Latina Writers Conference, Writer Mami Maternity Leave & Staying Connected to Your Writer Self
I’m super excited to attend and speak at the Latina Writer’s Conference in Los Angeles tomorrow (9/8/18)!
A full day of programming surrounded by badass Latina Writers? Sounds like heaven!
I’ve been thinking about what I might share with the mujeres who attend my session on “Writing & Caretaking / Parenting.”
I’ve learned so much during these first two years of Mamihood and have so many stories and nuggets to share about this transition.
In preparation for the conference, I thought I’d share the one piece of advice that most influenced my approach to embracing Mamihood as a writer AND some practical strategies I implemented to stay connected to my Writer Self even in the midst of this huge transition.
Read on for all the goodness and to download a FREE checklist!
BEST PRE-BABY ADVICE
In spring 2015, I defended my dissertation and was ready to turn my attention toward creative pursuits again. That summer, I attended AROHO, a writing retreat for women at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. There I met, I kid you not, NOT ONE but TWO fellow Boricua writers. Almost immediately we named each other writing comadres: co-mothers for our future works and book babies.
One afternoon, while walking to a reading, I asked one of my Comadres, Melissa Coss Aquino:
“How have you done it? How have you written and had babies and loved? I see you, so I know it’s possible. What words of wisdom do you have for me because I’m thinking of getting pregnant but I’m a little nervous about it.”
Melissa was writing a novel, finishing her dissertation, and had raised two grown sons. If anyone could give me some insight I knew it was her.
I was right. So much knowledge poured out of her that I asked her to hold on so I could get out a pen and paper.
She emphasized the importance of embracing the various seasons of my life, knowing that everything would constantly change and that being open to change and adaptable to those changes would make all those shifts and transitions not only bearable but potentially fruitful.
Most importantly, she said:
Take time to heal the wound of birth. You have been broken open to let someone else be born. Be with your baby. Drink tea. Nap. Heal. The writing will wait. It will be there when you’re ready.
So simple and yet so profound. Let yourself heal. Give yourself permission to press pause, to rest.
The world — and your writing life — will not end if you stop producing or publishing at the same rate AND you will not have to pause forever. What a relief.
MY WRITER MAMI MATERNITY LEAVE
When I found out I was pregnant, I took Melissa's advice to heart, took out my calendar, and wrote MATERNITY LEAVE for three months after the due date. And then I wrote EXTENDED MATERNITY LEAVE for an extra three months.
I’m grateful I intentionally took all the pressure off of my writing, especially in those first three months. I honored my cuarentena. The learning curve is steep, and being gentle with myself made for a more smooth transition.
Extending my “leave” from writing for an extra three months was also helpful for me because being a stay at home mom (with a partner working 90+ hours a week at the time) is full of its own unpaid caretaking labor to which I needed to tend. I felt fortunate to be able to write when I wanted to as a form of release and for pleasure as opposed to under external or self-inflicted pressure.
I fully acknowledge that I am in the extremely privileged position to have a spouse whose income allowed me to stay home with our son and take an extended maternity leave from not only my personal writing projects but also from teaching. I was also privileged in that I did not suffer postpartum complications and did not experience postpartum depression or anxiety.
For other Mamis such an extensive writer leave may not be possible or desirable -- especially if writing is a significant source of income. That said, I hope Mamis and Mami-to-Bes who read this will think about how they might adapt my experience or my suggestions to help fit their family's needs and situation.
This is all to say that to the extent their particular situations allow, I hope Mamis (and Papis) will be gentle with themselves and grant themselves grace during what can be an intense transition.
CONNECTING WITH MY WRITER SELF WHILE ON MATERNITY LEAVE
During that first year, I didn’t work on any big projects and I didn't write, revise, submit, and publish as much as I had before.
I did, however, stay very connected to my writer and creative self in various ways during that time.
Inspired by that postpartum period, I compiled "20 Big and Small Ways to (Re)Connect with Your Writer Self," a FREE checklist with suggestions that can keep you connected to your writer life — even when life gets in the way. (Read on for a preview of specific suggestions.)
20 Big & Small Ways to (Re)Connect with Your Writer Self
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While this list grew out of my maternity leave experience, I think it can be useful for writers who need a break from big projects (like writing that book), but do not want to completely disconnect from their writer lives.
This list can also be helpful for those periods when other demands (like full-time teaching for example) make it hard to give your big projects the sustained attention they need.
That said, beware of using this list just to procrastinate. I'm a proponent of working on your big projects and goals as much as you are able, but I also believe it's ok to hit pause and connect with your Writer Self in other, less intense ways sometimes.
Here are some of my favorite strategies from the list with a description of how I personally applied them:
START A LOW STAKES DAILY (OR WEEKLY) WRITING PRACTICE
Before baby I had established a solid Low Stakes Daily Writing Practice. After baby even my low stakes approach felt onerous so I put it aside.
In January (baby was about to turn 4 months), Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 took off and I thought: “I think I’m ready for a regular practice again — let’s do this!”
(PS check out Vanessa's work -- she's another inspiring Latina Writer Teacher Mami).
I took my old “low stakes” approach to the assignment. I wrote into a notebook (and didn’t worry about transcribing or posting) and didn’t shy away from micro-essays, poems as essays, and even packing list as essay. Many of these essays were written with baby on my lap (he took epic lap naps whereas crib naps were 20minutes long tops).
I ended the year with two notebooks full and 42 “essays”— all material I can go back to when I’m ready.
If you can, find a way to incorporate a somewhat regular low stakes writing practice into your life!
SUBSCRIBE SUBSCRIBE SUBSCRIBE
I’m a walker, so many of my days are spent pushing my kiddo around in his stroller for long walks in our neighborhood.
Once I discovered podcasts, these daily outings became a time to connect with my Writer Self by listening to writing related podcasts. There are countless ones to choose from and I’ve subscribed to several including: Writer Mom Life, Minorities in Publishing, The Creative Penn, and Ampersand.
You can also subscribe to Lit Journals, Blogs, Facebook Groups, Magazines like Poets & Writers, Poem-A-Day e-mails, and Newsletters (including mine!). Subscribing to a few of these will regularly inject creativity into your daily life.
SCHEDULE, PLAN, & ATTEND A DIY RETREAT
You can read all about my first DIY retreat after baby in this blog series.
All I’ll say here is that once your parental leave from writing (however you’ve defined that leave for yourself and your family) is coming to an end, it’s nice to take some dedicated time to strategize about the next phase of your Writer Life.
A DIY retreat is a great way to do some of that strategizing and a great way to get some dedicated time for writing.
FILLING IN THE DETAILS: COMADRE’S ADVICE IN ACTION
Some of you might wonder what a 3-6 month maternity leave from writing looks like.
Here's what that first year postpartum looked like for me:
In the first three months I wrote as little or as often as I liked, no pressure just pleasure from my writing self.
I did not worry about publishing, attending events, doing all the things.
I was on maternity leave and “No.” is a full sentence.
In the following three months, I eased back into writing projects, but again mostly from a place of no pressure, no deadlines, no stress. (The one exception was that I worked fairly diligently on revisions for an academic article during months 4-6 of my extended maternity leave).
I generally focused on what I wanted to work on and what I could managing doing while caring for an infant. I waved away my FOMO and instead TRUSTED that when I was ready to emerge things would fall into place.
Later I'd learn about what Kate Northrup describes as the Fertile Void, and I'd realize that I was deeply in the Fertile Void postpartum. As she describes it:
The Fertile Void is the creative phase where we:
One of the first writing related things I did postpartum was attend a three hour writing workshop hosted by Women Who Submit and facilitated by Wendy C. Ortiz called "Public Notebook to Book." (Taking a class on anything that interests you is another one of my tips on the checklist!)
Baby was three months old, and it was probably the longest I had been away from my nursling. I used a hand pump in the bathroom during the break.
And. It. Was. Glorious.
Those three hours thinking, talking, and commiserating about writing filled my soul and didn't feel overwhelming. When it was over I was full of ideas but there was no pressure to produce anything. I had learned new things and could implement them here and there in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
The permission to keep my writing low stress was a true gift in other ways.
My book Words or Water was published 8 days before my son was born.
If I hadn’t proactively planned on resting, I might have fallen down the marketing rabbit hole and stressed myself out at a time I really needed to rest. (The stress would have also likely made my breastfeeding relationship with my son even more challenging to establish than it already was).
Instead, I didn’t even think much about my book until after my maternity leave when I began to plan a belated book party.
9 months after the book and baby were born we celebrated Words or Water in Downtown Long Beach.
I was surrounded by people I love and who love me—including my partner, nine-month-old, and a community of writers and friends who showed up no questions asked even though I had fallen off the map.
I was well-rested, energized, and ready to celebrate — none of which I could have said right after baby was born.
In 2017, I only had one poem published because I had cut way back on submitting during that first year postpartum (as in I stopped submitting until I realized I hadn't published anything in 2017 and the year was coming to an end).
In 2018? Now that I have regularly scheduled writing and writer life time twice a week?
& a magazine column
published in July and August alone!
My son turns two soon and started preschool this week.
How much more will I accomplish with 16 instead of 6 hours/week to work?
I’m very excited to find out!
BEFORE YOU GO...
I hope this post has inspired you to think about how you might honor your needs and intentionally take leave from your writing without losing touch with your writer self when that's what's called for -- whether it's because of a new baby or for all of the other reasons one might need to
"Drink Tea. Nap. Heal."
Now before you go...
...GRAB YOUR CHECKLIST:
Li Yun Alvarado
Puerto Rican Poet & Scholar:
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Words or Water