Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
After Page One: Finding Time


A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire


Writing Prompts for New Mothers


As I approached the birth of my first son, I made peace with the fact that my writing would slow down or even turn off for an unspecified amount of time. But instead of early retirement, I found myself in a changed relationship to time. I had much less of it at my disposal, but I used it better, because it was such an instantly precious commodity.

I thought of great mother-poets like Lucille Clifton who had six (six!) children and said she wrote poems at the kitchen table, in the midst of it all. She would laugh and say, "why do you think my poems are so short?" What I took from that was, snatch the time you have when you can. Don't worry about the form things come out in, just write. Write any word that comes, on any surface. I wrote on paper towels at three in the morning while nursing the baby and found that in that blur, that haze, that there were words and sounds that were new to me that I needed to snatch from the air and save.

When you become a mother, you are yourself but also a new person. Becoming a mother was certainly the most "interesting" thing that ever happened to me -- still is -- and many things in my life are interesting! So I would say, be ready to catch the words where they fall. Tuck them in a folder. There will be time to make more of them, even if it comes in wee bits.

There are many days when new mothers cannot even get themselves into the shower. But if pen and paper are everywhere that we are -- in the kitchen, by the bed, on the arm of the chair where we feed the baby -- they are butterfly nets that can catch those words, one or a few at a time. The jazz tradition teaches us about the power of improvisation. In the absence of hours of time in a perfectly silent room, make art in the din. Write about all you are experiencing: the poop, the fear, the down, the purr, the nerves-strung-thin, the exaltation, the ambivalence. Accept it as interesting; describe it exactly.

Becoming a mother taught me that all writing prompts are tricks and that there is only one prompt that matters: write. Once you remove the anxiety that you don't have enough time to do it, all that is left to do is do it. There are no tricks, just words that are already in the ancestral ether, waiting for you to pay attention to them.

And be patient with yourself, for as parenting requests patience of a sometimes otherworldly order, so, too, we must be patient with ourselves. Word by word the poems get done. Be patient. Write.


Join our After Page One series.  We’re looking for 300 to 500-word guest posts that motivate, inspire, and encourage other mama-writers, and we’d love to feature YOUR thoughts about getting started, getting back to a writing project, integrating writing with motherhood, reading, or having a positive attitude.   The list is endless, but here are some questions that might help you get started. We’ll publish a short bio at the bottom of your post so readers can learn more about you and your projects.

Elizabeth Alexander has published six books of poems, including American Sublime (2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.”  Her most recent book, Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 won the Paterson Prize for Poetry.  In 2009, she composed and delivered Praise Song for the Day for the first inauguration of President Barack Obama.  Professor Alexander was recently named the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner for her lifetime achievement in poetry.

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Love this. I've found that the less time I have to write, the more productive I am with my time.
I love this. I always crave those secluded hours to write but now (with a three year old and a six month old) I am finally learning to use the minutes when and where I can get them.
Thank you for this! There's so much to treasure in this piece -- the butterfly nets, the evocation of Lucille Clifton, the one prompt that matters...
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