Monday, January 16, 2012

I'm a mother/I'm a writer

I've had a lot of people, other moms mostly, ask me how I find time to write. Being a mom is a busy job. It's also the best inspiration for writing that I can think of.

For example...

The other day, I was reading The Usborne book of Fairy tales to my daughter. We read the story of Sleeping Beauty, where a grumpy fairy wishes Sleeping Beauty would die by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, and then the last fairy changes the curse so that she wouldn't die, but would be just sleeping.

With my daughter on my lap, and dishes in my sink, I took the briefest of seconds and thought, "What would happen if Sleeping Beauty actually did die, but instead of sleeping became a ghost."  The idea of a ghost in love intrigued me, especially because in most fairy tales the princess is so helpless. Being a ghost is about as helpless as it can get. So how then could the prince bring her back with a kiss?


The idea ruminated in my head the rest of the day, but on the back burner. The actions of daily living were louder than that quiet whispered "Hmmm...", but the idea followed behind me. Floating along like a shadow, or a three year old, waiting for me to have a chance to think about it some more.

Later that night, as I was nursing my six month old in the middle of my dark and quiet house, I finally had a chance to think about the idea. An idea is just an idea, it takes work to turn the idea into a story.

First thing I did was get rid of the fairies.  I think fairies are a bit too... cartoon... for my taste. Does that make sense? Whenever I read a story that has fairies in it, I have to expand my sense of inconceivability. 

However, I love, and will buy, witches every day of the week. Especially witches in fairy tales. 

My next step was simplifying. (Yes, even fairy tales can be too big of a story idea for a mom of three.) Six good fairies and one bad fairy is way too complicated when you can have one witch who is mostly bad but with just a touch of good.

So I then thought, "Why is this witch who is mostly bad, but sort of good, angry with this perfect princess?"

Simple. Make the princess not so perfect. 

Now I have characters living within an idea, but I still don't have a story. By then, my son had finished, so I put him back to bed and fell back asleep.

The next day, in the fifteen minutes that my six month old, and four year old were both sleeping, before my seven year old came home from school, I sat in front of the computer, and instead of checking facebook, I wrote this first draft beginning. 

Please forgive it's total sense of not being very good. I wrote it in fifteen minutes with the promise to myself that it can be as crappy as possible, so long as I get the story idea out of my head.

Once upon a time*, there was a witch. The witch of the woods lived in a cottage not far from the king's castle. It was her task to keep the kingdom safe from dragons, and other witches, and she only occasionally ate children.

To thank the witch of the woods, and to keep his kingdom on good terms with her, every five years the kingdom gave her a tribute and a feast.

The queen died giving birth to a daughter**, and the heartbroken king never remarried. For guilt of all the princess missed out on by not having a mother, the king gave the princess everything she ever wanted.

Except when it came time to give tribute to the witch. When the child was one and a half, the king had the princess pick out her favorite toy, a doll with real silk hair, and it was placed in the pile of gifts for the witch to bring home to her cottage in the woods. 

When the child was six, her favorite thing was a sweet fluffy kitten, which the king took from his beloved daughters hands and gave her to the witch. That wasn’t fair, thought the princess.*** That was her kitten. Why did daddy give her kitten to that stinky old witch. The witch gave her a look like she knew what Princess Bea was thinking, and sweet Bea hid behind her father's legs.

When the princess was eleven, it was time for the tribute again. For a year beforehand, the princess was careful to show her father that her favorite toy was the half broken tea set she received for her ninth birthday. Because she was clever, as well as greedy, her father believed her. When the witch came however, and that chipped tea set sat at the top of the pile, the witch glared at Princess Bea and marched to the Princess’s room. The witch spied into the room, and scanned all of her belongings. 

Not the paint set, not the paint set, thought the princess. The witch smiled, and then collected the paper and every last brush and pot of paint.

In the five years that followed, children from the village were reported missing. Dragons came through the forest bounds, and the kingdoms crops were weak. The people, close to starving, whispered in corners about revolting against their king.****

While the king kept the kingdom together in this tumultuous time, the princess grew from a child to a beautiful young lady well known for her embroidery.*****

And that's it. Fifteen minutes goes quick.

In truth, I think this story is a novel length story, so each paragraph, will only translate into a few pages. And also, I haven't even mentioned a prince, and as this story is a love story, a prince is probably a bit necessary.

I am actually a mile away from finished, and I don't know if I will ever write the full version of the story. However, every book that was ever written was written one word at a time. So why not try?

Even if I can only write one page a day, or even one word a day, there's always time to do what I decide I want to do. As a mom, I think it is crucial that I take a few minutes every day, to be me, and not me as a mom.

I'm a writer. I'm a storyteller. More than being published, more than becoming famous or the next big thing, (which is not my goal, but sometimes is my daydream) I write, because that is how I keep my sense of who I am amid the diapers, and the laundry, and the dishes, and the tantrums, and the play forts, and the bed times, and the dinner times, and the...

This is what happens in my head as I mother my children. I write, and then wait for nap time so I can write down.

That's about the best life I can come up with, and I have a great imagination.


* I know that's a cliche, it's just a first draft, and whenever I write fairy tales I start once upon a time. I only had fifteen minutes, and I could spend that whole time thinking of a better first line.

** Again...cliche. However the trope of a queen dying while giving birth is familiar in fairy tales, yet isn't associated with Sleeping Beauty, so I think it's worth it to keep the story in genre, and give the princess some sympathy. Also it shows a bit about why the princess is why she is...i.e. plot.

*** establishing POV

**** Adding dread

***** embroidery...needle point... tying into the original fairy tale. Brilliance! :)


  1. I love it! And I want you to finish it so I can read it!! You're awesome!

    Also, did you know there's a modern day Sleeping Beauty book? I can't remember the name, but it was a fun read. Definitely not the greatest book in the world but fun. I'll let you know the name of it if I remember.

  2. You should definitely write that story, sounds fun.

    I spend a lot of time working on plots, thinking about scenes, and running dialogue through my head as I fold laundry or wash dishes or go on runs. I don't know what I would do with my brain during those mindless tasks if I wasn't a writer. :)

  3. Want to throw a wrench in the works? Make it so the charming prince falls in love with the witch.

    Enjoyed your comments. You have to grab ideas as they come. Sometimes they are pure gold.

  4. Exactly, Mary Ann!

    I go on a vigorous walk a lunchtime every work day. Sometimes with colleagues, sometimes by myself. Recently, one colleague requested variety in our walking routes. But I stick with the same one every time, because my brain is always going at 100 miles an hour plotting and thinking of characters and scenery. If I tried a different route alone, I would surely get lost!

    I would not have wanted to give up my kitten. :(

  5. Great idea, Owasm/Guy Antibes. That's a great story... hmmm... Now another idea will float behind me like a three year old.

  6. Please do finish this - it sounds great!

    LOL Sabrina, I find myself doing that when I drive, sometimes to the point of ending up where I don't want to be because I'm driving on autopilot and thinking about a story.

  7. I would definitely read this story! It sounds like a lot of fun.

    Walks are my best thinking time when I can manage them. Driving would be the best thinking time, except my kids are constantly asking me questions. As I am completely ADD and incapable of carrying on a conversation while not crashing the car (but daydreaming is fine... go figure), sometimes I just have to snap at them to be quiet and then I can go back to plotting in my head. But mostly I need solitude to do any quality thinking, which might mean that trying to combine writing and motherhood was a somewhat idiotic goal for me...

    Your 15 minutes is totally inspiring :)

  8. Mothering while writing is a tricky thing, but you're right that things will coalesce if you let your brain just work on them. It's a more laid-back approach to writing than most "Writers" would have you think is necessary (they usually talk about blood having to drip from your forehead before you've suffered enough for your art) but honestly, raising kids requires so unbelievably much creativity that it's a perfect time to be dreaming up made-up things. If you don't believe me about raising kids and creativity, you should listen to what some moms talk about/do/invent/distract their children with in the grocery store checkout line so as to avoid having to buy one of every item in the candy section! ;)

    Keep on, warrior! 8 hours til bedtime! :)


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