Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: novel

Still Writing

I haven’t been writing much here, but I have definitely been writing.

What I’m working on has turned into a fantasy series with (likely?) 4-5 installments. I’ve finished the first book (although… I’m already thinking a prequel to that book would be nice to write later on) and I’m approaching the climax of the second book.

I’ve been slowly chiseling away at this monster of a second book on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 2-7 a.m. (Yeah, you read that right.) I’m not very exciting on Friday and Saturday nights, but the benefit is that I’m rarely, if ever, interrupted early Saturday and Sunday morning. Everyone is asleep. Because everyone else is sane.

I understand this.

It’s a price that I’m willing to pay to bring this story to light. It’s a story that just won’t go away.

Some themes that are central to this series of books:

  • Intercultural conflict
  • How humanity understands and interacts with the Divine
  • The relationship between pain, growth, healing, and death
  • Healing that causes harm and harm that causes healing
  • The cyclical nature of creation and destruction: Creation as destruction and destruction as creation

Some questions that the series explores:

  • Who deserves to be saved or healed? Does everyone deserve a second chance?
  • When should healers withdraw their healing and leave a person to their pain/fate?
  • When should the needs of the group take precedence over the needs of the individual?
  • Where is the line between pain leading to growth and pain crushing someone’s soul?
  • How do the dead continue to influence the living?

I’ve been inspired by When God was a Woman, a book about the transition in human history from primarily polytheistic worship of a female goddess of creation to a monotheistic worship of a male god of creation. If that sounds interesting, please check out my previous post, “God, the Mother.” I’m also combining bits of history and mythology from Turkey and Serbia.

I’m not going to lie: Writing this second book has been a slog.

In April, I had a few very bad weeks and almost abandoned the book completely. I was in that “murkey middle” part of the book and things were just getting very unwieldy. I struggled to keep in mind what the motivations for my characters were and what they would want to do in certain situations. It’s very hard to write alone, in the dark, sitting on a pile of words that no one else reads, for weeks at a time.

What got me through this part was sharing parts of what I was working with others. Just getting some general feedback of, “I like this character” or “I want to know more about that” gave me the motivation to keep going.

Some people say that quitting is easy.

It has never been easy for me to quit.

Once I start something that I believe is worth the effort of my creativity and persistence, I will nurture whatever I’m doing until it grows into what I think it can become.

So the next time you’re up at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, drink a cup for me.

Wish me luck.

The Next Book

About a year ago, in the middle of January, I was trying to fall asleep and out of nowhere, a sentence came to me.

Just one line. A line of dialogue.

It tugged at me. It kept me up.

Who said this line? Why did they say it? Where were they? What were the stakes?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King compares the process of writing a good story to the process of unearthing a fossil. You see part of the story peeking out of the ground–then you unearth the story by asking the right questions. You don’t imagine a bunch of independent, isolated pieces lying on top of the earth and then try to fit them all together.

You start with one piece–then you see what’s already attached to it.

So that’s what I did. I got out a notebook and I started answering those questions.

And a story emerged.

long story.

Long enough for three books.

I stared down at my notes and thought, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got to finish this book I’m working on right now. When am I going to find time to write another book, let alone three? I’ve got a job. And a toddler.


Still, the story wouldn’t go away. As I drove to work, the plot, the characters, and their motivations took shape. As I listened to music in my car, and I could see critical scenes playing out before me as I drove, much like a movie trailer. One morning while on a short vacation with friends, I got up at 5:30 and spent two hours writing out the first five major scenes.

But then I got stuck. I couldn’t see past a major conflict. I couldn’t figure out how to resolve the conflict in a way that fit with the characters.

So I put it away. I finished the book I was working on. I learned how to publish, how to market, and how reach new readers. I spent time blogging and writing essays to submit for publication elsewhere.

But the story wouldn’t go away.


My husband put several books in my stocking for Christmas this year. One of them was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

big magic

I wasn’t ready to read it at first. I was still working through the grief of miscarriage. But within a week, I decided it was time to allow myself to cultivate my creativity again. It was my creativity, after all, that had saved me, time and time again.

In Gilbert’s book, she articulates a belief that ideas come to people, almost like a kind of spiritual possession. And if the person doesn’t try to bring forth the idea to the world, it will move on, seeking someone else to bring it to light.

What a bunch of mystical bullshit, I thought.

But I kept thinking about the story that I had told to wait. I couldn’t deny that it was still lingering there in the deep recesses of my brain. It was like a puzzle that I couldn’t figure out.

So I dug out my notes about the story and the twelve pages that I wrote a year earlier and I read them.

As I moved through the pages I was swept up in the story that my previous self had written. Whose voice was this in these pages? Who wrote this? I know I did, but this doesn’t sound like me at all. It truly felt like I was reading someone else’s great idea.

But I still couldn’t figure out how to resolve the major conflict.


This last week, I had coffee with a good friend, Cate. She asked me if I had any desire to write fiction again. I rolled my eyes and shrugged, “You mean besides that one book that I can’t figure out?”

“What book?” she asked.

It occurred to me that Cate was a fresh audience with whom I’d never shared the concept of this book.

I told her everything that I knew. She listened, her eyebrows lifting in interest in all the right places. I had to backtrack a few times to clarify plot lines and motivations, but she stuck with me the whole time. As she asked me questions, I could feel the gears clicking into place again, the story starting to open up and move.

As I drove home, I started to re-imagine the story. What if this… What if that… 

I jotted some more notes down in a new notebook. I scribbled out the plot arcs for all three books. Oddly enough, the most logical and motivating place for me to begin was with the second book.

And so that’s where I’ll begin.


After this experience, I can’t totally write off Elizabeth Gilbert’s premise, that ideas knock on our doors, asking for us to bring them to light.

Because where did this first line of dialogue come from?

I have no idea.

While I can rationalize the experience of unearthing the fossil of this story question by question, I cannot rationalize where that first spark of curiosity came from. I can attribute my own imagination as the source that fleshed out the answers to all the questions that surrounded this line of dialogue.

But where did that first line of dialogue come from?

I know it didn’t come from me.

Damn you, Elizabeth Gilbert.

But also bless you, for convincing me to not give up on the idea that wouldn’t go away.

Now the hard work begins.

Thanks, Motherhood: I can handle rejection now.

As I’m rummaging through my desk drawer looking for stamps, my fingers brush against a small stack of envelopes, joined with a paperclip. It takes a moment to place it.

It’s a stack of rejection slips from literary agents. They are half-sheets of paper, a few of them with torn rather than cut edges. Most of them are typed and unsigned. One looks to be a copy of a copy of a copy. Then, torn and left unsigned.

Why keep these?

A smattering of the nicer rejection letters

A smattering of the nicer rejection letters

Because they were the only agents who took the time to send me a rejection in the mail. The rejection emails have been buried and lost in my overflowing inbox years ago.

It’s been six years since I’ve finished my novel, Two Ways to Pray. I could work on rewriting my query letter and send out another batch. But it won’t change the truth that I’m unpublished and lacking pedigree, credentials, and formal training.

In short, I am a huge risk.

I wrote the novel in question in a fury from 2006 to 2009, mostly during breaks from teaching, at the university where I was an adjunct instructor. I wrote four drafts, amounting to about 1,000 single-spaced pages. I wrote because I loved the story. I wrote even though I wasn’t sure anyone would read it.

And I wrote it in such a fury because I was quite sure that once I had children, I’d never have time to write again. That seemed to be the consensus among parents—do what you want now… because once you have kids…


An old draft of Two Ways to Pray–I know by the amateur single-spacing and left-justified margins

In the first year of writing the novel, I wanted to be a talented writer, someone whose prose was notable. Even memorable.

In the second year, I wanted to be a well-known writer, someone whose stories you couldn’t put down, but who may not necessarily have the literary admiration of her peers.

In the year that I finished the novel, I decided that I didn’t mind being that author who would successfully publish just one book and whose name was always forgotten when people talked about it at parties. Oh! Yes! I did read that. Got a copy at the library. Who wrote that again?

My aspirations sunk lower and lower after I started querying agents and our mailbox became a revolving door of SASEs and rejections slips. I knew it was going to happen. Everyone gets rejected! This is a tough business! they all had said. And frankly, it was a business that I knew nothing about but… damn them! They were right.

So did I stop writing?

No. Because I can’t. I love it too much. I’m like that with things that I love. I just can’t give them up. (Like those ill-fitting sweaters that took me months to knit–and now sit in a drawer.)

And I love to write—especially if I thought it could help others. Is it strange that? The fact that–for me–writing took the shape of ministry to others? I’m sure there’s some vanity involved in it, but I knew that I would keep doing it even if I never earn a cent from it.

So I put the novel away.

And I kept writing.

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided to put to rest the idea of publishing my novel in the near future. Even if a publisher were interested in it, I had lost my zeal to work on it. And I couldn’t see a future in which I had enough time to revise a novel with the guidance of an agent and walk it through publication—while being a mother.

What was the novel about?

A mother and a daughter.

Funny. Life is funny.


And yes, that is part of one of the sweaters that now sits in a drawer (circa 2011)

I realize now that even though I had tried to put on the lens of a mother in my novel in order to write a believable mother, I was still imagining a mother’s thoughts and motivations and fears through the eyes of a daughter. I had only ever been a daughter. What I knew about motherhood was secondhand perception. It was guesswork, even if it were good guesswork.

But then a bigger realization.

What I didn’t know about motherhood—until about three months into it—was that it is remarkable training for handling rejection.

The constant sting of reality slapping my previous expectations in the face. Over and over again.

That cozy nook I had planned for nursing my infant? Turned out to be a torture throne for post-birth hemorrhoids. Move on.

The house is an utter disaster and the fridge is empty? Order pizza and call one of those eager volunteers to help with laundry and dishes. No pride left here. We left it at the hospital with those cans of formula that we found out we were going to desperately need when breastfeeding crushed us.

All of that mental and emotional twisting and breaking humbled me. And then humbled me some more. And what it left was a version of myself that didn’t mind so much when things didn’t live up to my own expectations.

Oh well.

Life goes on.

Because in the next hour, there will be new problems and issues that require my attention. I don’t have the time anymore to dwell and dwell, as my ISFJ personality is so prone to do. There are constant demands for my energy in this present moment, so why waste any of it on stuff I can’t fix?

Growth is good.

I probably won’t be as well-known as Jodi Picoult and I probably won’t achieve the literary mastery of Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates, but I can say that I finally believe that I have written a book that will connect with someone. It took me eight years, a few thousand pages, the birth of a child, and a complete identity shift, but I feel that I have something to offer the world now.

As I (finally!) read through the September/October 2014 edition of Poets & Writers, I read and reread a few lines of Rufi Thorpe’s article called “The Perversity of Spirit.” She writes:

“Talent is the least important thing about a writer, compared to a love of books, which must be deep and abiding. The only other thing a writer needs is perversity of spirit, the emotional equivalent of a cartoon creature’s bouncy springiness, so that after being run over or blown up—or, in the case of the writer, rejected and then rejected some more—the writer is irrationally unfazed by even the most valid criticism and continues with the work of being a writer, magically unharmed.”

Perhaps someday I’ll return to my novel about a mother and a daughter. Not now, but maybe someday.

Right now, each line of that novel is colored with the voice of the daughter—and what I imagined a mother might think. But if I were ever able to re-write the mother’s voice, what a great book that would be. To intertwine two authentic voices, inspired by two different headspaces in my life.

But right now, I look up to see my daughter playing with some blocks on the floor of her room. I’m sitting in the glider.

Feet propped up.

Appreciating how many nights of interrupted sleep, how many feedings, how many moments of desperation have led to this moment of calm.

I’ve just been able to read an article in a magazine with just a few interruptions.

I know that in about ten minutes, she’ll want a snack or she’ll need a diaper change or she’ll decide to start pulling all the books off a shelf. But right now, she is content to sit with her blocks. This moment is well-earned and so I appreciate it so much more.

And that is how I feel that it is with writing. Hard work. Self-doubt. But in time, a moment of satisfaction.

Like this post? Check out previous posts here.


Mother’s Day, 2015

%d bloggers like this: