Saturday, August 21, 2010

Part 2: The Birth of a Writer

People who know me are constantly saying they, "don't know how I do it." Some have even asked me how I do it, meaning how do I raise a family, work a day job, be an active part of the community and find the time to write. I've found this a hard question to answer as there's no real "how" to it, and "because I have to" doesn't convey anymore information than replying to the question, "who are you?" with, "I'm me."

I began writing and drawing at a young age. I bore my own children young, birthing my first at 20. There was a period of 10 years where my writing and my children shared scant space. My writing starved, but my children thrived and my creativity found outlet in changing knitting patterns and sewing quilts, adding my own mark to everything I made. This happened for many reasons, not because I was sacrificing myself for my children, but rather I couldn't figure out how writing fit into the mold of who I was supposed to be, what I thought was excepted. I didn't know how to be both and would later find I didn't in fact know myself.

During my abstinence, my writing obstinately tried to break out of the drawer where I'd shoved it; calling to be set free - to breath. And when I could no longer resist, I began the physical act of writing again, embarking on a surprising journey of self-discovery leading to more than a half-starved writer. It was the beginning of an inner awakening, the realization of who I was and it resulted in my becoming the whole person I was born to be in more ways than one. Along with this came the knowledge of how close I'd been to losing myself permanently, my identity and how deeply I'd been buried. One can't discard or reject a part of ones self without consequences and I'd been doing that for years - every time something about who I was didn't fit into the perception of who I should be. We tell our children they can be anything they want - but do we actually mean it. Does society really support it?

I don't regret this time, it simply was. When I think of the path my life might have followed if I'd kept writing when I was first married and had children I know my writing would not me the same as it is now - it would lack the depth and knowledge of my experiences within the drawer. Just as people who bear children when they are older parent differently than those who bore theirs earlier in life, my writing would have developed differently.

Birthing babies, never mind raising them, takes time and is hard on your body. A doctor will tell you it takes about 3 years for your body to recover after having a baby, he doesn't mean from the delivery. My children are 3 years apart, but I could swear my body didn't really recover until my youngest hit 6 or 7. I don't know if there is such a thing as recovery after birthing a story. Unlike being pregnant, writing breeds more writing. I heard an editor once refer to this  phenomenon as having a disease, once you caught the writing bug you couldn't stop. I view it as a blessing. When you experience starvation for awhile you don't take it for granted anymore.

No two writers write the same, every artist's work is distinctive to it's creator in some way and yet takes on a life of it's own; two pieces only being alike in the same way all children are children.  Each of my children is uniquely individual with their own characteristics, likes, dislikes and temperament. This can also be said for each of my stories. Most develop in the womb of my mind in a similar fashion, but they all differ in essence, design and their needs during their up bringing. Some are easy and others I have a more difficult time with, those ones fight me all the way with temper tantrums and arguments, but they're often worth it; they're the ones that teach me something and help take my writing to the next level.

I've always been delighted by a newborns perfection - one doesn't expect they won't be, but the tiny fingernails, exquisitely formed features, downy hair is all so absolutely without fault or blemish - it's amazing. And I know when a story is done because I get that same feeling. I can examine it, take it apart in every detail, read and reread it and remain almost in a state of disbelief that this piece of work originated in my brain and came from my hands - indeed, that I wrote it.

Some writers wait until their children are grown to take up the pen; for me, waiting almost killed me - I cannot do that again. Instead, I'm among those who manage to find a way to birth and raise stories along with children synchronously. There are many challenges to overcome and many hurdles to vault to accomplish goals and achieve some kind of balance between it all. I don't believe it's easy for any of us. I do it because both make up a large part of who I am and what's important to me; knowing in the end both my stories and my children will step into the world and if I've done a good job they will stand on their own.

Carrying, birthing and raising a story is as much as part of me as carrying my children was when I was expecting. There are sacrifices, decisions and priorities. It's physically and emotionally draining and one learns to live with being tired some days. Insomnia often strikes as the story begins mid-night calisthenics with ideas flowing forward as it stretches and kicks me into getting up and madly writing in my notebook. I know from experience if I don't do this and just enjoy the feeling of all these great thoughts I'll spent the next 3 weeks trying to recall them and they will never be as vivid or as perfect as this moment of clarity, no two moments, sentences or thoughts being alike. And so I write them down and later tweak them, rewriting them and adding to them until they are complete whole beings.

I loved being pregnant. I love my children; to create is to breath and to write is akin to being with child - It's simply part of who I am.

Note: The black and white photo's ones I took of my youngest son playing at the park (summer 2009). The colour photo of me at the bottom was taken by my friend Jerome. 


  1. Hi Leonie,
    I wanted to let you know I read this and appreciate it. I'll come in later to re-read and to comment. Thank you for posting this!

  2. Thank you for sharing this! It somehow feels familiar to me, although in a different way...

  3. Wow, thanks :) I'm so glad you both enjoyed it and that it struck a cord. It's a pretty personal post, it's taken me a long time to understand all this about myself, and it felt good to write and share.

  4. Hi Leonie,

    I can identify with so much of what you have written here, and I'm happy you shared it. You express your thoughts beautifully.

    Having a child opened up my world, and my desire to write actually coincided with having a child; and though there is constant competition, it is all worthwhile. I wrote off and on when I was younger, but not with intensity and purpose. Having a child added depth to my life experience.

    The idea of writing it down when the moment strikes, and the words are just right, is so true. If you let it go, an idea may remain, but the mode of expression, the rhythm, sound and tone, the key to the rest of the story or poem, may be forever lost.