Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Victoria Livingstone’s Exhaustion and Rest: Motherhood and Creativity and Linda Collins’s Write of Passage: Telling a Daughter’s Story. We asked, “Has motherhood impacted your creativity in unexpected ways? Has observing your children’s approach to life or listening to their comments about it changed your focus?” Below is Robin Lentz Worgan’s response.
There’s a moment with Winnie during her senior year in high school that sticks out for me.
It begins when I pick her up from her guitar lesson. She gets into our black Volkswagen and places her leather case, covered in images of Buddha and surf stickers, in the back seat. “How’d it go?” I ask.
I watch her shoulders tighten, her fingers pulling on colorful string bracelets as she replies. “Terrible. I have so much to do. I have so much I still need to learn.”
Winnie is not a talker by nature. She is often content with silence on these weekly car rides. I wait, wondering if she will tell me about a song she needs to learn, a chord progression, or possibly something more intricate that I do not understand.
We pass a CVS and later the woods where Winnie hikes with her grandfather. Then it comes. “I should be further along with my music theory and I need more time to work on my songwriting, too.”
“Well, just carve out some time each day,” I reply, feeling proud that I can easily offer advice.
“But I do better with longer sessions instead of short ones every day,” she says. “I need big chunks of time to work on my music. You know my friend, Greg? He just does it every day after school for two hours. I have so much homework and college applications and other things on my mind that when I do finally get to work on my music, it takes me a while to get focused, so I want to keep going.”
I’m about to move into autopilot mom mode again and offer more easy advice about how Winnie can practice daily when I notice her blue eyes turn toward me, her lips folded in, waiting patiently for my response. I pause and think about her words, and in that moment I realize that as a writer, I empathize with Winnie’s artistic needs. Suddenly, I find myself listening to her as a creative being, not just my daughter, for the first time.
“I get that,” I tell her. And I do. Mondays—all day—have been my sacred writing time for the past twelve years.
Though this has been my practice, I was not always confident that putting pen to paper just one day a week qualified me as a “real” writer. Most books I’ve read suggest a morning routine. In his craft memoir, On Writing, Stephen King advocates starting each day with writing, as he does, and in a recent interview, author Patti Smith said she wrote from 5:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m. when her children were little. I was never able to do this. With fits and starts, I tried to create a daily practice. I made schedules and tried to stick to them for a few weeks, finding that I got barely anything done. After many attempts and admonishments, I realized that in order to be productive, I needed to melt into my writing world, settle in, and stay there for a while.
On my writing day I begin by reading some essays or poems. I may scribble in my journal and follow with prayer or meditation, then I may work on a piece for a few hours. I often take a long walk, all the while taking notes and recording ideas on my phone. I then come back to my desk and start again. Soon I am fully immersed in this other world, what I call my Neverland of writing. I’m so comfortable with my black pens and cups of tea and late afternoon treat of hot chocolate with whipped cream that I don’t want to return to real life. On Mondays I don’t think about chores or obligatory phone calls or friendly phone calls or bills or cleaning, all things that block my creative muse. I simply write.
Yet here I am offering Winnie the advice that didn’t help me.
“No, really, I get it. I need longer sessions, too,” I tell her. I’m about to launch into my own writing practice wisdom when I remind myself I don’t need to. Winnie understands the boundaries she needs to build for her muse, and as I turn to look at her, I see she’s closed her eyes. I hear her voice singing along to Adele and I remain silent. Don’t want to interrupt Neverland.
Robin Lentz Worgan lives, writes, reads, hikes, and rollerblades in Flourtown, Pennsylvania with her husband and two of her four children. Her work has been published in ADDitude and Brain, Child Magazines, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and other local publications and anthologies. Her essay, “Nana’s Fried Tomatoes,” appeared on Literary Mama’s Blog in 2018. She teaches Grief Journaling and Spiritual Writing classes and is the author of Journaling Away Mommy’s Grief: A Book and Journal for Mothers after a Stillbirth or Infant Loss (Grief Illustrated Press, 2010.) She is currently pitching her first YA novel Sunshine and Beige to agents.