How to Start Writing Again as a Tired New Mom
This post was originally published in Epilogue, a Medium publication. You can find the original post here.
My first novel (which I’m querying now) could not have been written without my daughter. At the same time, because of her, I thought I’d never finish it. The book is both a love letter to motherhood—as I’ve experienced it so far—and an exercise in separating my writing self from my mothering self.
As an ambitious teenager with encouraging English teachers, I’d always expected I would write and publish my first novel before I graduated from college. At the very least, before I had children.
But there I was in 2017 with a college degree and a baby, no closer to finishing a book — let alone getting it published. I was also working full time, on maybe four or five hours of sleep each night. I couldn’t imagine ever again scraping together enough energy or motivation or inspiration to write a novel. I agonized that I’d missed my window, that I was too late to fulfill my dream.
For the better part of that first year as a tired new mom, I didn’t write at all.
And then I did. Write, I mean. Only a page here and there, maybe a few lines of free-writing when I sat in the car before work. Then more and more until the words began to add up.
Now, more than two years after the idea started bubbling up inside me, I’m finally in the early stages of querying literary agents with the completed manuscript. I’ve also started writing a second book. And I’ve written more in the first two months of this year than I probably did in all of 2017 (the year after my daughter was born).
Be Patient with Yourself
This goes for all new parents of all genders, but especially for those who happened to undergo the physical experience of pregnancy and childbirth—you’ve been through a hell of a lot. Becoming a first-time parent can be magical, sure, but it can also be traumatic. You’re bound to be putting plenty of pressure on yourself already, so don’t weigh yourself down even more with unrealistic expectations about how much you should write between feeds and naps and dirty diapers.
I reached a point in the newborn phase when I consciously gave myself permission not to write. This moment released me from the negative feelings I’d begun to associate with the craft I had once found comfort in.
Ease Yourself Back In
When I started to crave writing again—and by that I mean that it wasn’t a feeling of guilt anymore, so much as that natural desire to grab a pen and scribble for scribbling’s sake—I dipped into it slowly.
Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones became my guide. I read one short section a day (usually a few pages long at most), then allowed myself roughly five minutes afterward to free-write. Instead of working toward a formidable, seemingly unattainable goal, I treated these writing sessions as a sort of mindfulness practice. Again, no pressure.
Find Your Quiet Moments
A quiet moment looks different for everyone. A sampling of some of my past quiet moments: arriving five minutes early to pick up my kid from daycare, using that time to write notes on a receipt; setting my alarm for five o’clock in the morning to sip some coffee and type on the computer; using a break between meetings at work to brainstorm story ideas.
On some days, we’ll find few if any quiet moments. But I believe that on most days, if we look closely enough, we’ll find at least one. In the early days of parenthood, you may not have the energy or the mental capacity to use those moments for anything but mindless scrolling on social media—and I don’t fault you for that. That said, a day will come when you’ll itch to use those moments more productively, and when you’re ready, you should not hesitate to take advantage.
Personally, I found great comfort in the #5amwritersclub community on Twitter. A lot of writers who are also parents show up in that online space. I have more free time these days than I did when my daughter was a tiny, screaming newborn, so I don’t always wake up that early to write. But it still proves to be my most productive writing window, when I can force myself to roll out of bed.
Embrace Friendly Competition
Just as I never could have written this book without my daughter, I also might never have finished it without the motivation provided by my sister. She finished writing her first book around the time I was starting to gather ideas for my own. Maybe competition isn’t exactly the right word, because I don’t see her potential success as taking anything away from me—we are both working toward the same goal of getting traditionally published, but if she gets an agent before I do, I won’t begrudge her that achievement.
Yet I saw what she was able to do as a busy, devoted mother of four, and I realized that writing a book was actually an attainable goal, even after becoming a parent. Seeing her experience the triumph when she reached that milestone lit a fire under my feet. I wanted to experience that same triumph, that same exhilaration. So she and I became writing buddies and critique partners.
Find yourself a writing buddy: someone in a similar walk of life, who faces similar obstacles and will act like a cheerleader throughout your journey to get published. Sure, you can critique each other, but the most valuable aspect of my writing partnership with my sister has actually been the support system. The sharing of ups and downs, the little text-message check-ins, the impromptu brainstorming. You don’t have to be formal about it. Just chat once a week, when you both have a few spare minutes.
After you’ve taken those initial steps back into writing, you may want to give yourself more of a challenge. Three years into this parenting adventure, I’ve finally managed to get back into a comfortable, content writing rhythm (at least, as comfortable and content as I can be with a lively three-year-old and a full-time freelance workload). So as I write my next book, I’ve upped my daily word count goal from 200 to 500. It’s not unattainable, but it makes me stretch.
I won’t pretend to know all the secrets in the world when it comes to achieving success as a writer. I’m still wading through the query trenches, after all. But I’ve found a small measure of success in returning to the craft I love.
Motherhood has a funny way of making you feel like a different person, of making you mourn the things you feel you’ve lost even as you celebrate this new life you made. When I became a mom, I thought I had to let go of my identity as a writer. But with practice and patience, I found my way back.