Ann Hood

I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a parent whose baby dictated their life. I wanted kids to be part of the life I’d built, because I thought I built a really fun, exciting life.

CW: Child loss


(February 2, 2021) Ann Hood is the New York Times best-selling author of 14 novels, 4 memoirs, a short story collection, a 10-book series for middle readers, and 1 young adult novel. Her essays and short stories have appeared in many journals, magazines, and anthologies, including The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Tin House. She is a regular contributor to the Home Economics column in The New York Times Op-Ed page, and her most recent work is Kitchen Yarns, published with W.W. Norton and Company in early 2019. She is a faculty member in the MFA in Creative Writing program at The New School in New York City and lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and their children. She describes writer-motherhood in three words as “best thing ever.”

FROM THE EPISODE: READING LIST & REFERENCES

Ann Hood’s website
Ann’s books
Ann’s essay “The Boys of Summer,” NYT
Ann’s Craft Talks

Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference
The Lehman Trilogy
Election
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Raymond Carver
Anne Tyler
The Addams Family
Charles Addams cartoons
The Beatles
The Pushcart Prize
Yaddo
Transformers
Raising Arizona
Labor Day, edited by Eleanor Henderson
Wanting a Child, edited by Helen Schulman and Jill Bialosky
“Hamlet and His Problems,” T.S. Eliot on objective correlative
Hair
Andre Dubus III
Laura Lippman


sound bites

I’ve always loved to travel, so it seemed kind of natural to become a flight attendant. I wanted to be a writer. I thought, well, if I’m a flight attendant, I will surely have adventures that will give me more things to write about.

I loved my 20s. I was the happiest flight attendant. I was writing. I sold my book in my 20s. I just couldn’t see how kids would fit into my life. I had a long-term boyfriend who I adored, and we had this very distant, fuzzy idea of having kids someday, but it wasn’t something we talked about a lot or planned. I never had that biological clock ticking thing. Once I decided to have a baby, then I was all on board, and it wasn’t a hard decision. Once I had one, I wanted, like, five. I just loved it.

Because I was a writer for so long without children, I used to do whatever I wanted when I wanted. If I wanted to stay up all night writing, that was fine. If I wanted to lock myself away for a few days and finish a project, that was fine. If I wanted to drink in the afternoon, that was fine. Anything was fine! And all of a sudden, it’s like, oh my goodness, this is gonna be a challenge.

I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a parent whose baby dictated their life. I wanted kids to be part of the life I had built, because I thought I built this really fun, exciting life, and I thought they should fit into it. From the time my son was a baby, I was taking him all over the world with me. I was taking him on book tours. These things have got to coexist. I put him in those little chairs that you can bounce and bounced it with my foot and wrote my novels or essays or whatever I was working on.

“I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a parent whose baby dictated their life. I wanted kids to be part of the life I had built, because I thought I built this really fun, exciting life, and I thought they should fit into it.”

When I was in labor, I was judging the Barnes and Noble First Book Award.

I think pretty quickly, once my son was past being a toddler and went off to two hours three times a week to school, I retrained to myself to write when those hours opened up. I think so many women do that. I read an essay by Anne Tyler once in which she said that she would take her kids to school in her pajamas, get them out of the car, and run home to write and then pick them up. You know, all the other moms were like, “Are you still doing that writing thing?” Because she wouldn’t sit around and chat, because she knew she had that many hours. I think a lot of women who are writers and mothers have learned to do that same thing. It’s like nap time–okay I can write. Or a play date, I can write for three hours or whatever.

After Grace died, I didn’t write for about two years. I remember a really wise writer friend of mine said, “Of course you can’t write, because we write to make sense of things, and there is no sense to what happened.” Your mind can’t even try to make sense of it.

I sat down, and I wrote on post-it notes all the facets of grief. Then I looked at them all, and I chose the ones that I thought were the most interesting and created a character to sort of reflect that emotion. I had hope and love and resignation and regret, and then I made up characters to personify those things. And that was The Knitting Circle.

Over the course of writing The Knitting Circle and when it first came out, I would have this idea about grief, as if I figured out one little, tiny piece of it. I’d write an essay about that little, tiny piece.

I’ve had so many people—hundreds, maybe more—say, “You’re expressing what I don’t know how to say,” or “You wrote about something that I couldn’t explain,” or people would say they gave the book to their mother or friend or husband. For me, that made it worthwhile to talk about it, although it’s always hard.

Before I had children, I still wrote about motherhood, I think because I’m so family-oriented, and I came from a big family. The thing that interests me is relationships between mothers and daughters; sisters—I don’t even have a sister, but women. More than love stories, I like the women’s stories. Every time I would write a book, my mother would say to me, “Another bad mother. Everybody’s gonna think I’m the worst mother. I don’t like that.” They’re not bad mothers; they’re flawed. Once I had kids, I’m not sure my writing changed that much, except I was a better writer. I think I could explore things more deeply.

I kind of saw motherhood as a grand adventure, which I think it is. There were times, especially when Sam and Grace were little, when I can remember being in a grocery store, and they were just off the wall, being bad and running. I remember thinking, “No, this isn’t what this is supposed to be. I don’t like this part.” They were pretty much all good kids and did what they were supposed to do and were creative and fun. I had a lot of fun with them, but there were those moments when it was like, this isn’t what I signed up for. But mostly, I just always thought of it as an adventure.

When my kids were little, I would say, “You can’t come in this room for an hour.” I think it gets easier when they’re older.

“When my kids were little, I would say, ‘You can’t come in this room for an hour.'”

By the time I had my first kid, I already had written six books and I had columns in magazines. I was always working. But I have so many women students who feel guilty writing because they don’t think they’ve earned it, because they haven’t published yet. I’ve had women tell me that their husbands have said they could write for one year, and if you don’t finish it or the book doesn’t sell, then it’s not for you. We know that’s not how writing or publishing works. It makes me feel bad that in 2021, women are still feeling guilty about their dream or their work or their passion.

“It makes me feel bad that in 2021, women are still feeling guilty about their dream or their work or their passion.”

From when Sam was quite young, I was always a firm believer in the babysitter. We lived right near Brown University, and they just had a bulletin board with little paper you ripped off. I called up every kid, like, “Come. I need to work.” I think it’s great for your kid to be with a teenager. I would say we’re still very close to probably 60 to 70 percent of those babysitters.

Work—and your passion—don’t always make money. We will not be valued unless we value ourselves and what we’re doing, and I always saw the value in my writing time. I used to take my kids on book tours with me because I wanted them to see what I do. I wanted them to see that people show up. Sometimes there’s 4 people in the room, and sometimes it’s 400 people. I always wanted them to see it.

“Work—and your passion—don’t always make money. We will not be valued unless we value ourselves and what we’re doing. If you see your writing as worthwhile, then it is.”

If you see your writing as worthwhile, then it is.

I think my son completely loves that I’m a writer because it allowed him to pursue acting. I never once said, “You can’t major in theater” or “You’re wasting your time” or “That’s your hobby.” He wanted to be an actor, and I got it, because I’m an artist, too. He was shocked when someone said to him once, “Your mother’s gonna let you major in theater in college?” He couldn’t imagine that someone wouldn’t.

My kids appreciate what I do. I can I hear, when they introduce me to their friends, that they’re proud because they know it’s hard to be a writer, that you sit with nothing and you make something.

“It’s hard to be a writer, that you sit with nothing and you make something.”

Creating Community for Writer-Moms, with Scribente Maternum

“I’m for women being just a little bit selfish.”

Carla du pree

scribente maternum

In this special episode, “Creating Community for Writer-Moms,” the founders of Scribente Maternum offer actionable advice for seeking out, creating, and participating in writer-mom communities. The panel features Rachel Berg Scherer, Carla du Pree, Caytie Pohlen-LaClare, and Elizabeth Doerr, whose bios can be found at the bottom of this page. Scribente Maternum is a community of writers that explores our emotions as mothers, provides space to recharge, facilitates connections with other writers, and inspires personal and collective action. The organization hosts an annual retreat in February.

Read the bios of this episode’s panelists at the bottom of this page.
Learn more about Scribente Maternum here.


EPISODE RESOURCES

Scribente Maternum website
Scribente Maternum February retreat
CityLit Project
Better Smarter Stronger
AWP Conference


SOUND BITES

An awesome tension exists between being the on-call parent and a creative professional.

Rachel Berg Sherer

There’s a unique dichotomy of being both inspired by and distracted by our children. We created Scribente Maternum to live with that balance and find the time to still be creative and be moms.

Rachel Berg Sherer

You’re always a mother, and you’re always a writer–even when you’re not actually doing the act of writing. You’re always thinking about these different personalities and how they show up in the world, how they announce themselves. My mom used to say: “When children are young, they’re around your feet, and as they grow older, they’re around your heart.”

Carla Du Pree

“You’re always a mother, and you’re always a writer–even when you’re not actually doing the act of writing.” — Carla Du Pree

When we talk about balance, it’s not ever exactly 50/50; you’re going to give more time to your children, and your writing is going to drop down for a while, but then you might have times when you can do a little bit more writing. It’s a give and take.

Caytie Pohlen LaClare

“I learned that if I was happy, my kids would be happy. If I fed my spirit, it meant that I could feed theirs.” — Carla Du Pree

I like to change the concept of what is writing. Writing can be the physical act of writing. Writing also means paying attention, observing the world in a different way, listening to people with a different ear, taking time to really absorb and observe what’s around you. That’s writing to me, and it’s not necessarily something you have to pinpoint or structure.

Carla Du Pree

“Listen to children, the way everything is new to them. They’re like walking scribes. We have to listen and pay attention and be in that moment with them.” — Carla Du Pree

I’ve become a better writer in some ways since having a kid because I’m paying attention to what he’s observing in the world. As adults, we take some of the things going on in the world for granted. When we travel with my kid, he notices things that I would have walked right past. That’s a huge example of how they are sources of inspiration. If we see the world through their eyes, they’re our viewpoint and inspiration.

Elizabeth Doerr

I’ve become so much more efficient since I had children. My whole process has changed. I find myself outlining entire essays in my head when I’m with small children and don’t have time to sit and write. I have an ongoing notes app on my phone, where I quickly type when something comes to mind.

Rachel Berg Sherer

I’m very externally motivated, so having a group that holds me accountable, with deadlines, is how I will force myself to make time to write. The time is there; it’s just a matter of looking for it.

Elizabeth Doerr

Writing with a baby or toddler is different than writing with elementary or high school kids. That’s the biggest thing to keep in mind: It continues to evolve. And just when you think you’ve got it down, it changes again, because your kids are in a new stage as well.

Caytie Pohlen LaClare

“Motherhood is messy. You will not be perfect, but life isn’t either. And neither is writing. Quite frankly, that first draft is usually horrible.” — Carla Du Pree

When we started Scribente Maternum, we wanted a real space where mothers could embrace their motherhood and the idea of rage in motherhood—because there is that, too. Like, “How dare you take up all this time, when all I want to do is this one little thing.”

Carla Du Pree

It’s a wonderful thing to find a writer who really identifies with the way you write or a poet whose work you really want to support and become writer friends or literary friends from that. There are all kinds of ways to build community.

Carla Du Pree

Being a parent can be isolating, and being a writer can be isolating. It’s so important to have a place you can go where other people have similar experiences and can offer encouragement. Knowing that somebody else is going through the same thing helps you feel like a part of that group, and not so alone in your individual world.

Caytie Pohlen LaClare

I think of mothers always as creative beings. You created a miracle. You have so much to offer, and it’s so important to hear your stories. When I think about black mothers writing, I remember I was on a goose hunt, trying to find stories that had characters that look like my children. I’m supporting every writer of color, every black mother, every mother, period. We need to hear your stories. Your children need to read them. I’m for women being just a little bit selfish.

Carla Du Pree

“I’m for women being just a little bit selfish.” — Carla Du Pree

My son was older when he read my work. He was stunned. He had this idea of who I was, but he didn’t know writer me. And I’ll never forget, he walked into the room, and he said, “Mom, this is you?”

Carla Du Pree

We’re better parents when we set aside time for ourselves, like the metaphor of securing your own oxygen mask before you try to help somebody else. You can’t help anybody if you are exhausted, if you’re depleted, if you’re not fulfilled, if you’re resentful because these tiny humans are taking everything you have. We’re better mothers when we step away and do what we need to do to make ourselves feel whole.

Rachel Berg Sherer

“We’re better parents when we set aside time for ourselves, like the metaphor of securing your own oxygen mask before you try to help somebody else.” — Rachel Berg Sherer

You’re not alone. Wherever you are out there, wherever you are on your journey, you’re not alone. There are other people going through the same thing, so reach out.

Caytie Pohlen LaClare

episode panelists

Rachel Berg Sherer

Rachel has worked in public relations and communications, everywhere from from Capitol Hill to an order of nuns, taught tenth-grade English, and coaching Speech. She is the founder of Midwest Writing and Editing and writes a regular Feminist Parenting column for Rebellious Magazine for Women. Her work been featured in Solstice Literary Magazine and Minnesota Parent magazine. Rachel and her family live in Minnesota.

Carla Du Pree

Carla Du Pree is a fiction writer, a Maryland state arts ambassador, and the executive director of CityLit Project, a nonprofit that creates enthusiasm for literature. She’s a recipient of fellowships from Hedgebrook, Rhode Island Writers Colony for Writers of Color, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She’s won a Rubys Artist Grant and an MSAC Individual Artist Award for her fiction. Carla was awarded NASAA’s 2020 inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Individual award, and she is the Maryland State Department of Education’s Arts Leader for April 2020. Carla lives in Baltimore and is the mother of three twenty-something-year-olds and the grandma of a six-year-old grandson. 

Caytie Pohlen LaClare

With Better Smarter Stronger, Caytie merges her purpose and passion into an organization that provides inspiration and education. Caytie lives in the Minneapolis area with her two sons and husband. Caytie also has two grown children and one new grandbaby. Her writing journey has been mostly for personal enjoyment, but she has also recently started writing more blog posts and marketing materials for her businesses.

 

Elizabeth Doerr

Elizabeth Doerr is a freelance writer who helps justice and equity-focused professionals and brands tell their stories. She won a Maryland/Delaware/DC Press Association award for her 2015 Baltimore City Paper story about street harassment, “Stop Calling Me ‘Baby.” You can find her work in CityLabPortland Monthly, and Baltimore City Paper among other publications. Elizabeth worked in higher education in the realm of experiential and social justice education for over a decade and she has frequently put her organizational and spreadsheet skills to work through event management. Elizabeth in Portland, OR, with her husband and son. www.elizabethdoerr.com