This one’s for the writer-mamas.

IMG_20160324_100908237A couple of days ago, I got another rejection letter from an agent who requested my full manuscript back in May 2015. Since then, I’ve been in the mental fog that for me accompanies rejection, my mind a swirling mess of hurt, determination, envy, self-doubt, resolution, and a thousand other mixed-up feelings. Oh, the feelings.

I’ve been mulling over how to how to articulate this. Actually, “mulling” sounds kind of spicy and pleasantly warming. What I’ve been doing is more accurately described as “obsessing.” How do I communicate all these thoughts without being a Whiny McGripeypants? (Clearly I am running out of words. Send help. Ideally in the form of a thesaurus and vast quantities of ice cream that is 50% cookies, 50% candy, and 50% ice cream. Yeah, I can’t do math either.)

This morning I took the dogs for a walk, hoping to shake things loose. Walking always works. For most of the half-hour, I rehashed my laundry list of woes and stewed in my own dissatisfaction. I want to lash out, to complain, to moan about how hard it all is and how grouchy it makes me and how subjective publishing is and blah, blah, blah, but at the end of the day, all I get to choose is my reaction. I choose kindness.

So this one’s for the writer-mamas.
For the ones sobbing to their partners their fears that they’ll never “make it” and that they’re being bad mamas by trying.
For the ones who don’t dare sob to their partners because at best, their partners don’t understand how much it means to them, and at worst, their partners tell them they’re wasting their time and why isn’t the house clean and dinner on the table?
For the ones who have to lock themselves in the bathroom to sob because they’re parenting alone.

This one’s for the ones racking up the rejection letters.
For the ones struggling to write the query letter.
For the ones struggling to write the first draft.
For the ones struggling to write the grocery list.
For the ones who dream of writing and stand at the foot of the mountain staring up in abject terror.

This one’s for the ones dragging their exhausted bodies through pregnancy, wondering if they will ever have the energy to write again, and if it is possible to re-grow brain cells.
For the ones rocking the babies who scream unless held, the ones wondering why no one told them it would be this hard.
For the ones who can’t “sleep while the baby is sleeping” because the baby never freaking SLEEPS.
For the ones who thought there’d be time to write in a year or so, only to realize that the only thing more demanding and unreasonable than an infant is a tyrant toddler.
For the ones whose writing now consists primarily of filling out reading logs, field trip permission slips, and school health forms.
For the ones trying to finish the blog post while sitting up late worrying and waiting for the teen who’s broken curfew again.
For the ones who drop the kids off at college, drive home to the long-anticipated silence, and sit down to try to write through the ache of empty arms.
For the ones who watch the grandbabies whose underpaid parents work full-time.
For the ones who’ve become caregivers to their own parents, dashing off fragmented sentences on n0tepads and iPads while perched on the ends of hospital beds.

For the ones who save up for the retreat and kiss their families goodbye with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety.
For the ones who save every last penny for the conference and then have to spend the money on the latest family emergency.
For the ones who barely have enough money this month for groceries.
For the ones who would have been the next Dickinson, Atwood, Austen, Woolf, Dillard, LeGuin if they had not been born or dropped into crushing poverty (h0w many voices were silenced before they ever spoke?)

For the ones who struggle with their own privilege, knowing they should be grateful but longing for something more–a calling, a voice.
For the ones who had the deck stacked against them from the start in a world that privileges some races, identities, ages, bodies over others.

For the ones battling the dragons of envy as they wonder why everyone else seems more capable, more successful.
For the ones grappling with the dragons of insecurity, the ones for whom showing up to the page is a mighty act of courage because someone along the way convinced them they’d never be “good enough.”
For the ones warring against the dragons of self-doubt as they persevere in silence, in the unique beautiful terrible isolation of writers who pour their souls into their words without any assurance that those words will ever be read.
For the ones fighting the dragons of chronic illness, for whom showing up to the page is a Herculean feat of mind over aching, rebellious matter.

For the teenage writer-mamas who didn’t plan on this.
For the twenty-somethings who thought they had it all planned out.
For the thirty-somethings who wonder what on earth they were thinking.
For the forty-somethings who have learned the hard way that you can’t really plan any of it at all.
For the fifty-somethings who think they may be beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
For the sixty-somethings who just realized that light is a train.
For the seventy-somethings who are told every day by our culture that they are “too old” for this.
For the eighty-and-beyond-somethings–the rest of us need to shut up and listen to you.

For all the writer-mamas everywhere–

What do you need?
How can I help you on your journey?
Please tell me in the comments.
I really want to know.

Let’s pull each other up. Let’s rise like a tide, inexorable and fierce.



27 thoughts on “This one’s for the writer-mamas.

  1. You’ve beautifully, sensitively, and completely covered this, Brenna. I can’t think of any writer-mama who can’t relate to some aspect of this. As for me, as one of those sixty-somethings, I can say quite honestly that there is no one path to success in writing, and even more importantly, success is what we deem it to be. I can honestly say that 80% of what I’ve written has “failed”…has not found a publisher, has been dismissed, has been ignored, has petered out. Yet failure truly is in the eye of the beholder. Everything I’ve written that has fallen and been swept away has still helped me as a writer and even as a person. Yes, I’ve also been crushed by the frustration of rejection and a sense of “why am I even bothering?” I still struggle with envy at times (I have a love-hate relationship with bookstores and their contents, if you know what I mean) and think “Why has this person gotten on the Boat and I am standing on the shore waving goodbye?” Yet we make our own boats…sometimes our little boats catch up to that big Boat for a while but sometimes we continue on in our little boats.

    Publishing has changed immensely since I began. Big publishers make decisions by committee more often than not now. Agents having their fingers in the air, determining how the wind is blowing at any given time, most wanting to snag the next big name. Writers have to toot their own horns louder now than ever before, because with self-publishing, “everyone is a writer.” Just like with digital cameras “everyone is a photographer” and with digital art programs “everyone is an artist.” Not bad in principle, but in reality that means the competition is crazy huge and a lot of the competition is sadly, unpolished and unskilled. This is why agents, editors, and publishers have closed ranks tightly and marketing committees are steering the Boat.

    So I say to fellow writer-mamas, if it writing is truly important to you, if it’s a creative force you can’t ignore, then write, Honey, write! A page a week, maybe? A paragraph a day, perhaps? But also know that it’s okay and even a good thing to take a break from writing for a while. If you are a writer, the well won’t dry up. In fact, you may be giving yourself a chance for the well to refill, a chance for the mental and emotional cobwebs to clear out before you sit down with pen and paper or at your computer again. Lastly, when life is weighing you down, remember that nothing that exists is stagnant. Everything is fluid. Everything changes. Life is as likely to take a turn for the better as for the worse. Each and ever day….each and every moment…offers the possibility of something improving. It might require you to take an action. It might be something that you have no control over and happens regardless. But change will come. Breathe slowly, deeply, feel those crappy feelings then release them into the past. You aren’t alone in any of this. It’s all part of the creative life, no matter where on the spectrum you are regarding age, economic situation, or family situation. You’ll find your particular path. You’ll build your particular boat. Let’s make sure we wave and call to each other as we’re out here on the sea.

    1. Elizabeth, this is just perfect. In so many ways. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond so thoughtfully, and thank you for giving me a model of the kind of writer-mama I want to be.

    2. Well, this is lovely! Especially appreciated as I am also of the 60-something tribe.

      Re taking breaks from the creative work: I had a mentor once (painting, not writing, but the advice I have learned over the years is totally applicable) who told me “you’re doing the work even when you’re not doing the work.” He was so absolutely right.

      Thank you for all your comments. Will wave to you and call out a greeting if I see you out on the sea.

  2. Great post! If we had the funds, we could start our own “Mom Publishing Company.” Like you, I’ve been ready to throw in the towel many times. But then I noticed that my kids (9 and 13) started writing their own stories. You never know who you’re going to influence. Maybe your littles are watching what you’re doing, and it’s sinking in. I love your honest attempt to reach out to fellow writers. I think support is the biggest thing we can give each other. To know we aren’t alone. Keep writing. Chances are more people are being influenced by your dream than you think.

    1. Lisa, thanks so much for this. A Mom Publishing Company would be amazing! My kiddos are 7 and 9, and one sometimes stays up late at night writing stories, which of course I cannot forbid. 🙂 I wish you success in your writing/mothering journey, whatever success looks like to you.

  3. Before I saw this today, I had the very doubts you mentioned in this blog post. I mean, I still do, but at least I don’t feel alone in having those thoughts. When I decided to dedicate much more time to writing, I always assumed that if I was a “good” writer and was extremely dedicated, that everything would fall into place. Although much does fall into place, this novel (the one which I feel as though I sacrificed so much in order to write)…I’m afraid it won’t find a home in the publishing world. It’s early days, and I’ve barely heard back from the agents I’ve sent it to, but reality is beginning to set in. If I don’t find an agent what does that mean? What is my calling?
    I appreciate you posting this message. You asked what you can do to help and I think you’ve done it. You’ve written this post and offer avenues for us women to get together and be creative. There’s so much emphasis these days on being published, it’s easy to remember the main goal…that we are very busy humans that make time for one of the many things we were born to be: writers. Thanks for this post. Proud to have you as a fellow writer-mama and friend.

    1. Thanks, Angela–I’m so pleased this was helpful for you! And I want to support you in your journey however I can. The novel thing is tricky–you really do have to be in it for the long haul, which has been an especially difficult lesson for me, as I’m horribly impatient. As you say, it’s early days still for that novel of yours, and I have faith that the woman I know who writes the amazing poetry has written a story that the world needs. Proud to know you, valiant lady!

  4. All the tears and all the YES and all the “me too.” And all the “how do we make this go viral?”

    Love and strength and sisterhood. Let’s build one another up, let’s write down all the dreams.

  5. Great inspiring message, feels so alive and fool of emotions 😉 Love you!

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Brenna, I just want to say that when I was a mama I did nothing, created nothing, risked nothing. I am just so in awe of you for having done the work, made the beautiful thing . . . respect!

    1. Thank you, Tina–I’m betting you did and created a lot more than you think. My friend AK Anderson talks about “composting”–letting ideas lie fallow so that time and reflection can work their alchemy. I bet you stored up some rich experience and thoughts during that time. Here’s to all we can do and be from this moment forward!

  7. Gorgeous piece, Brenna! Not only a testament of your writing skills but your heart and soul. Isn’t writing the ability to deeply connect to the reader and articulate what she/he is feeling and struggling with? No one does that better than You! You also just reaffirmed for me that the traditional publishing route is just not for me – way too soul and creativity crushing. My hat goes off to anyone who is enduring it. I found an option and whole tribe of women who need to feel more in control of their writing destiny for all the reasons mentioned above.
    It is hard enough to write. Why does publishing need to be another horrendous obstacle course? I’m planning on hybrid publishing my memoir through She Writes Press, where everyone who is willing to put in the work is offered a clear and assured path to publish their work. Brooke Warner is a badass maverick (ex acquisition editor and publisher) who started She Writes Press And this revolution because this old system had too many flaws. Quality is not compromised and writers are offered editing resources to get their manuscripts in tip top shape for a reasonable amount before approved. Published books are reviewed like all others through their partnership with Ingram. Their books win awards and do just as well as those published in traditional ways, it seems. Most importantly, many women witness their dreams and hard work come into fruition. Just offering this middle and very empowering route to others who may only know of self-publishing and traditional publishing. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed that your work is recognized in a way that fulfills you, my friend, super talented writer, and great human being.

    1. Thanks, Loraine. It’s exciting to hear about your publishing journey–thanks for sharing! I think the middle routes are going to become increasingly important. Traditional publishing does produce great stuff, but it can also be/has to be very arbitrary, and talent and hard work aren’t assurances of success. Thanks for bringing up other options.

  8. This is so beautifully and sensitively put Brenna. Thank you so much for thinking of us all. I saw myself in the compassionate list you made, and then saw other writer-mamas who have it much worse. You’ve made me see that all I need, I think, is to give myself a break sometimes. The line, “For the ones who drop the kids off at college, drive home to the long-anticipated silence, and sit down to try to write through the ache of empty arms.” Had me in tears. I was sitting assembling Easter eggs tonight, thinking, “It wouldn’t hurt you to help, husband dear,” thinking of a tricky scene I’m still not writing, thinking I’m tired. How fast these Easters will zip by. This one is precious, and I am lucky to have it. I’ll write what I can when I can and hug while I can. Clearly, the only answer is to give up housework. 🙂 Thank you again.

      1. LOL!! I have employed several of these helpful tips. Thank you for the commiseration and for the laugh. Now, to douse my three carefully separated junk piles with gasoline!

  9. Dear Brenna, your writing never ceases to amaze and inspire me, but this post….so brimming over with wisdom and heart-swelling compassion, and right-on-the-mark recognition (I was nodding a few times while I was reading. Yep, that’s me. That’s me too.)… is really wonderful to be “seen” and soothed in my own sense of “failings.”

    My son is going to be twenty-six this summer, so I am at a farther end of the spectrum, and have the blessing of more means and time to write (and yes, feel guilty about all that – how did you know? 😉 )

    I am, likewise, here for you too. Ever onward!

    1. Thanks so much! It is always heartening to be able to look a little ways down the path and see more valiant writer-mamas forging ahead through the trials–and joys–I can only anticipate.

  10. Bypass the whole mess.
    I have four titles and counting.
    Find my titles on Amazon.

  11. Brenna,

    Was traveling when this came out, and loved it as I read it and I’m loving it again. There are so many eloquent comments above, and your own eloquence moved me as soon as I read this beautiful post. One of my favorite writer friends has told me for years: the definition of a writer is one actively writing…and day after day, I write. I’ve loved and enjoyed so many beautiful posts from you; I raise my writer cup of tea to yours, I know you get to your page day after day after day.

    One of the ways I broke writing isolation when my children were young was to read and help select poems by mothers for The Fertile Source; while we have moved our focus over to Mother Writer Mentor for now, there is a long lovely list of links to interviews with our writing mothers still live at The Fertile Source here: As I put up each interview, I drew solace from hearing about each process, each so different, each with its own twist and turns to what each writer defines as her “becoming” or “arriving.” I’d love to invite you, if you wish, to write about what you’ve learned since writing this post in response to your beautiful question as a guest post at MWM? We can link to your original post here, and help put your words in front of our own humble venue at MWM if you wish.

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