Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How Writing is like Parenting

I wrote my first novel in high school, but I didn’t return to writing until I was pregnant with my second child.  So throughout most of my serious writing (in high school I was just playing) I’ve also been parenting, and I’ve seen a lot of parallels between the two.

Here are a few that I’ve noticed.

It’s harder than it looks

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wasn’t worried about being a parent.  After all, I had tended a lot of kids, watched nieces and nephews grow up, and read the books.  If all that failed, I had my mom who was a baby pro.  How hard can a newborn be after all they sleep all the time? 

Then the baby comes.  And for some reason, newborns can’t sleep.  You think that sleep is so important that it would be to our evolutionary advantage for babies to be able to go to sleep, but they don’t.   Not without constant jiggling and walking around, and once I do finally get them sleeping, the minute I put them down, they wake up.  But the difficulties of parenting do not end there.  There is potty training, disciplining, teaching them to share and get along with others, worrying about them falling behind in school.  All of this is so much harder than I ever anticipated.   

It never ends, and it never gets easy.

Writing is the same way.  I’ve read hundreds of books and watched hundreds of movies.  I was taught basic grammar and composition in school, so writing a novel should be easy.

Only it’s not.  Putting words together to paint images and evoke emotion is so much harder than the pros make it look.  Weaving plot points together and creating believable characters is far more complex than I ever imagined.  And I find myself staring at that blinking curser for hours wondering why it is so hard to express what is in my head.  And I begin to realize that even those writers who I thought were horrible are actually kind of amazing.

Advice is everywhere, but finding the right advice is tricky  

There is a lot of writing advice and parenting advice.  There are books and articles by professionals.  Other struggling parents and aspiring writers offer their two cents as well, and even people without kids or have never tried to write anything beyond a term paper have advice to offer.   Great advice can be found anywhere, but sifting through that advice and finding what actually works for me is challenging.

I’ve noticed that for parenting and writing some of the advice is like gold, a lot of it has to be tweaked, some I can’t figure out how to apply, others while good I just can’t use because it is so contrary to my personality, but very little of it is completely useless.

But figuring out how to apply that advice is tricky.  So many times I read an article and it sounds so clear, but when I try to implement it in my parenting or writing, I realize how complicated it really is.  I’d love to have Super Nanny or an awesome professional writer as a mentor standing over me and helping me to see exactly how to make the advice work, but I don’t.  

So mostly I’m floundering, trying to sift through all the great advice and figuring out how to make it work.

Never stop learning and growing

The thing a miss the most about my life before children was coasting.  When I started something new like a job or college or even marriage, my life was thrown in an upheaval, but eventually I adapted, figured out what I need to do to be successful and then went back to coasting.  There was far more coasting than adapting, and that is what I like.  I only like conflict and tension in books not in real life.

But in parenting, I hardly ever get to coast.  My kids are constantly growing and changing and getting smarter and smarter, and never seem to stop challenging me.  I’ve had to learn to accept a life of constant upheaval and adaption.

Writing is no different.  Every time I think I’ve got this writing thing figured out, I realize I’ve only scratched the surface.  There is so much to learn and different techniques to perfect.  Every story provides new challenges, and I’ve realized I’ll never be done learning.  I’ll never be able to just coast.

And honestly, I think that is kind of awesome.  :)

Comparing myself to others is painful and pointless

There is a mother in every neighbor who seems perfect.  Her house is always spotless, her yard weed-less.  She always looks amazing and so do her kids.  Her children are popular, well-behaved, athletic, talented, and at the top of their class.   The rest of us just stare at her and wonder if her house is in some sort of time warp.  She must have more hours in the day then us mere mortals.

Sometimes other mothers get overly critical and try to tear her down, or they compare themselves to her and feel inadequate and inferior and bad about themselves.  It can make them feel insecure and question all the decisions they’ve made and doubt all their parenting choices.   I hate to admit it, but I’ve been there.  No good comes from all that negativity, just hurt feelings.  It is a waste of time and energy and isn’t going to make you a better mother.

Writing is no different.  There will always be another writer that seems to have it all together.  Writes better than me, writes more than me, reads more than me (coughcoughSheenacough).  But comparing myself to that writer is pointless, a waste of energy that should be put into my writing.  So the best thing to do is to say, “You go girl,” and move on. 

In the end, I gotta be me

This was a hard thing for me to realize as a mother.  I was so used to finding solutions to problems, that I wasn’t ready for problems that have no one right answer or no wrong answers or sometimes no answers at all.   There is no magic formula for parenting.

There is no one in the world exactly like me, and there are no other children that are exactly like mine.  And what works for one parent or a thousand or a million parents won’t necessarily work for me.  In the end of this crazy parenting thing, I have to find my own way.  Become the best mom that I can be with my own distinct values and perspective.  I can’t be the mom in the parenting books.  I can’t be like the perfect mom down the street or my sisters or my mother.  I have to be me, and adapt my parenting style to fit my very awesome and unique children.

Now I’m not saying not to read parenting books or seek parenting advice; that would be foolish.  I’m not so arrogant to think that I don’t have anything to learn.   There is great parenting advice out there that will make me a better parent.  I believe I should learn everything I can, but adapt that knowledge to fit me and my children.  Knowledge is how we develop as parents as people as writers.  But in the end, we have to embrace the part of us that makes us different and turn that difference into our greatest strength.

Writing is the same.  It is important to read and learn about how to write effectively, but in the end I need to use that knowledge to learn how to accentuate my own personal style.  We are all unique, and it is what makes me different that develops that hard to define voice that all agents are looking for, that part that makes every story, even ones that have been told a hundred time before, really unique.  

Writing what I love and the way I want it to be gives my writing authenticity and can really make it shine. So learn all you can about the craft of writing, but in the end develop your own style and embrace who you are, and your story will be amazing.

That’s all I got, but I’d love to hear any of your insights.  What have you learned from parenting or life that is applicable to writing?



  1. This hits home for me. We just moved from the middle of nowhere to a real neighborhood, and it's been oddly lovely to compare myself to other people after being in (a sort of) cultural vacuum for most of my married life. I'm trying very hard to remain myself, not feel overwhelmed at my inadequacies and glean all the good I can from my new neighbors and friends. It reminds me of the friendships I've created through hatrack--amazing ones; friendships that have helped me to grow, but that really help me when I can keep the "gotta be me" attitude.

  2. Maryann I think I have a lot of advice for you on how to write and parent better j/k. Parenting is insanely hard and anyone who says differently is either lying or is done raising kids and doesn't remember. Last week, I took my five-year-old to his kindergarten assessment, which he completely refused to do. The school personal were asking me questions suggesting special ed needs and that he needs to play more with other children. I felt like crap. I stood there stating how bright and well he did in preschool. We brought him back and he rocked it this week. I felt like I was comfortable with who I was until I had children, but parenting all old insecurities are back. I admire your pursuit of writing. Writing is like bearing your soul and heart for everyone to see. It is scarey.

  3. Lovely, lovely post, Mary Ann. Probably my favorite one of yours so far! There were a couple of pieces of adivce that stuck out to me - "advice is everywhere, but finding the right advice is tricky" (loved that whole section) and "comparing myself to others is painful and pointless." I already knew the latter for my own life, but I hadn't thought that way about my writing. Oh, and the part about never stop learning is great too...

  4. MaryAnn, sorry I didn't post earlier on this. I absolutely love this analogy. Both parenting and writing can be so tough that you throw up your hands - and then there's a smile and a hug, or a flash of brilliant prose and it's all worth it again.


  5. I love this post so much. I can't believe I never read it before today. How'd I miss a day of Prosers? This is brilliant beautiful stuff here, MaryAnn.

    Thanks for sharing.


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