Tips for the Mother-Writer

By Carolina De Robertis

This list began as a series of notes to myself, things I’ve needed to hear these first four years as a mother-writer. I hope something here can be of use to you as well. (As for you fathers, or you writers-not-parents or even artists-not-parents, I see you too; feel free to find resonance here as well.)

1. These aren’t rules. There are no rules. You’re a writer and mother, so mother and write.

2. You don’t always have to love the journey.

3. Love the journey.

4. A paragraph written with spit-up on your shirt will look no worse in print.

5. Hide from your children. The bathroom is good. Caves are good. Child care is better than diamonds (hint, hint, partners, relatives, friends).

6. Take yourself seriously.


Sometimes, my friends, the baby gets to The New Yorker before you do.

7. Steal time to write.

8. Keep your sense of humor. Rinse. Repeat.

9. Read. It’s hard to make the time, I know, I know. But don’t skip it. That’s like a pro athlete who skips exercise. Or a chef with anorexia. Reading is the essential foundation of the love affair with language that lets you make art.

10. Steal time to read.

11. And sometimes you can’t read. Sometimes there’s barely enough energy left to get your teeth brushed before collapsing on the bed without pulling back the covers. I know. Relax. You’re still a writer.

12. Did you hear that? You’re still a writer.

13. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and books are a bit like cities. Try not to get overwhelmed by all the skyscrapers left to erect. Recognize the brick you laid today.

14. When you can’t read: they, too, are text. Your children. They are wondrous and complex enough to leave Homer speechless. You know this, don’t you? So “read” your children. Drink them in. Let them fill the well.

15. Sometimes, when you think that the Muses have abandoned you forever, it’s really just sleep deprivation, and will pass.

16. Sleep. It’s medicine. Steal time to sleep.

17. Take yourself seriously.

18. It’s even possible that the Muses, whatever they are and however you understand them, love that you’re a mother, too. And that therefore they’ll be extra kind to you and hold your visions with extra care until you’re ready. (Is this true? I don’t know. But if the notion works, use it.)

19. Use everything. Your children are dazzling human founts of inspiration. So is motherhood. Even the hard parts. Especially the hard parts. Who knows how you’ll draw on them one day.


In 2009, two months into motherhood. (Note that baby’s nails need cutting. Possibly, because I was writing.)

20. If you’re reading this at a computer, if you’re decently sheltered from the elements, if you feed your kids nutritious food every day, then you’re more fortunate than the majority of the world’s population. You have so much. So, go on, give thanks. And write.

21. Think of all the female ancestors you have in your lineage who secretly burned to write but who, for so many reasons, could not. How many of them? Hundreds? Thousands? Can you imagine their joy that you are here, writing?

22. See #6 (and #17).

23. You are breaking the pattern of centuries if not millennia in which literature was the realm of men and childrearing the realm of women, and it was considered laughable if not downright seditious to strive, as a woman, to do both. You shatter the glass ceiling, not only for yourself, but for future generations of mother-writers, and all the readers that will benefit from their voices. This kicks ass.

24. You are breaking the patterns of centuries if not millennia, etc, etc (see #23). So for God’s sake, go easy on yourself.

25. Your road is full and messy and radiant and unscripted and, quite possibly, perfect.

26. They don’t have to be in conflict, writing and mothering. That’s actually the false construction of a patriarchal (yes, I said it) society. The fact is that writing and mothering are two good roads, nothing more, nothing less. And they are not separate roads, because you exist—because they twine together in you.

(Note: This blog has been reprinted from the author’s website.)

carolina-de-robertisCarolina De Robertis is the internationally bestselling author of Perla and The Invisible Mountain, which was a Best Book of 2009 according to the San Francisco Chronicle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and BookList. She is the recipient of Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize and a 2012 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. Her writings and literary translations have appeared in Zoetrope: Allstory, Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is also the translator of Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai, which was just made into a feature film, and Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.


2 thoughts on “Tips for the Mother-Writer

  1. Pingback: Calling All Stonecoast Faculty Blog Readers: We Want to Hear From You! | Stonecoast Faculty Blog

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