Creativity and the Dreaded “Mommy Guilt”

Connie has written some excellent blog posts in the past about how effective guilt is at stifling creativity; I know this firsthand.

Ever since I became a mother, almost a year ago now (although it doesn’t seem like that long ago!), I’ve been battling the dreaded “Mommy Guilt.” It doesn’t matter that I took a year off from my high-pressure position as an editor and inhouse author in trade publishing (and recently resigned from it) because I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I still often feel guilty about the hours I spend each day on my keyboard, freelancing part-time as a “book doctor” and editor. Most of those hours occur when she is tucked away in bed for the night, slumbering sweetly, but some of them necessitate her going to nursery school two days a week.

However, as my girl grows and increases in independence by the day, I’m beginning to realize that—even if it means late nights and sacrificing some time with my child and a good deal of my social life—my work has benefits for her as well as for me (and for our household in general). For me, my work in the creative arts is not a luxury: it is a necessity. While I devote much of my time to freelance editing, and sometimes begrudge that it doesn’t allow me enough time to write, I am one of those lucky individuals who can say, for a fact, that I truly love what I do. It is my passion. I love taking a diamond in the rough and polishing it up to add more facets. I love helping other authors make their work the best it can be.

For my daughter, my passion for my work means that she not only gets to see firsthand the value of having a strong work ethic, but that she will also grow up appreciating that work should be a delight, something you actively look forward to doing. Already, I am seeing the shoots of her own burgeoning creativity as she indulges in her daily play. My love for the written word has also inspired in her a love of books. Even at just one year of age, she loves to carefully turn the pages (now recognising that pages are for turning and not for tearing) and to point to the bright pictures. Spending time reading to my darling is quality time, and although she is too small yet to fully understand the stories I write for her, I hope that one day they will number among her favourites.

When she was very small, my guilt at snatching short, private moments to write was overwhelming—and sometimes paralysing. But as she grows, I’m realizing that she, too, actively values time spent alone in creative play. She doesn’t always want an adult playing with her or hovering over her; sometimes she wants to explore objects in solitary (although supervised) reflection.

Interestingly, my book of short stories, “Cage Life,” although written some years ago before I became a mother, deals with themes relating to guilt and freedom in motherhood. In it, a young mother longs for the carefree life she once led, which leads to disastrous consequences. Now that I am a mother, it is probably not a story I could bear to write, but I still feel that it explores many of the wistful, private moments that mothers, particularly first-time moms, struggle with: the loss of a singular identity; the guilt; the longing for freedom, either creative or just a few hours to take a long bath or to go to the hairdresser. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother. My child will always be my greatest work, and a work-in-progress for my entire life. But, as a creative, I also know that I have other children—children stuffed away in drawers and hastily scribbled upon in brief snatches.

My advice to all new mothers who write, and who are struggling to find the time to be creative while keeping up with diaper changing, feeding, playing with and consoling babies, is that we should try not to feel guilty about anything that rounds us out and makes us who we truly are. Our children need us to be ourselves, with all of our passion, creativity and individuality intact. It is how they learn the value of those elements to humanity. And if nothing else, writing provides an escape from the everyday that is empowering and fully imaginative. We may be covered in baby vomit, have been up since 5 am, and really, really need to mop the floor sometime today, but in our heads we can be dancing flamenco, solving murder mysteries, trying to eke out a living on an alien world, or any manner of other exciting possibilities. So guilt be damned! Tonight she is sound asleep and for those silent hours in between the little cries in the night, I’m not a just a mommy, I’m a writing mommy, and write I will!

Karin’s book of short stories Cage Life is available from Amazon US
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Her book of poetry, Growth is available from:
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How to Crush Your Creativity: Shut Down

I could describe this with other words: apathy, indifference, or resignation. I used the phrase, “shut down” because it’s an action that illustrates the above emotions. What you shut down are the sensory, emotional, and caring mechanisms.

No one likes your idea? Who cares?

You just got another rejection for a creative project? So what?
You haven’t had an original idea in three months? Big deal.

You’re starting to feel dull, slightly rancid, and claustrophobic? It’s better than getting hurt or having your hopes raised, only to have them crash once more to the ground.

A brief interval of being shut down probably does no harm. When the heart aches beyond endurance and the nerve endings are beyond frayed, a period of retreat provides a vacation for the overwrought. “Brief,” however, is the defining adjective.

Beneath the layer of anesthesia that numbs the pain, your imagination, hopes, and dreams still live. If you continually suppress them, you could end up feeling far unhappier than you did when you were suffering defeat. There’s a good reason for this: the only one responsible for this pain is you, and you know it.


If you’ve reached the point where you can’t conjure up any enthusiasm for either continuing a current project or starting a new one, allow yourself a vacation, but, if you can, skip the Novocaine.

Spend your checking-out time enjoying yourself. Be with friends. Express your creativity by enjoying that of others. Listen to music you love, read, watch movies. Be kind to yourself and look for ways to make yourself happy.

Get back to where you once belonged. Ask yourself why you express your creativity? Is it for the approval of others? Or is it because it gives you pleasure to do so? If you can remember that you do it for the love of it, you’re on the road to reliving that feeling. Once the feeling is renewed, the creative spark that gives you life will re-ignite, and its fire will warm you once again.

Interview with R. J. Palmer: How to Saddle Your Imagination and Ride It

Since my blog is about creativity, I’m especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Most people might call it a little airheaded when I say that it didn’t hit me until I was in my early twenties that I even had talent and potential as a writer. Really when I finally understood that I wanted to be a writer it was one of those “facepalm” moments and I wanted to berate myself by saying, “Why didn’t you think of that before, you twit? DUH!” I really wasn’t that hard on myself or anything but I wanted to be primarily because, well, I was so OLD when I started writing. Ah well, better late than never I suppose.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

Looking back on it, yes I can say that I was a very creative child. I could rock a brainstorming session and my parents tried to push me toward drawing but I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, so that was out. My best drawings were the happy face doodles on my folders when I was bored in school. Other than that, I read a lot and had an insatiable appetite for the written word. Honestly, if someone couldn’t find me, I was curled up somewhere with a book I didn’t want to put down. When I wasn’t reading or drawing horridly lopsided and disfigured cartoons on my school folders, I couldn’t shut up. That probably should’ve been a clue to parents and teachers alike.

Your autobiographical notes are quite intriguing. You describe yourself as having an over-active imagination that finally got channeled into writing. Do you find other useful outlets for your imagination when you’re not writing?

Does cooking count? I have several taste testers around the house, just ask the kids and every once in awhile, I’ll experiment with something new. Sometimes it turns out and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s never fun or interesting if you don’t try. If I don’t write or have some kind of creative outlet, I’ve figured out that I can’t sleep so well because I can’t get the rampaging thoughts that are swirling chaotically around in my head to settle down for long enough to fall asleep. It’s horrifying when I’m getting to a really good part in a book I’m writing because I’ll toss and turn until the wee hours of the morning if I don’t either get up and write or concentrate on clearing my mind.

What inspired you to write Birthright?

Sheer unadulterated penniless boredom. I had had the idea for Birthright revolving around in my head for years and just hadn’t acted on it so when I was out of money and totally at loose ends one winter I just sat down and started to write. Birthright came out and I discovered a passion for writing. Writing is now something of an addiction for me. I gotta get my fix!

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)

When I was writing Birthright, it was nothing less than Mozart all the way and it did the trick. Now that I’m writing Sins of the Father, I like total quiet because it helps me focus and center myself. Sometimes I wish someone would tell that to the kids and the dog. I can’t complain too much though because the dog hangs adoringly on my every word and it strokes my inner ego-centric.

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

Sometimes when I’m writing something that’s just everyday stuff I have to slog through it and get on with it. I was plagued up until a few months ago with the most horrible case of writer’s block ever though and it took me months to get past it. I tried everything from the advice of others to reading back over my own work to see if there was something there that might spark my creativity and nothing until I sat back and almost gave up to start writing another project. At that point it was like BLAM! Something went off in my head and I’ve been writing every spare moment since pretty much. I guess I just needed to quit beating my head against the figurative brick wall and relax.

How does a mother of six find time to write?

All kids go to school and sleep sometime. I love early in the morning when the kids first go off to school because the house is quiet and I can write. I hate getting up at six a.m. to get them off to school but I guess that little sacrifice is worth it in the end. I do so love school!

Do your children inspire your creativity?

All the time, my dear. I look at the little things the kids do and the funny little ways they act and whether anyone knows it or not, which is something I’m sure no one ever really will know, I incorporate small aspects of my children’s personalities into my writing. It helps to make the characters come alive for me and maybe someday the children will notice this and realize how much I cherish them. Then again, maybe not.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I’ve never regretted the decision to go Indie because I have free license to make professional and creative decisions that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I have creative control over my own work and when my work comes out in publication, it looks a lot more like me and my work. It echoes my thoughts and personality more than it would if I had to deal with a publishing house and though I’m not contemptuous of the work and sacrifice that traditionally published authors have had to go through, I can smile and say, “Glad it’s them and not me.” That rocks!

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?

Disregard everyone else because I’m guessing someone somewhere down the line was very jealous and made a tart or rude comment that turned you off to the idea of being creative. They need to shut up and get real because they’re always going to be the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it when you know you can. It’s far better to be yourself, be creative and fall flat on your face than never to bust out with what could be the next great work whether written or drawn or sung. I can respect having tried and failed because at least you tried and you learned from your failure. Build on that. If you don’t ever try, you can’t fail and that will never garner anyone’s respect, including my own. Wouldn’t you be kicking yourself in the posterior for years if you didn’t and someone else did?

Description of Sins of the Father:

A minister losing touch with his faith…

A severely autistic child with no past, no present and no real future…

An evil older than time itself…

When the boy Lucian is thrown into Aaron’s life with nowhere else to go all hell breaks loose and Aaron confronts things he never actually imagined could really exist in an effort to save one small, tortured child.


Aaron’s dreams, if they could be called such with their nightmarish quality, were dark and angry and brutal. Blood and fire; there was blood and fire everywhere and no matter where he ran, he could not get away. The blood and the fire chased him and no matter where and how fast he ran, he was endlessly pursued. Disembodied laughter and a voice echoed in his consciousness as well and they were filled with undiluted malice. He didn’t know what the voice was saying; the language was not familiar to him. The wealth of loathing and bitter rage that were infused into both the voice and the laughter were though and he shied away from them both even if he could not escape them.

There was also a great infinite black that was his constant albeit unwanted companion. It shadowed and followed him with lethal intent and an unquenchable thirst and that thirst was for blood. He didn’t know how he knew that but he did for there was a constant feeling or portent running through his dreams apace with the blood and the fire. It was as if whatever chased him doggedly in those dreams was whispering something to him that he could not hear with his ears, only with his deepest secret heart.

He tried desperately to ignore it but it would not be ignored. He tried with everything he was to run away and could not escape it. He tried to confront it but there was nothing there to confront. There was an invisible nemesis driving him to the trembling edge of madness from the confines of his dreams that would not be silenced or stilled and he couldn’t get that one idea out of his head.

Vengeance thirsts for blood…

Birthright is available at:



Visit R. J. Palmer’s blog.

The Sins of the Fathers will be available in April, 2011.

Interview with Cheryl Shireman

Cheryl is a prolific best-selling writer who has harnessed her creativity to produce compelling fiction and nonfiction. But that’s enough of telling. In her interview, she vividly describes her methods for keeping creative energy flowing.

Since my blog is about creativity, I’m especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

I was an only child and if an only child wants to play, they very often have to be creative. I spent a lot of time outside exploring our yard. It was only two acres, but the back of the property used to be a peach orchard, so there were old peach trees to climb and lots of room to roam. Inside the house, I used to play “farm animals” a lot. Farm animals were cheap little plastic animals that you could buy in a bag at any grocery store. I set up fences for them and created worlds where a family took care of their horse ranch during the day and also had time to visit the dinosaur farm and zoo right down the road.

What inspired you to write your first book, Life is But a Dream?

One day I started thinking about how our lives are often defined by our circumstances and we can make informed and empowered decisions, or we can merely float along. I wondered what would happen to a woman who suddenly lost everything that defined her life. I imagined a woman who has given her life to others. She is a devoted wife and mother, but when her husband files for divorce and her daughter leaves for college, she realizes her own life no longer has meaning. Just to make it even more interesting, I wanted the main character to be in unfamiliar surroundings so I placed her, Grace Adams, in a secluded lake cabin. Then I started writing, watching as Grace’s life unfolded before me. It was a lot of fun to write and I came to really love Grace.

Your own main character is highly creative when it comes to dreaming up things to fear. What interested you about developing that character?

I think we all have fears; Grace just has a tendency to allow those fears to take form in her mind, creating problems that may never arise. She can also be quite funny in her musings. I love being able to get into such a character’s mind. I have received many emails from readers telling me they love Grace and can relate to her. I just received one the other day from a reader who told me that she lost sleep over her book because she stayed up until three in the morning to finish it! That is the ultimate compliment for a writer.

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)?

I like to write the first thing in the morning, when I am as close to the sleep state as possible. I pull on the most comfortable clothes I can find (usually one of my husband’s sweatshirts, a baggy pair of yoga pants, and an old pair of hiking socks), wad my hair up in a ponytail, and start writing. For years I wrote in longhand, but now I do all of my writing on my laptop. I have a desk, but I like to write on a couch with my feet up on an ottoman. Comfort is important. I also like solitude and silence. If I have any music on, it is usually soft classical music like Vivaldi. I can’t listen to any music with words when I write. It is distracting. As the writing gets intense, I may even turn that off. I also love to write for long periods of time whenever possible. When I am writing, I very often work ten or twelve hours a day. These are my ideal writing conditions now, but as a mother of three, I seldom had those. I once wrote in a Chucky Cheese while my kids played nearby with probably fifty other kids. Now, that’s concentration!

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

I don’t get stuck. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Even when the words don’t want to come, I write something. It might be notes, or brainstorming, or words that I will end up deleting, but I keep writing because you never know when a gem might be discovered. But I also believe in the value of long hot baths when the writing seems to be a mere trickle instead of a constant flow.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I love being an indie writer! I have total freedom to write the books that I want to write. I am now working with a professional editor and really feel this is the very best situation for me. I have just rereleased the professionally edited version of my first novel (now titled Life Is But a Dream: On the Lake) and am about to release the edited version of my second novel, Broken Resolutions. I hope to release the second of the Grace Adams Series this fall. And then I will start a new novel after the first of the year that I am already very excited about. The ability to publish independently has opened a whole new world for me. I am living my dreams.

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?
Nike said it better than I can – Just do it. I believe everyone is born with a purpose. There is a reason you are on this earth. If you have creative urges, they are there for a reason. Don’t ignore them. Nurture them and bring them to fruition. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Your talent, your creativity, is unique to only you. If you don’t express it, it will never be expressed, and the world will be a poorer place. Just do it.

Amazon Links

Life is But a Dream: On the Lake

Broken Resolutions

You Don’t Need a Prince: A Letter to My Daughter