Last month, we invited readers to share their response to a writing prompt inspired by Barbara Rockman’s essay, “Motherpoet: Boon of the Parallel Journey.” We asked readers to tell us how other women writers have shaped and guided their writing. Below is Daniela Loose’s response.
“How does she do it?” I asked myself, frustrated. I was sitting at my desk, pen in hand, looking at one of Anne Lamott’s essays. I was trying to pull aside the veil to find out what makes her writing special. Lamott’s unique way of capturing life and parenting makes me smile and nod. She never veers toward the sentimental. “Take out the lies,” she said in a recent tweet about her own writing. That’s easy to say.
I’ve never been as lonely as I was when I was a new parent. I lived in a new city, six time zones away from my family, and had to manage motherhood in a new culture. While I understood the language, I had no friends. Conversations were minefields to which everyone else had a map. There, rules of what mothers are allowed to say are rigid, albeit arbitrary, and I feared breaking them and suffering the meted-out punishment. I did what generations of women have done before me: I plastered a smile on my face and said something bland and soothing. To find a tribe of like-minded women, I fled to essays, which provided me with the support I needed and helped me to hone my skills as a writer.
My favorite essayists are not afraid to peel back the layers of aspirations, perfectionism, and fear and tell us their truth. They take their readers by the hand and guide us through their world, show us the sights, and leave us on the other side a little different from who we were before. They don’t hide their wounds or messes, but share them, relying on us readers to understand them. Good writing requires trusting the readers, which seems an almost insurmountable mountain top for an anxious person like me who is desperate for approval.
I treat good essays like lab specimens: I peer at them through a microscope, scalpel in hand ready to dissect. But they don’t give up their secrets: there are no magic sentences or words sprinkled with pixie dust. Like expensive jewelry, good writing is deceptively simple, each diamond word selected and arranged into exquisite order on the page. Compared to that, my writing resembles a preschooler’s drawing, which only imagination and a large dose of unconditional maternal love can turn into art. The pen still rests uncomfortably in my hand while my my lips still mouth the words as I write and hope that someone will like it.
On the many days when writing isn’t going well, I resent Anne Lamott for making it look easy. That’s when I put away my work and reread my favorite essays to search for the magic formula. So far, I haven’t found it: good writing isn’t about sentence lengths or adverbs, but about having the courage and honesty to tell a story. Until I can summon the courage, my writing will remain clumsy drawings fit only for display on the refrigerator.
Daniela Loose is a teacher and a writer. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Club Mid at Scary Mommy, Mothers Always Write, and other publications. She lives in New England.