Life for a Child

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Q and A

Yesterday, I wrote about a great new book called Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper.  

I feel very strongly that anyone can write.  And that we ALL have stories worth telling.  We all have stories that need to be told.

I really want to encourage you to write.  It doesn't matter if it's a blog or a book or an email or a journal entry that no one but you sees.  I find writing to be very cathartic.  You might, too.

When I started this blog, it was aimed at family and friends.  I couldn't keep up with the "How are you doing?".  I could not explain about Type 1 one more time.  So I created a blog in hopes that I could write it once and people could just read it.  Because I wanted them to know.  I wanted to tell them.  But I was just soooo.... tired.  Overwhelmed.  Emotional.

I never thought anyone else would read it.

It still shocks me to see comments from you, dear readers!  I love hearing your stories!  And I always try to write back - sometimes it just takes me awhile!  (As soon as school is out, I'm hitting the inbox!)  Your words make me cry and laugh and  truly touch my heart.

I never imagined anyone would find solace in my words.  I'm glad that you do.  It helps ME to tell our story.  The REAL story.  The TRUTH about raising a child with T1.  Or at least, MY truth.  So I am thrilled that it helps you, too!

I think that Kate understands this... hence the books she has written!

I wanted to share with you a Q and A with Kate so you can learn a little more about her, this book, and writing in general.  She touches on some key things...  writing the "hard stuff" (which is very much what we D bloggers do!), finding a balance, and your child's privacy. 

 1) What inspired you to write this book?

This book began with a writing class that I started teaching in 2006 for women interested in writing
about their experiences as mothers. I wanted to create a safe place where motherhood literature
would be critiqued, nurtured, and viewed as art. And over the last six years of teaching this class I
have read so many amazing memoirs and essays. When women write the truth of their mothering
experiences, it can be life-changing, not only for themselves, but for their readers. I wanted to
extend the reach of my classes through Use Your Words.

2) What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope that readers will begin this book with an interest in writing, and finish it having discovered
the power of writing their lives and dedicated to continuing the important work of writing about
motherhood. I hope they will see the varied ways one can write about their children and the
transformations inherent in motherhood, and have a better sense of how to craft the stories that nag
at them, that beg to be written.

3) What are some of the things you’ve learned through teaching mother writers over the
years? How have their stories changed your mothering?


I’m honored that I’ve have been let into my students’ lives through their writing. To be able to walk
in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift.
I’m grateful to have been able to learn from my students as well. So many of them deal with
parenting challenges with such incredible grace, and I’m honored to call them my role-models I think reading and listening to the heartbreaking stories has also made me a more grateful mother
and person. Their stories live with me—I can’t forget them—which makes me grateful for my two
healthy daughters.
4) In your book you talk about writing the hard stuff and discuss how writing can be
therapeutic and still be art. How have you seen this therapeutic process work with your
students?


I believe that you can experience a transformation—a therapeutic transformation—in the writing
process and still end up with art. A number of my students have lost children or have been through
incredible challenges with their children, yet they come to my class and create gorgeous writing.
These students have described how the process of writing helped them come to terms with their
heartbreak or accept it in a different way.

5) How has motherhood affected your writing?

I really believe that motherhood made me a writer. Before I became a mother I wasted so much
time waiting for inspiration and generally procrastinating. But when Stella was born prematurely and
I had to withdraw from graduate school and stay home with her for a very long and lonely winter, I
became desperate for words. When Stella was five months old, I went to the coffee shop by our
house one evening and pulled out paper and a pen. But instead of returning to the half-finished
pieces I had been writing before Stella’s birth, I started to write about the single most life-changing
experience of my life: becoming a mother.
Now, there is no time to procrastinate or wait for inspiration. If I have an hour, I write for an hour.
So motherhood definitely has made me a more efficient and more dedicated writer.
But writing also makes me a better mother. When there is dedicated time each week for me to be
creative, I know I’m more patient. It feeds me in a different way than mothering. Writing also helps
slow me down, notice the details that we so often take for granted. I have two small children, so
things are changing really fast, and writing about some of what is happening in my life allows me to
gain perspective, to figure out what I think about where I’m at right now.

6) How do you balance motherhood and writing?

It’s a balancing act for sure. My writing time is very limited, and my children are small and need lots
of attention, as children do. We recently added a dog to the mix, as well, and she has gobbled up
some of my morning writing time. For me it’s not so much motherhood that keeps me from writing;
it’s full-time work. I used to have at least a few hours a week when I could go to the coffee shop and
work on my own writing before I moved on to teaching prep. Now I’m lucky to get an hour a week.
So I’m trying to practice what I tell my students: be patient and flexible. I know I’ll figure out a
schedule that works before too long!

7) Why does writing about motherhood and women’s lives matter?

Motherhood is part of the human experience, so how can it not matter? I think motherhood as a
subject lends itself to memoir. It is a time of transition and sometimes a period of intense identity
struggle: Who am I if I spend all day shirtless, trying to nurse a colicky baby? What happened to my
former life, my former self? How do I balance my own needs with those of my family?
I am drawn to all kinds of motherhood memoirs because I am interested in the different ways that
women process the challenges and joys of motherhood, and how they write about life in general
through their mother eyes. I love what Debra Gwartney, author of Live Through This: A Mother’s
Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, says about motherhood memoir: “A well-written
book [about motherhood] is going to say something profound about the human condition, and we
need to hear the voices of women who can express the plight we’re all in as humans.” I couldn’t
agree more.

8) What would you tell mothers who are interested in beginning to write? Where should
they begin?


Begin with a detail. Don’t worry about what the real story or how long a piece is going to be. Just
focus in on a time in your child’s life or in your life as a mother that you don’t want to forget. Make
a list of sensory details from that time, then pick one detail and write for 10-15 minutes. Then pick
another. Figure out a realistic time for you to write each week, and try to keep that time sacred.
Leave the house if you can, so you’re not distracted by all the things that need attention at home.
And communicate with your family members about why it’s important that you have that time to
write so they can help you stick to your schedule.

9) You encourage mothers to write about their lives and their children’s lives, but in one of
the final chapters, you discuss the ethics of writing about your children. How do you
reconcile these two things: the need to write with the need to protect your children’s
privacy?


It’s a very tricky issue to write about one’s children, and I think your decision changes as your
children grow and become their own independent people. In the book I quote Annie Dillard, who
said that as a writer you never want to kick around “people who don’t have access to a printing
press.” This is true when we write about anyone, but it’s especially true when we are writing about
our children, who have no control over what we say about them. They depend on us to protect
them.
Talking openly about your writing and why it’s important to you helps your children (and everyone
else) understand how critical it is for you to be able to express yourself through words. But I do
think that at some point our children’s stories are not ours to tell.

(** I agree with this!  Right now, this is my story to tell.  It's OUR story.  But one day it will be HER story.  And this blog will be forced to change as she grows and gain independence.)

10) You discuss the need to make writing a priority in your life. How did you do this in your
own life? What advice would you give to other mother writers who are struggling with
this?


One of the things I suggested in the book is to figure out when and how writing can fit into your
life, and then make sure your family understands why it’s important for you to write. I think it’s hard
for women—especially mothers—to carve out the time we need to ourselves, whether it’s time to go
for a run, meet a friend at the coffee shop, or write. But I know I am a much happier and more
grounded Kate when I have had time during the week to put words on the page I’m in a place right now where I am not generating much new material. But I’m still doing the work
of a writer as I launch and promote this book, so I’m okay with that right now. But I know that
soon I’ll have to figure out a way to eek out an extra hour or two a week to continue with my new
writing project.

11) What are you working on now?

The memoir I wrote about my older daughter’s premature birth is being circulated among interested
editors, so that narrative is still percolating in my mind, but I also started a novel last fall. It’s almost
silly to say that because the writing is going so slowly. I began working full time on top of teaching
and family, so I have very little writing time right now. But it seems that the important thing isn’t
how many pages I crank out each week but rather the fact that I am producing something—
anything. The main character is there, in the back of my mind. She pops in to say hello now and
again, or I see something as I’m moving through my day, and I think, oh, she would think this or
that if she were here. That’s enough to keep me going.

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1 comment:

  1. Awesome interview! I've done lots of on and off writing since my teens, but motherhood has definitively changed my writing, as has diabetes, adoption, bipolar disorder and everything else we've dealt with. :) Thank you so much for your blog. I've been a DOC lurker for a while...No time for my own blog, but I enjoy seeing that we're not alone.

    Libby
    Mom of Ella, age 10, dx at 31 months

    ReplyDelete

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