Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Writing Prompt Reader Response

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Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing promptinspired by Meagan Schultz's essay, "A Love Letter to My Tribe," and Lisa Katzenberger's essay, "Writing After the Storm."  We invited readers to tell us what motivates them to write. Below is Jenn Shehata's response.

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When Writing is the Only Thing That Gets the Dishes Washed

By Jenn Shehata

The pages are blue and faded. Ragged edges of cheap notebook paper tucked inside a folder. I am unable to part with it, this first chapter of my first novel. It was also my last. I was 14, lonely, each line painstakingly handwritten.

I journaled through my teenage angst. Then in university, after receiving poor grades on paper after paper, I decided I couldn’t write. So I didn’t.

When my first child was born I started writing again. I wrote to remember how excruciatingly hard those first months were, but also how amazing, how these endless days of crying could be erased by one sleepy, contented baby sigh. Gradually the writing got pushed aside, the end of maternity leave bringing with it painfully long night shifts and never enough good childcare.

After my third baby, I came to a breaking point. I was a jumbled mess of anxiety, constantly overwhelmed by life. Out of desperation, and in tears, I phoned the free counselling line. I couldn't fathom dragging myself out of the house and finding childcare, so the girl on the phone suggested e-counselling. This was the start of emails back and forth with my counselor, Sue.

I poured out my soul, my biggest fears and then the things I was most proud of. I enjoyed Sue's responses, but the healing came in the flow of my words in those emails.

Like Rachel Platten sings “and all those things I didn't say, wrecking balls inside my brain” I had channeled all my misery into words unspoken that were banging around in my head, waiting to be said. They were constantly vying for my attention and pulling me into darkness. Long after my free counselling ran out I continued on with the Dear Sue letters in my private journals, heart poured out, searching for clarity.

Something profoundly healing happens when I release my mind. As my fingers dance on the keyboard the chaos takes form. It forces me to stop, to contemplate. The anxiety relents because bringing my thoughts to the light is like the age-old act of confession. I don’t have to fight it anymore. Not only do I admit my failures and worries, but I explore them. I take them, and like paint on a canvas, create them into something beautiful.

Seeing all the relentless thoughts in my mind take shape, line after line, brings me peace. It’s as if I’ve taken the time to pause before a sink of dirty dishes jumbled together, long neglected. One by one I take my thoughts and, like a bath in the warm bubbly water, they are baptized with intention, rinsed with reflection, and lined up on the rack to dry.

I write because when I attend to all the things I have to say, it becomes a beautiful testament to a life lived thoughtfully. It empties my brain of the wrecking balls that, when ignored, become migraines. I write because it helps me pay attention to the life before me that can be so fleeting. I give consideration to all the grace I’ve been given and I’m taken to a place of gratitude.

When the sink is empty and my mind calm I feel like my life is in tune, ready to take on another day, discover something new.

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Jenn Shehata is a nurse, a mom of three, and most recently, a writer. She spends her days with her kids, and her evenings cuddling babies and empowering moms in the NICU. She writes about it at www.cryandnurseon.com. She has also written for The Mighty and SheLoves Magazine.


Andrea Lani writes fiction and nonfiction focusing on motherhood and the natural world. Her writing has appeared in The Maine Review, SaltFront, and Brain, Child Magazine, among other publications. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program, she is a Maine Master Naturalist, and she teaches nature writing and nature journaling workshops around Maine.


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Bingo! Great piece! I echo your sentiments exactly. Writing is exactly the same for me. It has saved me and turned my life around for the better.
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