Six Tips for Writing Well (and You Can Still Write After Kids)

BlogHer Original Post

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I started writing frantically. I'd graduated from my writing program the year before and was glowing with the newly minted feeling of writerly success: I'd had a few poems and short stories published somewhere other than my university's literary magazine. "What if it ends?" I thought. "What if I never get published again because I'm too busy being a mom?"

After my daughter was born, I couldn't even pee without listening for my girl, let alone think about writing, but I missed it. Those who need to write, need to write. It itches. I desperately wanted to create something I could be proud of but didn't have the time or brain cells to put together a line of verse or the shortest of short stories (which, in my estimation, are actually harder to write than long stories, but that's a post for another day). So on May 25, 2004, I wrote my first Surrender, Dorothy blog post, about tornadoes. It was self-titled, as so many debut acts are, at least that's what I told myself. The post was three paragraphs long, as that was as much as I could handle with a seven-week-old daughter -- but when I hit "publish," I felt some sense of accomplishment, writerly accomplishment. There.

I had no idea at the time that motherhood wouldn't actually hinder me that much as a writer -- if anything, it provided me with endless material as I found myself in myriad situations for which I would never have volunteered left to my own devices. And the lack of time forced me to tighten up on writing time -- it turns out if I think I have all the time in the world to write something, I won't write at all. Who knew?

writer's block

Credit Image: photosteve101 on Flickr

Though I've read hundreds of books on parenting and motherhood and probably fifty books on the craft of writing, I was drawn to Kate Hopper's new book, Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. It was filled with both solid tips and -- my favorite -- examples of writers doing things correctly. When I was in that graduate writing program, my professor made us read The Art of Fact, and I don't think I would've understood that narrative nonfiction can indeed be literature without that book. Use Your Words brings together practical advice and solid examples in much the same way.

Some of the advice reminded me of what I learned in school, especially in terms of craft. Though the book covered fiction and narrative nonfiction, most advice applied across the board. For example, this quote was written about an essay, but I think it applies beautifully to blogging.

Whenever you find yourself using abstract words -- those slippery concepts like love, hate, joy -- stop and instead try to convey emotion through details. - p. 6

Some of my favorite bloggers are such because of their grasp on description -- often, hilarious description. There are so many cliches in life -- and now there are blogging cliches (ex: hated with the fire of a thousand suns, nom nom, etc.) -- and it's really hard to avoid them. They flow out of my typing fingers on a daily basis, and I can tell how much energy I have that day by how willing I am to delete them and look for a better descriptive phrase. (Um, I'm not that willing every day.) In other words (which is in and of itself a cliche): One truly original sentence is better than an entire post of generic cliches. If you only have fifteen minutes, go for the one sentence, seriously! Then post it all by itself. Everyone will think you are brilliant or at least wonder what you are doing.

Another bit of advice that screamed BLOGGERS! to me was this, even though she's talking about books:

So voice can change from book to book, depending on the needs of your subject, and it changes as we grow and change as people. - p. 57

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