The Return of the Lost Daughter: How to Be a Creative Mother
When Cyril Connolly famously (or infamously) wrote about “a pram in the hall” as an enemy of good art, thus unleashing one of the most perpetuating myths about creativity, he did not think of mothers. He thought of middle-class men. Those men, however, were not expected to do any actual childcare, change nappies or fit their writing between school runs. Connolly’s observations were merely about the distraction of having to provide for the family that would lead those men away from true art.
I am not going to lie: it is not easy to write regularly while also having duties as a mother, carer and wife. Even to work on this blog entry, I had to get up at 3 am, beating myself up that it was actually ten past three, which means that by the time I sit at the computer, it is late – 3:30 am, the whole half-hour less to write in the morning. I started this practice of writing in early hours with my first poor attempts at poetry in English (not my mother tongue). I continued it throughout my postgraduate degree at Newcastle University, which is what got me through the course. It meant that even our recent decision to move the house and the country did not kill my chances to submit my dissertation on time, if at all. I was ready for the summer anyway. Kids’ school holidays mean that you don’t get a minute to yourself. Re-drafting my portfolio in such circumstances, yes, that is possible. Starting from scratch in July would probably mean that I would have never completed it on time. With the help of reduced sleep and assistance from my lovely tutors at the university who agreed to conduct tutorials over Skype, I managed all of it.
Completing any piece of writing, however long or short, can be achieved only with a near-military precision planning. You don’t get the luxury of procrastination. Here are three hours for your writing. That is it. Use them wisely. I got some of my stories and poems published in four different countries in the past eighteen months. I got my translation work from and to English published and noticed in three different countries. I am proud of every single little achievement – and every single rejection. They are all my own. I am not an aristocrat who pursues a noble occupation of writing novels/poems/pamphlets/essays, and everyone in the household has to be quiet and at his service. I am not an upper-class wife who brings out the obligatory book for children, while insanely talented writers sit at home, unable to get noticed by an agent or publisher. Nor am I a celebrity who pretends to produce a novel or a memoir but the pen was that of a ghostwriter.
Instead, I have an understanding husband; I have some fantastic friends and writing buddies with whom I can share my victories and failures. Failing hurts but it is an important part of the process. It is even more important to know that you are not on your own at that moment, and you are able to reach out to someone you trust.
I am a mum of two young boys, whom I will wake up at 6:30 am. I will make porridge, fold their school clothes on the chair, fit in twenty minutes of ironing, make a sandwich that will go into the older son’s lunch box, take the boys to their respective schools, only to return and work on a commissioned proofreading for four hours before picking up kids again. Then the usual routine of school preparation, supper, and bedtime come 3 am in the morning, I start again.
Does it sound dreadful? Perhaps. Doing creative work and being a parent may be unthinkable for some but many authors, including my now former tutors, have children, have families, and face the same dilemmas like any other working parent – how to fit it all in. In my case, parenthood helped me find focus. I felt a profound change in myself when our children were born. For the first time in my life, I had the strength to admit to myself that I love telling stories in any shape or form. It was the reason why in my twenties, I spent eight years working as a journalist. Writing has been by my side since the age of ten. You may dismiss it as a mere hobby, as people frequently do, but you could as well dismiss the colour of my eyes or my height. Writing is who I am.