Monday, March 26, 2012

Creativity and the Dreaded “Mommy Guilt”

Connie has written some excellent blog posts in the past about how effective guilt is at stifling creativity; I know this firsthand.

Ever since I became a mother, almost a year ago now (although it doesn’t seem like that long ago!), I’ve been battling the dreaded “Mommy Guilt.” It doesn’t matter that I took a year off from my high-pressure position as an editor and inhouse author in trade publishing (and recently resigned from it) because I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I still often feel guilty about the hours I spend each day on my keyboard, freelancing part-time as a “book doctor” and editor. Most of those hours occur when she is tucked away in bed for the night, slumbering sweetly, but some of them necessitate her going to nursery school two days a week.

However, as my girl grows and increases in independence by the day, I’m beginning to realize that—even if it means late nights and sacrificing some time with my child and a good deal of my social life—my work has benefits for her as well as for me (and for our household in general). For me, my work in the creative arts is not a luxury: it is a necessity. While I devote much of my time to freelance editing, and sometimes begrudge that it doesn’t allow me enough time to write, I am one of those lucky individuals who can say, for a fact, that I truly love what I do. It is my passion. I love taking a diamond in the rough and polishing it up to add more facets. I love helping other authors make their work the best it can be.

For my daughter, my passion for my work means that she not only gets to see firsthand the value of having a strong work ethic, but that she will also grow up appreciating that work should be a delight, something you actively look forward to doing. Already, I am seeing the shoots of her own burgeoning creativity as she indulges in her daily play. My love for the written word has also inspired in her a love of books. Even at just one year of age, she loves to carefully turn the pages (now recognising that pages are for turning and not for tearing) and to point to the bright pictures. Spending time reading to my darling is quality time, and although she is too small yet to fully understand the stories I write for her, I hope that one day they will number among her favourites.

When she was very small, my guilt at snatching short, private moments to write was overwhelming—and sometimes paralysing. But as she grows, I’m realizing that she, too, actively values time spent alone in creative play. She doesn’t always want an adult playing with her or hovering over her; sometimes she wants to explore objects in solitary (although supervised) reflection.

Interestingly, my book of short stories, “Cage Life,” although written some years ago before I became a mother, deals with themes relating to guilt and freedom in motherhood. In it, a young mother longs for the carefree life she once led, which leads to disastrous consequences. Now that I am a mother, it is probably not a story I could bear to write, but I still feel that it explores many of the wistful, private moments that mothers, particularly first-time moms, struggle with: the loss of a singular identity; the guilt; the longing for freedom, either creative or just a few hours to take a long bath or to go to the hairdresser. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother. My child will always be my greatest work, and a work-in-progress for my entire life. But, as a creative, I also know that I have other children—children stuffed away in drawers and hastily scribbled upon in brief snatches.

My advice to all new mothers who write, and who are struggling to find the time to be creative while keeping up with diaper changing, feeding, playing with and consoling babies, is that we should try not to feel guilty about anything that rounds us out and makes us who we truly are. Our children need us to be ourselves, with all of our passion, creativity and individuality intact. It is how they learn the value of those elements to humanity. And if nothing else, writing provides an escape from the everyday that is empowering and fully imaginative. We may be covered in baby vomit, have been up since 5 am, and really, really need to mop the floor sometime today, but in our heads we can be dancing flamenco, solving murder mysteries, trying to eke out a living on an alien world, or any manner of other exciting possibilities. So guilt be damned! Tonight she is sound asleep and for those silent hours in between the little cries in the night, I’m not a just a mommy, I’m a writing mommy, and write I will!

Karin’s book of short stories Cage Life is available from Amazon US
Amazon UK
Her book of poetry, Growth is available from:
Amazon US

Amazon UK Growth
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

How to Crush Your Creativity: Feel Guilty

Guilt sometimes involves self-criticism, which was described in an earlier post. However, the kind of self-criticism I described involved tearing your work apart, condemning yourself for even thinking talent lurks somewhere within you, and similar acts of self-sabotage.

Guilt as it relates to creativity, is less related to the actual creative project. It has much more to do with stepping beyond the limitations you may have learned as a child.

Here's an example from my childhood. My father had dreams of becoming a minister. However, he made what he thought was a more practical choice, graduating from college with an engineering degree. Because he made a choice that didn't come from his deepest desires, he went into his work life with an attitude of resentment that deepened into total dislike of his job, a dislike that he never hesitated to share with the family that depended on his income for survival.

Even though his career decision had been made before he got married and had children, in telling us how he'd had to give up his dreams, he made us the cause of his great life's disappointments. Illogical as this was, young children, who rely on their parents for their understanding of the world, are inclined to choose loyalty over logic.

It took me years to figure out how thoroughly I'd been programmed to believe that you weren't supposed to like your job. Whenever I had the opportunity to switch careers and choose one I would enjoy, I managed to talk myself out of doing so.

Finally I uncovered the truth: that I felt guilty about the idea that I could enjoy my work life much more than my father (who had allegedly sacrificed his happiness for his children) ever did. Once I managed to cut the unconscious ties of guilt, it was surprisingly easy to make creative choices and create a career that totally thrilled me.


Ask yourself if you're afraid of having too much fun in your career/work life and why this is so.

If you can relate this to dissatisfaction on the part of either of your parents in their jobs, explore this connection.

Ask yourself how your dissatisfaction can increase their happiness. You may find reasons: Your success could make them feel like failures. They could feel that you are disloyal to the family.

You can tease out answers by imagining telling your parents how happy you are in your career, how much you enjoy the money you make and the creative opportunities. Imagine their responses. (This works whether they are alive or not.)

Finally, make a choice. You can choose to be loyal to your family or you can take the risk of independence and happiness.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Irish Blessing

Doolin, a village in County Clare, on the Atlantic coast.

I know a lot of Irish blessings and some curses, too. The one below is a favorite.

May your glass be ever full.

May the roof over your head be always strong.

And may you be in heaven

half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

View from a cottage I rented in Kilfenora, the Burren, County Clare.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Crush Your Creativity: Shut Down

I could describe this with other words: apathy, indifference, or resignation. I used the phrase, "shut down" because it's an action that illustrates the above emotions. What you shut down are the sensory, emotional, and caring mechanisms.

No one likes your idea? Who cares?

You just got another rejection for a creative project? So what?
You haven't had an original idea in three months? Big deal.

You're starting to feel dull, slightly rancid, and claustrophobic? It's better than getting hurt or having your hopes raised, only to have them crash once more to the ground.

A brief interval of being shut down probably does no harm. When the heart aches beyond endurance and the nerve endings are beyond frayed, a period of retreat provides a vacation for the overwrought. "Brief," however, is the defining adjective.

Beneath the layer of anesthesia that numbs the pain, your imagination, hopes, and dreams still live. If you continually suppress them, you could end up feeling far unhappier than you did when you were suffering defeat. There's a good reason for this: the only one responsible for this pain is you, and you know it.


If you've reached the point where you can't conjure up any enthusiasm for either continuing a current project or starting a new one, allow yourself a vacation, but, if you can, skip the Novocaine.

Spend your checking-out time enjoying yourself. Be with friends. Express your creativity by enjoying that of others. Listen to music you love, read, watch movies. Be kind to yourself and look for ways to make yourself happy.

Get back to where you once belonged. Ask yourself why you express your creativity? Is it for the approval of others? Or is it because it gives you pleasure to do so? If you can remember that you do it for the love of it, you're on the road to reliving that feeling. Once the feeling is renewed, the creative spark that gives you life will re-ignite, and its fire will warm you once again.