Beth Ann Fennelly

Our view of motherhood is still this post-romantic vision of the mom feeling nothing but bliss for her child, completely content in the relationship, desiring nothing more. I think portraying motherhood that way allows new mothers, in particular, to feel like they’re insane.

(February 25, 2021) Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi, is a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow and teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi. She has received grants and awards from the N.E.A., the United States Artists, a Pushcart, and a Fulbright to Brazil, and has published three books of poetry: Open HouseTender Hooks, and Unmentionables, all with W. W. Norton. Beth Ann’s poetry has been in over fifty anthologies, including Best American Poetry and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, and in textbooks. She is also the author of a book of essays, Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother. Beth Ann lives with her husband and their three children in Oxford, Mississippi, and describes writer-motherhood in 3 words as, “monstrous, magical, mind-bending.”


Beth Ann Fennelly’s website
Beth Ann’s Books
Beth Ann’s Washington Post article about her mother, “As the pandemic raged, my independent mother’s memory worsened, her isolation increased — and I was far away”
Emily Dickinson, “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?”
Denise Duhamel, “Bulimia”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

sound bites

“I just want to go back to a barter society where if I want a hamburger, I’ll write you a haiku.”

When you’re a writer, you get used to being vulnerable and honest, and I really value honesty. I’m interested in explicating my emotions to try to figure out what the truth is and valuing the truth almost above anything else.

When I was in high school, a Catholic, all-girls boarding school, writing was something you did to be a lady. It was like a finishing school thing. We weren’t exposed to contemporary writing or poetry at all. The only Emily Dickinson poem we read was, “I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too?”

I remember reading a poem by Denise Duhamel about a bulimic woman eating a wedding cake, and it was so shocking to me that there was vomit in a poem. I just couldn’t believe that someone had written something that was so intimate and personal and revealing. It was a door into the path that I was going to follow, where I wasn’t interested in any type of mask. I was interested in figuring out how I feel and how other people feel and what we’re doing here on planet Earth.

I memorize poems and recite them to myself and train my ear through the art of hearing the words coming up my windpipe and out of my mouth. Writing is physical—as physical and rhythmic as dancing. Human beings are rhythmic creatures; our patterns of eating and breathing and sleeping and making love. When we’re writing, we’re putting our bodies back in touch with the old ways, the rhythmic, natural world, and finding pleasure there.

Before I was a mom, when I wanted to write, I had to have my desk clean and my favorite pen and the right mental space. Now, looking back, it was so precious to me. When I became a mom and my time got so attenuated and condensed into these weird little pockets, I would lunge into any opening that presented itself. I didn’t care if my desk was clean. I didn’t even notice.

Motherhood allowed me to focus more quickly because I only had these pockets of time. I didn’t waste time. I was able to get more quickly into the heart of something.

Motherhood made me a deeper human being. I don’t think you have to become a mom to be a deeper human being; there are plenty of people who choose not to, or can’t, become moms. For me, personally, I think it deepens my connection to history, to genealogy, to the future, and to the past, and it made me feel more a part of the world around me. That was ultimately beneficial for my writing.

I’m a research-type person, a Type-A, an A student, so when I got pregnant, I thought, “I want to be really good mom—I want to get an A—so I’ll just study. I’ll read. I’ll approach it like a Ph.D. exam.” I read the books so when my daughter would come, I would have no questions; I would have this nailed. And of course, I was completely unprepared, emotionally and psychologically, for all the shifts that I was going through. I was filled with questions. Writing is the best method of articulating my questions to myself and trying to understand my own emotions. I think it’s hard work to know how you feel in a certain situation. I use words to help me do that work.

I’m trying to explore some of the funnier parts of motherhood, which is not written about all that much, maybe because it’s a private space, but it’s also a sacred space and a romanticized and frequently sentimentalized space, which is dangerous. To sentimentalize something is to simplify it and weaken it. I write about some of the complexity of motherhood, and there’s a lot about it that’s funny, because we’re only allowed to talk about certain parts of it in a way that’s socially acceptable.

It turns out, despite my best intentions, I’m always going to be circling around motherhood but through different genres, approaches, and names.

I wrote this tiny piece about the first day at daycare, when my daughter comes home smelling like another woman’s perfume. I had this sense of betrayal, of jealousy that another woman had held her that close. That’s a crazy, crazy emotion, but it’s also an honest emotion. That’s interesting to me, because it’s not so often represented as a part of motherhood.

Our view of motherhood is still this post-romantic vision of the mom feeling nothing but bliss for her child, completely content in the relationship, desiring nothing more. I think portraying motherhood that way allows new mothers, in particular, to feel like they’re insane.

It has not been portrayed how messy and sometimes painful and crazy breastfeeding is. When you’re in it, there’s so much about it that’s hard and gross and amazingly blissful and mind-blowingly profound. It’s like all the complexity has just been sanded off so that what remains is the woman in the beautiful nightgown holding her sweetly suckling baby, and that’s like 1% of it.

Sometimes women talk about reading my books in the hospital after giving birth, and it’s a cool thought that someone would want my voice with them in that very vulnerable moment.

“We have no ethos that has presented the complexity of motherhood and validated the true emotional and physical difficulty of a lot of it.”

It’s a fascinating, complex mechanism that’s always changing—this growth organism of the family. I think if I got it figured it out, I would stop writing about it. But unfortunately, or fortunately, that will never happen.

When I was in graduate school, everybody was writing about the Greek myths—like, here’s my Perseus poem, as if I care. All the books that were lauded, that giant novel, the Hemingway, Roth/Franzen model, or the novel that’s about war … all the drama that is in those books that people are seeking elsewhere through fighting Odysseus, or whatever, is in motherhood. There’s so much drama in the act of being a mom. It’s all there.

In motherhood, your boundaries are exploded and your capacity for joy is exploding, your capacity for fear is exploding—you’ve never felt such extremes before. I never was someone who yelled until I had my second child. There are new emotions, new actions, not all of which are pretty, new fears—all of the hugeness of this crazy thing that is so everyday, and all around us people are doing it, and yet we somehow aren’t quite aware of how miraculous it is.

My problem is I want to do everything well. I want to be not just a mom but a really good mom, and not just a writer but a really good writer. I want to be really good friend, and I want to be really good teacher. I want to do service work and be a good human being. You can’t be good at everything, but some days, I’m good at one thing and not another. Some days I’m not such a good mom, but I’m a good writer. Other days, I’m really giving it all to my teaching and then I’m exhausted when I come home. I try to keep it in balance in the bigger sense, instead of that micro-sense. I think it’s the No. 1 challenge of writing moms. I think it is the single most essential and unending discussion that we have.

The contract I have with myself is to be at my desk and in the right mental space, which means I cannot have checked email, I cannot have looked at internet banking—all the things that bring people into my life that need things, because if someone needs me, there’s something in me that has to start worrying about that. I just have to go to my desk as close to my dream life as possible. I do think that kind of dreamy headspace helps at the desk. If I’m there, and nothing happens—if I can’t write, that’s fine. I was there. That’s all I asked of myself. I’ll try again the next day.

Spending my time with my family or my writing or my friends or the arts—that’s what’s valuable to me, not a designer handbag. But if you live in a culture that’s always showing you designer handbags, and the only question you’re going to be asked today is “confirm purchase?” or “go to checkout,” you have to struggle to keep your eye on the prize, when the prize is time, beauty, and truth.

I try to keep in mind a statement by Emerson, who said, “Guard well your spare moments, for they’re like uncut diamonds. Spend them and they’re worth will never be known.” So, those moments that we give away, what could we have done with them? What could we have written? What amazing time could we have spent with our family? If we give it all away and use it up, we’ll never know what those moments could have been.

Kristin Bair

We have a wedding cabinet we brought back from China; it’s a huge thing that fits nowhere. I dreamed I was in it with a family of big, male lions. The goal was for me to survive, and I was like, “This is symbolic.”

(February 18, 2021) Kristin Bair is the author of the novel Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything. Under the name Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, she has published two novels, The Art of Floating and Thirsty, as well as numerous essays about China, bears, adoption, off-the-plot expats, and more. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Baltimore Review, The Manifest-Station, Flying: Journal of Writing and Environment, The Christian Science Monitor, Poets & Writers Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. Kristin has an MFA from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Indiana University, Bloomington. A native Pittsburgher, Kristin now lives north of Boston with her husband and two kids and describes writer-motherhood in three words as “Are they asleep?”


Kristin Bair’s Website
Kristin’s Books
Kristin’s article, “Why Some Women Wield Exclusion Like a Superpower,” Scary Mommy
Sara Teasdale


“Moms just muscle through, cleaning up the puke.”

Mothers’ groups are very complex entities. They’re wildly supportive and nurturing—and they can also just cut you to the quick in seconds.

Sometimes, moms in a group that’s intended to be public become very good friends. I think they should just close ranks and say, “We’re not really that group anymore; we’re really a group of friends who want to be together and aren’t really interested in new members.” That’s a fine thing—but I think you have to be clear about your intention.

Every Facebook moms’ group has a provocateur, somebody who provokes, who always says the thing that everybody’s thinking, but nobody says out loud.

I think moms have an inclination not to go too far toward any kind of negative emotion because of that protective mama bear thing.

I wasn’t raised in a house where we were taught to manage big feelings in really productive ways, so that’s something I’ve worked on over the years and explored on the page. As a mom now, trying to teach my kids how to process and express big feelings is not easy. You’re not born with that ability. It’s something you learn when it’s modeled and consciously taught. Now I have a 13-year-old with hormones who’s at the point when teens start to break away emotionally, but at the same time, having the surge of emotions. I’ve realized it’s not a lesson you learn once; it’s a lesson you learn over and over again in life.

When my 13-year-old starts getting very loud and expressive and can’t control her emotions, I remember that the teen brain is like a shaken snow globe, and you’re not going to be able to get through to them until the snow settles.

Judgment and exclusion starts so early. If there’s anything I wish I could get rid of in women’s lives, it would be that urge to exclude. It starts so young and it’s so hurtful. I see it already in my 13-year-old’s girl groups.

I announced when I was seven that I was a poet and nobody should bother me when I was working on my poems. My mom said, “You can’t be a poet.” And I said, “I am. What do you mean that I can’t? That’s just my life now.” And, it’s always stayed that way.

My first poem was about a hummingbird. I’d never seen a hummingbird.

At the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, I was writing both poetry and fiction, and a somewhat famous male poet told me that I couldn’t do both. That really froze me in my process of poetry. I remember that exact moment, the breakfast, what I was eating, and just how it stunned me and it was just so debilitating. It’s funny because I’m such a mouthy person otherwise, but when paternalistic buttheads would speak to me at that point, I’d crumble, which just pisses me off now. I’d love to call them up and let them have it. But, it did inform the way I teach. I’m so careful with what people are interested in writing, what they already write and what they hope their potential will be. And I never, ever say, “Nope, that’s not gonna work for you.” I hope that everybody always expands as opposed to shrinks.

We have a wedding cabinet we brought back from China; it’s a huge thing that fits nowhere. I dreamed that I was in it with a family of big, male lions. The goal was for me to survive, and I was like, “This is symbolic.” When the door opened, and I came out with the lions being my pals, I was like, “I’m gonna survive this damn pandemic.”

In China, you usually have somebody to help you out at home. I had a lot of time to both write and be a mom. In China, it was amazing to be able to do both fully, which rarely happens in the United States. I always tell my husband that I was a much better wife there, because I had time. I could be the best mom, the best writer—not in terms of the quality of my work, but the most productive—and also the best wife because I had time. I wasn’t strung out and exhausted and worried all the time. Here in the US, there’s no time. I’m not as good a wife. It was a real gift for five years that I don’t take lightly.

As women writers, we are not accustomed to being allowed the time to write. I don’t think male writers have that kind of weight of responsibility and emotional responsibility for a family.

I feel ashamed that I should even think that I deserve the ability to write every day without distraction, which is really truly the only thing I want to do. There’s shame and guilt even just saying it out loud.

People go back and forth on whether we are born writers. Different people probably have different experiences with that, but I have always firmly believed that I was born this way; that for whatever cosmic reason, I am supposed to be doing this. But, the world doesn’t exactly work with you on that, so I’ve gotta keep pushing against it.

Lori L. Tharps

Your books want all of you, and your kids want all of you. You have to figure it out.

(February 11, 2021) Lori L. Tharps is an author, journalist, educator, podcast host, and popular speaker who is inspired by the collision of culture and color and fueled by creativity and passion. Lori has served as writer and/or editor for magazines, including Glamour, Parents, and Essence, and has written for The New York TimesThe, and The Washington Post, among others. She is the author of the three nonfiction books, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in AmericaKinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain; and Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families and the author of the novel, Substitute Me. Lori has 3 kids and describes motherhood in 3 words as: “inspiring and exhausting.”


Lori L. Tharps’s Website
Lori’s Books
My American Melting Pot, Lori’s Blog & Podcast

This Year You Write Your Novel, Walter Mosley

Black Ice, Lorene Cary

Exile Music, Jennifer Steil

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, Joanna Ho


Because I come from deadline journalism, I give myself internal deadlines, like, “You have four hours to get this chapter done.”

I credit my children for endless sources of story ideas. Almost every book I’ve written has something to do with my children.

My kids have made me really efficient. I’ve watched people with no kids struggle to get that first book written, and I’m like, “Don’t ever look at me and say you don’t have time. I don’t feel sorry for you. If it’s important, you figure it out.”

If you’re working on a beautiful novel that needs slow work, it’s not the same as turning out nonfiction. There’s kind of a boom, boom, boom, boom, boom rhythm to nonfiction. Fiction is a little more like a slow cooker; you gotta let it marinate, and there’s no way you can speed it up. If you try to speed up a slow cooker, it doesn’t work. You get hard beans, raw meat.

“Fiction is a little more like a slow cooker; you gotta let it marinate. If you try to speed up a slow cooker, you get hard beans, raw meat.”

I credit my mom with making me a writer because when I was eight, she bought me an antique, big box, Remington typewriter. That’s when I fell in love with the idea of being a writer.

My mother was a nurse, a psychotherapist, a cultural anthropology professor—she was always getting new degrees. She had a subscription to Natural History magazine, and she could explain all things through the animal kingdom. My brother and I would ask, like, “Why is it wrong to have sex when you’re young?” and she’d be like, “Well, the badger…” There’s something about a badger having an erection for hours.

Some people would call my mom a liar. She’s not a liar at all; she just exaggerates a lot. She’d tell my siblings and I about a patient who lacerated his liver on the escalator because he didn’t tie his shoes. Now we all tell our kids to tie their shoes, like, “Don’t trip on the escalator, because you could lacerate your liver.”

My mom was busy, highly educated—in the sense that she was always going back to school for something or another—but she was such a good mom. She cooked, she baked, she sewed. She had three of us, and I never felt like my mom’s work was more important to her, even though I know her work was very important. She was saving people’s lives. We knew all her patients’ names. But I felt like she loved us so much. I never, ever felt like we were in the way. As an adult, I realized we were in the way. She could have done a lot more, but she never made us feel like that. I just feel so grateful that she made us a priority, even while she was pursuing her own passions.

You can be a writer and a mother, but to be a really good writer, you don’t want to have kids because you want to be completely consumed. I get completely consumed in my story, and I want to write, and I don’t want to go play in the snow with my daughter. When she asks, I’m like, “Not really, no. I want to finish revising my novel because I’m in it.” But then that means I’m not being a good mom.

Some people say your children want to see you happy. No, they don’t! They want to be happy. That’s bullshit. I think that is the biggest crock of dookie that anybody’s ever told somebody. Children are hardwired to be selfish; they don’t have that altruistic sense, like, “As long as my mom’s happy, I’m fine being ignored.”

They don’t want Mommy to go on this business trip. They want you home. That doesn’t mean that you can’t figure out how to go on the business trip or to the writer’s retreat or whatever you have to do, but don’t fool yourself by thinking your kid wants this for you. “They just they want to see me get the Pulitzer!” Uh-uh. Your books want all of you, and your kids want all of you. You have to figure it out.

“Your books want all of you, and your kids want all of you.”

Maybe your book isn’t as good as it could have been, had you been 100 percent in it all the time. But it’s probably good enough. And kids are super resilient, so if you slip up, it’s probably gonna be okay.

You can train your children that, “When Mommy’s in her writing room, you have to respect that.”

Your books are your children and your children are your children. If you have more than one, then you know that you have to give a Kid A solo time, and you’ve got to give Kid B solo time.

If there’s directions somewhere, my mom could fix a vacuum cleaner—although she did blow hole in the wall once.

My mom knows how to fold sheets perfectly. She knows how to do laundry and get the spots out. I buy my kids all dark blue clothes. That’s my secret tip.

I write because I want to make people feel seen.

One of my sons looks Black and one doesn’t. This is not just “Oh, haha, funny—maybe one needs more sunscreen than the other.” This is, “How do you tell one child that they’re a marked man, and the other one has the freedom and innocence of just being a child?” That’s not insignificant. How I dealt with it was to say both of my children are Black; the pigment in their skin doesn’t designate them as Black, so they both get the quote unquote “talk.” When they were much younger, I wasn’t telling them, “Keep your hands on the steering wheel.” That’s not where they were. I wasn’t willing to say, “You can’t wear hoodies.” I did not want to create a wedge between my sons about who was privileged and who wasn’t. We spent a lot of time normalizing the fact that our family members are all different colors and different hair textures.

The main thing is to make sure that your children feel confident and comfortable in the skin they’re in, because for one reason or another, they’re sure to be confronted about the way they look. If you have instilled in them that they are perfect, that this is the way that God made them, then they’ll be more prepared for whatever comes their way.

One of the psychologists I interviewed for the book used the term was Normalized Difference, like flowers in a garden. There’s roses and daisies and tulips and they’re all different colors, and that’s what makes the garden so beautiful. I find myself using a lot of that kind of phrasing when I talk to my daughter. That’s why we do things like, “You’re the color of a garbanzo, and you’re the color of a toasted almond, and what color do you think I am?” And she’d say “cinnamon-dusted hummus.”

Elle Nash

We can all do magic. The simplest definition of magic is putting your will out into the world. We do that with art.

(January 18, 2021) Elle Nash is the author of the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books), which was featured in O – The Oprah Magazine, and hailed by Publishers Weekly as a “complex, impressive exploration of obsession and desire.” A small collection of stories, Nudes, is forthcoming from SF/LD Books in Spring 2021. Her short stories and essays appear in Guernica, The Nervous Breakdown, Literary Hub, The Fanzine, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine, a fiction editor at Hobart Pulp and Expat Press, and runs an annual workshop called Textures. Elle has one child and she describes writer-motherhood in three words as, “boundary-building, productive.”


Elle Nash’s Website
Elle’s Book: Animals Eat Each Other

Textures, Elle’s writing workshop

Witch Craft Magazine, Elle’s magazine

Chloé Caldwell

Transgressive Fiction

Frisk, Dennis Cooper

Heartbreaker, Maryse Meijer


While I was working in the office, I was like, “I can’t imagine being a mom this way. I can’t imagine working full-time and trying to manage a household and a relationship and be a mom all at the same time. I don’t know how working moms keep it all together.” Now I am a working mom, and you just figure it out.

I had been working on a manuscript, and I was in the fog of breastfeeding, too. There’s something hormonally about it that made me feel not as sharp, a combination of exhaustion and having this new person always around. There’s this weird mind-melding thing that happens, where your identities kind of fuse, which I think is on purpose so you can understand and know what your baby needs. I had trouble breaking out of that when I was working on my manuscript.

I sat down and wrote my novel in 11 weeks. I just woke up around four or five in the morning, and my daughter was starting to have more regular naps, so I would write every time she was asleep during the day, too. I just committed to it. And that’s how I got my first draft done. It was definitely a lot of not sleeping.

I don’t want to speak to this as if it’s a universal experience, but it seems like new moms struggle with identity and feeling like their own person, and some moms struggle with this for a lot longer. Part of this is when moms feel guilty for taking time out for themselves. I experienced that, where I felt bad for asking, for example, for time to write on the weekends.

“It seems like new moms struggle with identity and feeling like their own person, and some moms struggle with this for a lot longer. Part of this is when moms feel guilty for taking time out for themselves.”

It was easy for me to think: I’m staying at home and don’t have a job, even though I’m literally running an entire household, and I’m taking care of a tiny human. It was easy for me to think that I didn’t deserve the time, because there’s all this time already, even though that time is actually spent. I had to go through a process of seeing my alone time as valuable and important for me and setting boundaries.

I believe in everyone’s personal agency and a person deciding what is right for them and what their boundaries are, but in a coming-of-age story or this life experience with a new human, those boundaries can become really blurred. It can be difficult to figure out where the boundaries are.

[Elle’s advice to writer-moms:] The first step is to have really clear goals. The second step is not having excuses, being able to write whenever you can. My third step was making it known to my partner where I was, like wanting to write for four hours on Saturday morning and trying to negotiate that and making it known that it’s important for me on multiple levels—mental health, happiness, life goals, all those things. It also means being pragmatic about your time.

You have to have a good balance of being disciplined and being clear with what you want. But also, not beating yourself up when you don’t do it. I think the beating yourself up part of it can contribute to having low self-esteem, and that can impede you from being able to reach your goal overall.

“You have to have a good balance of being disciplined and being clear with what you want. But also, not beating yourself up when you don’t do it.”

I know that most bestsellers don’t tend to outlive their generation, and I’m also really interested in legacy, to a degree. It’s hard for me to look 10 or 20 years down the line and say, where exactly do I want to be? I would say I really don’t want to peak until I’m, like, 60.

“It’s hard for me to look 10 or 20 years down the line and say, where exactly do I want to be? I would say I really don’t want to peak until I’m, like, 60.”

I loved being pregnant in Arkansas. People were really wonderfully nice. It’s very family oriented and a bit more traditional and conservative there; people would treat you like a very high-class citizen when you’re pregnant. People would let me cut in line at the DMV. Everyone’s just really nice to you when you’re pregnant. They’re also really nice to you when you have a brand-new baby–but it drops off when the baby’s older and no longer cute.

“Everyone’s just really nice to you when you’re pregnant. They’re also really nice to you when you have a brand-new baby–but it drops off when the baby’s older and no longer cute.”

I find it very interesting how society treats pregnancy and pregnant women and what kind of pressure that can put on a person who wants to be pregnant but isn’t.

The first few months being back in your hometown that you left after high school is definitely really freaky. It’s almost like people still dress like it’s 2005 here sometimes. It did feel a little bit like going back in time. I also forgot just how powerful mountains are. Growing up, I never really paid attention to them, and now, every day, I stare at this mountain and I’m just like, “Holy shit. It’s majestic.” I don’t know why I didn’t care about it before.

“The real world kind of sucks. It can be really harsh, so I think having a community of people who are interested in the wonderful aspects of art that you’re interested in can make things feel less lonely.”

We can all do magic. It’s pretty practical. I think everything we do in terms of ritual is a form of magic. When you’re writing, and you’re creating a particular atmosphere in another person’s mind, that’s magic. It’s a very practical type of thing that we do every day. The simplest definition of magic is putting your will out into the world. We do that with art, we do that with our intentions.

“The simplest definition of magic is putting your will out into the world. We do that with art, we do that with our intentions.”

My dad pretty much was like, “Well, you’re going into college or going into the Army,” and I really was not wanting to go into the Army, so I went to school for journalism.

Continue to try every day, and whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to other people and where they are—if someone has a book announcement and you feel saddened by your own lack of that—just try to recognize that you’re relating to that person because you want to be where they are. It’s demonstrating to you that there is a pathway forward for you.

“I hope that seeing me doing something that I love can demonstrate to–and encourage–my daughter that she deserves that type of space, too.”

Writing is a balance of not being too hard on yourself but continuing to show up and do the work as much as you can. Accept that sometimes you have to sacrifice certain elements: If you want that extra hour of writing time, make your dinner as low effort as possible.

If it’s becoming too difficult, it’s okay to take breaks, especially when you first have a kid and they’re really dependent on you. They’re really little for a very short period of time. If you need to take that break and spend that time with them while they’re little, that’s 100% okay.

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.


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


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.


Katie Gutierrez

My biggest fear around becoming a mother was that suddenly I would no longer be a writer.

(December 17, 2020) Katie Gutierrez lives in San Antonio, TX, with her husband and two young children, who are 2 and a half years old and three and a half months old. She has an MFA from Texas State University, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Longreads, Catapult, and more. Her debut novel, More Than You’ll Ever Know, will be published by William Morrow in 2022. She describes writer-motherhood in three words as never enough time.


Katie Gutierrez’s Website

Katie’s Book: More Than You’ll Ever Know

Catch Me If You Can

Texas Highways Magazine (coming soon)

Alice Monro


When I got my book contract, any time I tried to sit down at my computer, my toddler would come in as a baby shark, or my newborn would be hungry. I ended up sitting in the dark breastfeeding, looking through the contract on my phone and signing it through DocuSign. You have this fantasy, as a writer, of what these moments will look like, and I never once envisioned it looking like that. But it also felt completely right for where I am in my life right now.

“A component of female desire is the desire to be known, to be seen, and to discover who we are in different environments and relationships.” — @katie_gutz

The experiment for me is to look at a character who is acting in an ostensibly amoral way and portray her in a way that very quickly makes her actions understandable. That’s part of the fun of writing for me. And that is when you’re succeeding as a writer.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was overjoyed. But right along with that feeling of joy was this fear, this feeling of Oh, God, what did I do? What is this going to mean for my life? That all came up, and it was not as simple of an emotion as getting that phone call from the nurse. Because I still didn’t really have an idea of how motherhood would fit into my life, and I didn’t really have an idea of what kind of mother I would be.

“When I found out I was pregnant, I was overjoyed. But right along with that feeling of joy was this fear, this feeling of: Oh God, what did I do? What is this going to mean for my life?” — @katie_gutz

When we were on submission with my first novel and it didn’t work out, I had this overwhelming sense of, Okay, I’ve got one more shot. I’ve got to finish this book before I have the baby, and we’ve got to go on submission and try to make this happen, because I don’t know what it’s going to be like afterwards. And I think that I was really wrong about that. I had internalized that being a mother is anathema to being a creative individual, to pursuing any kind of art.

“My biggest fear around becoming a mother was that suddenly I would no longer be a writer.” — @katie_gutz

It’s been a big surprise, how much being a mother has positively impacted what I do, even though actually getting to work, getting to write, is more complicated.

I spent those first few months not sleeping, because all I could do was imagine every single worst-case scenario that could happen to this completely helpless baby. Being a writer, your imagination is pretty vivid, and I felt like I had to follow each fantasy through to its conclusion. I was surprised at the depth of that anxiety, the depth of my fear around losing my child and how that fear never goes away; it just becomes folded into your daily life as a mother.

“When we become mothers, we don’t stop being ourselves or having our own desires or experiencing the desire for adventure. It becomes a question of how to balance these deep emotions–or live with the imbalance.” — @katie_gutz

The days when I’ve become the most frustrated, the angriest, and the worst version of myself—you know, the monster, to my kids and husband—are the days when I wake up with an urgent need and expectation that I’m going to sit down for at least an hour, and revise one chapter or write 500 words. When I set these concrete goals for myself, and then the day explodes and none of it happens, that’s when I find myself extremely resentful of my kids, my husband, the fact that he doesn’t have to have a baby at his boob every two hours.

I try to let go of control and tell myself I’m just going to touch the work at some point today. That’s my only goal. I’m going to touch it at some point, if it’s working on one sentence, so be it. If I get lucky and both kids nap at the same time, I get two hours. Those are the days when things go the smoothest for me, when I can appreciate being with the kids but also whatever time that I actually get to work. Those are the days when I don’t set any expectation for myself, except that I’m going to touch the work and move it forward in some way.

I was thinking about practical strategies for moms with newborns, and for me, what works best is when I read books that seem to be in conversation with what I’m working on. That feels like I’m touching the work. It’s also giving myself permission to daydream and to use those daydreams as also touching the work.

I’m taking this time with a newborn to be active about using my daydreams for the revision process. When I get the chance to sit down, even if it is for 15 minutes, I go straight to it, no procrastination.

In the past, there’s been this conversation around writing as a very solitary, strictly scheduled or regimented existence. There’s so much happening in the background in this patriarchal society and sexist culture that was not talked about. It’s important to have these conversations about what it really takes to make a book happen.

The other day, I held up a book to my daughter and said, “Mommy’s writing these books.” And I could see her trying to put it together. It was a strangely emotional moment for me, having this small child who was starting to understand what I’m doing when I’m not being present with her.

When my daughter is old enough to read my books, I hope she’ll feel proud, whether or not she likes the books. I think that’ll be strange, because she’ll be getting access to some parts of me that she obviously doesn’t see as her mother. I hope it’ll bring us closer.

I just texted a friend the other day—it was one of the bad days—and I said, “I feel like I’m failing on every front.” I was snapping at my daughter and I was so resentful of this baby boy who just wouldn’t sleep. Every time I sat down, I had to get back up. I felt like everything I was trying to do, everything I was trying to be, was a complete failure. Some days are just going to be like that.

You don’t have to be sitting at your computer to be writing, but it’s also okay to just not be writing. It’s okay to do absolutely nothing that touches your work, because you’re also a person apart from being a mother, and apart from being a writer, and you need to be able to occasionally take care of that person, as well. Let’s become the monster, right?

Katie Peterson

There was no way I was going to carry a baby and then give birth to it without being ruminative, conceptual, philosophical, desiring of making generalizations about the experience, kind of idiosyncratically obsessed with what was most conceptual at the root of the experience.

(November 19, 2020) Katie Peterson is the author of four collections of poetry, including A Piece of Good News, and her fable in lyric prose, Life in a Field, winner of the Omnidawn Open Books Prize, will be published in April 2021. Katie has received numerous fellowships, including from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and she collaborates with her husband, the photographer Young Suh. Katie, Young, and their daughter Emily live in Berkeley, where Katie directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at UC Davis. She has one daughter who is 3 and she describes writer-motherhood in 3 words as: Always Play First.


Katie Peterson’s website

Katie’s books
Life in a Field (Omnidawn, 2021)
A Piece of Good News (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019)
Robert Lowell, New Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)
The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013)
Permission (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2013)
This One Tree (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2006)

Young Suh, photographer and Katie’s husband

Yaddo artist retreat

Katie Ford, poet

Elizabeth Bishop, poet

Sandra Lim, poet

The Last Clear Narrative, Rachel Zucker

“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant—success in circuit lies.” Emily Dickinson

The Odyssey, Homer

sound bites

Sometimes when I look at my own work, it feels like a combination between a classic American nature poet and a sexy, metaphysical John Donne.

When my mother died, I was filled with two twin senses: the first, this feeling that I would never be a mother, and the second, this incredible hunger to be a mother.

“I think of it as a hallmark of my generation that people felt complicated feelings about “settling down.” We were raised in a generation with a lot of ambivalence about family.” — @hugyourfamily

During the nine months of pregnancy and the month right after it, all these things happen in your body that you can’t refuse. You can’t refuse the heartburn, you can’t refuse contractions, you can’t refuse back pain. And then you have a baby, and you’re supposed to breastfeed that thing, which is so crazy. Talk about an experience that’s both biological and intellectual! There are all these biological things happening, but your brain can’t help but reflect on the strangeness of the experience.

You’re really hungry while you’re pregnant, and then you have the baby, and when you’re breastfeeding, you’re really hungry. I remember some Berkeley person said to me, “Well, it must be really nice to feel so close to your body.” And I said to the person, “I live here [points to forehead]. When this is over, I’m coming back here.” And the person looked at me like I was a horse.

There was no way I was going to carry a baby and then give birth to it without being ruminative, conceptual, philosophical, desiring of making generalizations about the experience, kind of idiosyncratically obsessed with what was most conceptual at the root of the experience.

Right after Emily was born, I’d constantly have a thought and lose it completely, and the thoughts were a wandering around somewhere in me, but I couldn’t find them. It really drove me crazy.

“We have all these reserved feelings about thinking about ourselves as animals, but never in my life have I thought more about another person as an animal than having a little girl.” — @hugyourfamily

In the last two or three months, Emily wakes up at three or four in the morning and comes into our bed and literally wants to sleep on top of me. It’s so mammalian. It’s so intense. I can feel that she wants that closeness because it’s going away. She’s a little girl, she’s becoming a grownup. The animal in her is moving forward in time.

I don’t think we have a great sense in our culture right now about what it means to grow up. Many of us don’t want to grow up. I felt and still feel, like being a grown up is fundamentally a bad thing. Who are the models for really good grownups—Obama? That’s it. It’s hard to think of that many more. Dolly Parton and Obama are really good grownups.

“Who are the models for really good grownups—Obama? That’s it. It’s hard to think of that many more. Dolly Parton and Obama are really good grownups.” — @hugyourfamiliy

Emily and I can’t stand in the rational truth of things when she doesn’t want me to park in a certain place and throws a temper tantrum.

Dickinson said, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant—success in circuit lies.” The truth is something that cannot be dropped on the page unceremoniously, but is its own difficult animal that needs to be cajoled and sometimes restrained.

“The truth is something that cannot be dropped on the page unceremoniously, but is its own difficult animal that needs to be cajoled and sometimes restrained.” — @hugyourfamily

Motherhood has made me think about how many of my own feelings, and how many of the things I’d like to say, I now must repress. More than once, Odysseus from the Odyssey sat and, through tears, listened to a story that he couldn’t react to. Nothing has made me think about that more than this pandemic.

When I think about being a mother, I think about being a grownup, and when I think about being a grownup, I think about being so attached to others that what you do and say and eat and feel matters in such an embodied way to somebody else.

I had given up hope this spring of writing any poems this year, and then I started going for walks. On these walks, a poem came to me. And then I had to go on the same walk every day. I still go on it, because there might be a poem on the walk.

The life of a poet is a lifelong dare and I’m just in the middle of that big dare, like I jumped out of a plane and I’m still in the jump. I just have really cute company.

“The life of a poet is a lifelong dare.” — @hugyourfamily

Liz Harmer

I try to have an interesting and rich life where I am. I believe passionately that you can have an interesting, rich, not boring, settled, domestic life, just because you have a boring, settled, domestic life.

(October 28, 2020) Liz Harmer is a Canadian living in California. Her first novel, The Amateurs, a speculative novel of technological rapture, was released with Knopf/Vintage in 2019. Her stories, essays, and poems have been published in Lit Hub, Best Canadian Stories, and elsewhere, and her second novel, Strange Loops, is forthcoming with Knopf Canada in 2022. Her children are 13, 11, and 8, and here’s how she describes motherhood in 3 words: “Challenge and Delight”


Liz Harmer’s website

Liz’s Books
The Amateurs (Penguin Random House, 2019)
Strange Loops (Knopf Canada, 2022)

Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann (1996)

A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes (1978)

Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson (Dalkey Archive Press, 1998)

The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis (Harvest Books, 1960)

“A Letter to a Young Writer,” Richard Bausch

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth McCracken

John Cheever

Stephen King

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum (Picador, 2015)

The Baby Book, Barry Sears (Little, Brown Spark, 1993)


“I’m interested in my own desire, and women having desire feels like this taboo thing that we’re confused about culturally.” — @lizharmer

I try to say yes to things, I try to meet lots of people, I do things that scare me a lot. I probably work a lot of it out in my writing by letting my characters do the things I can’t do myself or that I’m afraid to do.

“I try to have an interesting and rich life where I am. I believe passionately that you can have an interesting, rich, not boring, settled, domestic life, just because you have a boring, settled, domestic life.” @lizharmer

I try not to be afraid to see myself in my writing. I don’t think you can avoid yourself coming into your writing. But that doesn’t mean that I’m writing about myself.

I did learn to not have precious writing time, but just to be writing all the time. Just a little bit every day adds up to a lot.

“I want to model for my daughters that you can have more things in life than a family. Family is important, and you love the people near to you, but also, you have to invest in yourself.” — @lizharmer

The way I try to not feel guilty is to remind myself that it’s important that my kids see me as a person. I think it’s important for parents to not be the servants of their children. Kids need to learn to be on their own in the world, slowly, and it’s important that they understand that we’re also human beings who have needs and boundaries. Whenever I feel guilty, I think, “No, I’m teaching them good boundaries.”

I don’t want to be like, “Well, just claim your time,” because it’s not culturally possible to do that. I acknowledge that part of the reason I claim my time is because my husband doesn’t give me a hard time about it. One piece of advice I got that was really helpful to me is that everything’s easier after the youngest child is 5.

It was important to me to not get overwhelmed by my ambition. When you haven’t written anything, a book looks really long. How are you gonna finish a book? I got into a routine that was useful to me, which was, “I’m just going to finish a story. And then I’m going to finish another story. And then maybe I’ll edit those. And then I’ll slowly get to a third story.” As time passes, you end up with 15 or 20 stories. The habit perpetuates itself.

On the mornings I don’t teach, I walk the dog without my smartphone. I just walk outside. I let that be a time of collecting my thoughts and letting my ideas stew.

I Skype with a good friend once a week, and we write. That is a really precious time. When somebody else is keeping you accountable, or also doing writing, you feel permission to do it.

“Here’s a hot tip: apple slices, peanut butter, and cheese are perfectly nutritious. You don’t have to make elaborate meals; you can just serve kids a pile of things.” — @lizharmer

Amy Shearn

So much of being creative is giving up control and letting in a little bit of wildness.

(October 15, 2020) Amy Shearn is the author of the novels Unseen City, The Mermaid of Brooklyn, and How Far Is the Ocean From Here. She is a senior editor at Forge and a fiction editor at Joyland, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, SlateLiterary Hub, and many other publications. Amy has an MFA from the University of Minnesota, and lives in Brooklyn with her two children.


Amy’s website

Amy’s books
Unseen City (Red Hen Press, 2020)
The Mermaid of Brooklyn (Touchstone, 2013)
How Far is the Ocean From Here (Crown, 2008)

Forge, Medium’s publication on personal development

Amy’s feature on stoicism: Forge, “What Happens When You Go Full Stoic”

Norma Jean the Termite Queen, Sheila Ballantyne (Doubleday & Company, 1975)

The Barter, Siobhan Adcock (Penguin Random House, 2014)

The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions, 2005)

Forty Rooms, Olga Grushin (Penguin Random House, 2016)

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, Sarah Ruhl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)

Lenka Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood

The Resort: A workspace outside the home with virtual monthly memberships, craft talks, and accountability groups

sound bites

The practice of giving up what you can’t control is so useful in this time when there’s so much that’s crazy and stressful that I am not in control of, as powerful as I am.

I’m aware of how much my daughter is watching me, and I think about the kind of woman and mother I want her to be—or feel like she has to be. I would never want her to grow up and think, “Oh my God, I have to do everything perfectly.”

“So much of being creative is giving up control and letting in a little bit of wildness.” — @amyshearn

If you’re going to have kids, sit down with your partner and have a real conversation. Tell them, “I am going to need this much time to work on my writing. When are we going to make that happen?”

Something I think is hard about writing as a mother is that your goal as a mother is to make things pleasant and take care of people—but in writing, it’s much better if you’re not trying to be pleasant. You’re trying to be as honest and real as possible.

People think your main character is you, no matter what. It’s insulting because there’s a subtext of, “How could a woman really create something from scratch? Obviously, she’s just writing about herself.”

“There’s amazing intimacy in the relationship between the writer and the reader who never meet each other. It’s almost otherworldly.” — @amyshearn

We’re in a moment where historic numbers of women are dropping out of the workplace. The husband’s career is being prioritized, and that’s not a failing on the part of women; the system has failed.

“There’s such dissonance in the way many of us live so disconnected from our mammal selves. I was working at an office, not seeing sunlight or breathing air—and also growing a person in my guts. That’s bananas.” — @amyshearn

Life is not interrupting the work; life is the work.