What is stopping you from being a writer?

Why I DIY my MFA

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. In an effort to boost our excitement about the book’s release Gabriela has asked some of us on her DIYMFA Street Team to answer some questions and share those answers with the world. As with all things in my life, I have been running a little late with these answers, but here’s my stab at question #1.

Question of the Week: Have you ever thought about getting an MFA? If so, did you pursue it? (And what was that experience like?) If not, what have you been doing instead to enhance your writing education?

WHY I DIYMFAAs a former educator, my love affair with school seemed to have no end. I was addicted to education. I stepped out of college, got a job as a teacher, and spent every single summer off in another school of higher education learning more and more and more.

Then I got sick and everything had to stop.

When I was home, recovering, I found my writer’s voice. I began to blog, and stretch myself creatively. I loved what I was doing, but felt like a fraud. I called myself an “aspiring writer” – as if the act of writing itself did not bestow the title upon me. I started to research my educational options – where could I go to become a writer? That was when I learned about MFA programs.

I’d scroll through admissions pages, program descriptions, and I would dream. In between I would fraudulently continue to write – not only on my own blog, but now on other people’s blogs! What was I thinking? At every step I’d think, I have to start applying, but there were so many obstacles – my finances and inconsistent health leading the pack.

I couldn’t stop writing, though. I was drawn to it with such a ferocity. I started reading books about the craft, following writers and becoming friends with writers online, and then I joined writer’s communities. Online I became a member and writer for StoryDam, in “real life” I joined a local writer’s group.

I kept aspiring to be a writer. By writing. Then one day someone on Twitter saw that “aspiring writer” description in my bio and they called me on it. It was in the middle of one of #StoryDam’s weekly chats. The person asked why I wrote that I was an aspiring writer. They asked, “Do you write?”

I said something like, “Well, on my blog, sometimes.”

And they said that they didn’t care if it was on a scrap of paper that no one would ever see. If I wrote, then I was a writer. They explained that I was confusing the term writer with published author.

And they were right.

I started to wonder what else I was confused about. Did I really need an MFA to accomplish my goals? The answer was a resounding no. While I will never rule out anything completely, I can say that I now understand that I was never truly addicted to education – I have been, and always wil be, addicted to learning, and learning can happen anywhere!

So while I wait for my finances to bounce back, my health to cooperate, or my son to be old enough to not need me 24/7, I have found countless ways to create my own writing education through podcasts, books, magazines, and a writing community. Anyone can do it, and you can personalize it your own needs. It’s pretty awesome. Just to give you a taste of where I find these inspirations right now, here are some of my favorite resources in each of those categories:

PODCASTS FOR WRITERS

  • DIYMFA radio – obviously one of my favorites. Gabriela has great interviews with creatives, and a number of episodes focused on writing tips of her own.
  • Writers on Writing – each episode has two interviews with current published authors, focusing discussion on the craft of writing.
  • Magic Lessons – this podcast will be coming back this summer, but in the meantime, treat yourself to going back to the beginning and listening to all that Elizabeth Gilbert has to offer. Each episode Gilbert helps an author with an issue blocking them creatively. She follows up each discussion with the writer in need, with an interview from a professional who can give targeted advice to the person she’s helping. There is too much awesome in these episodes!

BOOKS

  • On Writing by Stephen King – not a how-to manual, by any means. This man is a writing monster. However, it is an inspiration to read, and has lots of great tips about how to get through big writing projects.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – a really fast read filled with gems to wake up your muse.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – this book is the perfect follow up to On Writing, or at least it was for me. Lamott is (probably unintentionally) brilliantly forgiving when she describes the reality of “shitty first drafts.” She drives a perfect balance between the splendor and torture of the writing life.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – well, I can’t recommend the podcast, and then not recommend the book that inspired it, can I? I listened to the audiobook version of this book – it is every kind of wonderful for all creative souls, not just writers.

MAGAZINES

  • WRITERS DIGEST – I don’t subscribe for one reason: I like to have something to grab when I sit down at the cafe in the bookstore. I grab it, sit down with it, and tell myself I will leave it there so I’ll have something to read when I come back. That never works. I buy it. Every time. The articles are that good.

WRITING COMMUNITIES

  • StoryDam – this is a great, relaxed online writing community that holds weekly Twitter chats on Thursday nights at 8PM EST. Follow along with #StoryDam to see all of us checking with each other throughout the week, but be sure to tune in Thursday night to make some fantastic connections.
  • 10MinNovelists – another great online community that also has a presence on Twitter – and a Thursday night chat (9PM EST), but I tend to connect with them more on Facebook. Either way, this is a growing group of writers at all differnt levels who are very active all week long.
  • My local writing group – nothing, and I do mean NOTHING has helped me grow more as a writer than my own group of humans that I meet face to face with on a monthly (if not more frequently) basis. I wrote a series of blog posts about putting together and maintaining a writing group, so if you don’t have one yet, you might want to check those posts out.

 

So, if you are waiting for your acceptance into the writing community, and looking for where you can learn more, join me in our endeavors to create our own, personalized education!