Nici West is the founder of Mummy Writes: inspiring creativity, connection and community for new mums. In this Pocket Guide, she shares her tips on how you can be creative during newfound parenthood…
Welcome to the world little one! Goodbye from the world, for now, exhausted new parent who can barely function. I see you, you can just about manage to eat, change a nappy without getting poo all over you (how does it always end up there?!) and keep your eyes open just enough to enjoy your little ones first gurgles. But when do we, as parents, get to feel ‘normal’ again? Whether you’re a well-weathered writer or a creative writing virgin, writing with your baby is a useful tool to get you feeling like yourself again and remind your brain that it can be intellectually stimulated in some way.
A little bit of creative writing can make you feel normal. Writing with your baby is about doing just that, allowing yourself time to write even if you feel like you’re not producing anything good. Embrace the messy drafts and half-finished thoughts. You might find that in a year or so, those messy drafts have something that inspires you, and maybe someday those first drafts turn into third or fourth drafts, or even a published novel. The act of being creative and using our imagination can help process experiences (such as birth, ring a bell?) and re-build a sense of identity and confidence. Creativity is self-care, and new parenthood is one of the times when self-care is most needed.
Trying to find the time to fit creative writing into your day can sound challenging, especially when you’ve got a new baby at home. Writing around your baby is about making a little bit of time for yourself, and I mean a little bit.
Here’s how to fit some writing into your day:
Write on whatever you can find, whether you’re scribbling on a nappy, typing on your phone or talking about aloud.
Write for two to five minutes. It makes a difference, trust me.
Write in bullet points or stream-of-conscious (no edits, no judgements). One of the biggest challenges as sleep-deprived zombies can be putting pen to paper, so stop thinking and just do it, no matter what you write.
Give yourself prompts, whether it’s copying the first sentence from the closest book within arm’s reach or picking an object to write about. (More writing exercise ideas below!)
Reading to create. Reading exercises your writing brain, even if you can’t form a sentence today. Look at poetry, flash fiction or blogs for inspiration. Or listen to music, look at art (yeah, your kid’s art on the walls will do), watch a spoken word artist, find a dancer on Instagram, all sorts of art can spark ideas.
Set tiny targets. Think of your writing time as weekly or monthly and set small targets like ‘did something creative’, ‘got an idea’ or ‘scribbled for two minutes’.
Where and when?
Anywhere, anytime, literally. Even at 2 am, when you’re up for the night feed or Calpol fiasco, type ideas on your phone (I send myself a Whatsapp message) or scroll Instagram for inspirational artists. You may not have the energy to be creative yourself, but you can watch others do it.
But can I really do this?
Yes, you can. Writing is for everyone! It doesn’t matter if you haven’t written anything creative since secondary school, or you’re a published author who’s lost your mojo since entering parenthood. Anytime is a good time to start. Don’t think about the end goal, times are strange when your little one is young. Write for yourself, or your little one, or for your parents, whatever gets you going.
Not convinced yet? Give it a go!
Try these short writing exercises for zombie brains (2 minutes)
Bullet point descriptions, free write sounds you can hear, write a characters stream of conscious, set writing restrictions e.g. five-word sentences only, re-write your favourite scene from a film, borrow sentences from books or lines from poems, write a birthday card from one character to another, or write about a lost object.
Or this longer writing exercise for slightly less tired brains (5 -7 minutes)
Step one: Close your eyes, listen to all of the sounds around you. What’s far away, what’s up close? Listen to the sounds inside your body, can you hear your own breath?
Step two: Open your eyes, make a bullet point list of 10 sounds. Ones you can hear and ones you can’t. Use your imagination, is there a sound that makes you feel nostalgic, like the opening of the biscuit jar as a kid, or a sound you’ve love to hear but never will, like a rocket taking off into space.
Step three: Order your list to tell a story. Think about what’s left off the page, what do two sounds imply to the reader when juxtaposed together? If you heard a bang and then a scream, what would you think had happened?
Step four: Give yourself some writing time. Whether it’s two minutes or five, start writing your story from the start, using the descriptions of the sounds as a starting point and free write the sentences that come to mind.
You might also like…
(some of my favourite creative artists!)
Apples and Snakes spoken word poets: https://www.youtube.com/user/applesandsnakes/
Luke Wright Poet: https://www.instagram.com/lukewrightpoet/
Theresa Lola Poet: https://www.instagram.com/theresa_lola
Lois Ward-Marvin of Depression Rhythm – https://www.instagram.com/depression.rhythm/
Kamir Kamar musician: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOwJ0m6Waf2DcYpMUOygLrg
As a parent with little ones at home, it can be hard to keep up with groups or attended gatherings. Whilst on maternity leave, I’d found plenty of mums and babies groups to go to (Ettie Betty Baby Signs is excellent), many of which revolved around exercise, but I couldn’t find anything that I felt challenge my brain. There was nothing that got me feeling creative or gave me the energy to write again.
I set up Mummy Writes baby-friendly writing workshops (funded by Natwest’s Back Her Business campaign) as a way to offer new parents a way to try their hand at something new, feel intellectually stimulated and find a passion for writing. I wanted to set up a group where new parents could come as they are, bags under their eyes and barely in presentable clothes, and feel like they were in a safe space to try out new things and learn about fiction writing together. Mummy Writes is about learning to write, but also about the community and allowing parents to come together to inspire creativity in all the chaos that children bring with them.
If you feel inspired to start writing you can get involved with Mummy Writes online mini-workshops that take you through three 15-minute writing exercises to get you putting pen to paper and carve out that all-important writing time for yourself. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can sign-up to the online 6-week baby-friendly writing course. Check out www.mummywrites.com for more online workshops and some face-to-face workshops and courses too!
Good luck with your writing journey!
Nici West is a short story writer, editor and mum of one. She edits works of fiction, memoir and arts journalism and her short stories have been published in places such as Dark Ink Press, shortlisted for the Willesden Herald short story prize and Highly Commended for the Bridport Prize 2019. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester, studying under authors Geoff Ryman and Colm Toibin.
Published 18 September 2020
Updated 14 October 2020