In this month’s Literary Reflection’s essay, Andrea Lani identifies some of the challenges of writing about motherhood while mothering. Rather than dwelling on her personal writing struggles, she situates the general struggle of mother-writers in a literary-historical context. To write for the sake of self-reflection is one thing; to write for the public is quite another. In addition to a shortage of mother-centered literary models, mother-writers are in a difficult position when it comes to striking the right tone:
“Mother writers also face challenges in portraying their own emotional extremes. In her essay ‘Talking about Mothers,’ Sara Ruddick addresses this danger: ‘In writing as in living, it is difficult to describe the pleasures of motherhood without sentimentality, to discuss the inevitable pain without false pathos, to balance the grim and the satisfying aspects and to speak of each honestly.’ Having been accused of ‘sweetness’ and ‘sentimentality’ in my work, I am acutely aware of this balancing act, and have found in others’ work that one way to avoid the perception of sentimentality when writing about the heart-moving aspects of motherhood is to use fresh imagery and figurative language, to say things in a way that no other writer has before.”
Which of the challenges Lani addresses resonate most with you? What helps you do your best work as a mother-writer? What do you think is required to make writing about motherhood artistically honest and engrossing rather than sappy and dull–or, on the other hand, artificially edgy?
Submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by May 19 for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflectionsATliterarymamaDOTcom and note “The Mother As She Writes” in your subject line. We’ll publish our favorites on the blog.