With the big annual ladyblogger lovefest that is BlogHer starting this weekend, I’ve been thinking about how writers are portrayed on the Big Screen. Seems to me that writers in movies are often—almost always—men, with just the right amount of bearded scruff and tortured psyche. They often smoke, sit in coffee houses or garret apartments, and dress all hot-shabby. (See Johnny Depp, Bradley Cooper, and Ewan McGregor.) About the only woman writer I can think of in the movies lately is Virginia Woolf played by Nicole Kidman, and that movie somehow became about Nicole’s fake nose, or the Diane Keaton character in Something’s Gotta Give, and the minute you saw the all-white interiors of her house in the Nancy Meyers movie, you knew it was all just a fantasy anyway.
Which is weird, because when I think of working writers I know, a lot of them look exactly like the thousands of women descending on Chicago for BlogHer: moms who write. In fact, motherhood may be the possible best training ground for writing, and here’s why:
The monotony is deadly, but unavoidable. Yes, there are moments when your child makes you a beautiful painting or discovers that he is good at soccer or cleans up the kitchen without being asked – those are the starburst moments of motherhood. Similarly, writers are sometimes blessed with a turn of phrase that perfectly captures what they are trying to say, or imagery that lends a psychic punch to the point being made, or a fantastic kernel of an idea for the main characters’ motivation.
But most of the time? Drudgery. Loading dishes in the dishwasher day after day after day is the same as typing 500 words of crap that will later have to be edited down to six good ones. It’s monotonous, but unavoidable. Who better than a mom to know how to power through the Resistance?
The rejection is constant, but necessary. Ok, not for you mothers of boys between the ages of four and seven – we all know those are the most loving creatures in the world. But once you have tweens and teens, it is simply part of your job description to be rejected as they pull away and form their own beings, growing up and independent.
It’s perfect training for when you take the leap to submit your work to editors who may reject it with the inscrutable “not a fit” or a silence more ominous than a teen behind a closed bedroom door. The rejections hurt, but if you’re not getting them, then you’re really not doing your job. You can repeat that mantra to yourself for both parenting and writing, if you like.
Your back will kill you. Carrying a 20 pound toddler on your hip while cooking dinner can give your spine a curve worse than Deenie’s. Guess what else will? Sitting at your keyboard for 6-9-12 hours per day. If you’re lucky, your toddler spine pain and your writer spine pain will cancel each other out.
You need to be comfortable with a Long Term Vision. A book that takes five years to write, from initial idea to publication–if you’re lucky? That’s nothing compared to the eighteen (ok, twenty-five. Ok, forty) years that it takes to nurture your baby to adulthood. Keeping your eyes on the prize is part of both job descriptions.
The money is awful, but the rewards are priceless. My niece spent a summer as a counselor at a sleepaway camp once and calculated that if she’d been paid by the hour, she would have been earning something like $0.11 every sixty minutes. I don’t dare do the math on either mothering or writing, since I don’t want find out that I was out-earned by a twenty-two year old.
And yet I happily re-up both contracts every single morning when I wake up. Motherhood, and writing, both have a knack of making you redefine success in a way that just can’t be captured on a balance sheet.
Hey! Angry Pearl Jam is back. I miss the ukeleles, but this brand new single from their upcoming album “Lightning Bolt” is pretty tight, like ’80s punk rock. And who among us MotherWriters hasn’t stage whispered the title of this song before?