Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Writing Prompt: Literary Reflections

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For each issue of Literary Mama, Literary Reflections shares a writing prompt, inviting our readers to respond. Our editors provide feedback on the responses we receive, and we post our favorites on the blog. This month's writing prompt is inspired by Karen DeBonis's essay, A Story Worth Telling.


Photo by Literary Mama photo editor, Heather Vrattos

At the beginning of her essay, Karen DeBonis finds herself—a 41-year-old mom—in a writing class with students younger and more experienced. Why is she there? It's a question she's examined at length for herself. She wants to write about discovering that her 11-year-old son had a brain tumor, his slow journey to recovery, and the never-ending and exhausting job of being his parent. It's a story, she believes, worth telling.

She soon learns the task she set for herself is extraordinarily difficult—mentally and emotionally:

My story was a deep well of anguish. Dipping into it with my writing, I hauled up the pain like a rusty bucket dangling from a rope, then ladled it out word by word, page by page. The well never ran dry, refilled daily by Matthew's tediously slow stumbling and bumbling back to some semblance of who he was before the tumor.

DeBonis eventually finishes a draft of her story, then sets it aside to devote herself fully to her son. She returns to full-time work as she contemplates the possibility of having to support him. Years go by—nearly 20—before the time is right for her to return to the manuscript. By now, her son is fully recovered and on a path to a happy life. And it's from this vantage point that DeBonis discovers her memoir really isn't about her son's tumor. She writes, "The real story is about me—who I was as a woman on this difficult journey of motherhood."

As often happens when we write, DeBonis discovers another story, a deeper story, than the one she set out to tell. Have you ever set out to write about a topic and discovered your real subject—perhaps uncovered in the process of writing—was something different?  What allowed you to see the story differently—the passage of time, a change in perspective, or something else?


Read DeBonis's essay and submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by January 7, 2019, for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflections (at) literarymama (dot) com and note "December Prompt" in your subject line. Please do not attach the essay but paste the response in the body of the email.


Susan Bruns Rowe lives in Boise, Idaho, and has two children in college. She has an MFA in creative writing from Boise State University and teaches writing workshops for The Cabin and The Osher Institute. Her writing has appeared in BrevityCreative Nonfiction, The American Oxonian, and the book, Fighting the World’s Fight: Rhodes Scholars in Oxford and Beyond.

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