Motherhood and writing…they have a lot in common and author Lisa Garrigues took the idea one step further, wrote a book about it and offers workshops on the subject too. Here she is to tell us about the book and her journey to published author. www.writingmotherhood.com
Susan Palmquist (SP)-Tell us about yourself-
Lisa Garrigues(LG)-If you want the official version, please visit my website: writingmotherhood.com! There you’ll learn about my publications (Writing Motherhood, a Scribner paperback); my degrees (a bachelor’s in English literature from U.C. Berkeley; a master’s in English education from Columbia); my teaching gigs (92nd Street Y in New York City); my speaking engagements; radio and television appearances; and the like. But let me give you the unofficial version—an uncensored sampling of first thoughts, which is the way I write, the way I teach my students to write.
I wore makeup for the first time on my wedding day, twenty-nine years ago this October. Nowadays, I wear just a touch of makeup (mascara, blush, lipstick), but I find myself dreaming some mornings of Botox and face lifts and other beauty enhancements. Last fall, my husband and I trekked for three weeks to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. We walked in the footsteps of our twenty-year-old selves, when we traveled around the world for a year with nothing but the clothes on our bodies and small packs on our backs. A strained Achilles tendon sent me the other day to an alternative healer. Instead of the usual course of physical therapy and Advil and ice, the alternative healer wanted to know what my “Achilles heel” is. “Perfectionism,” I told him. I have had the same best friend since the age of four. Last week, as we shoveled dirt on her stepfather’s grave, I knew that she and I will remain best friends to the end. My mother used to force me to eat liver because liver was believed to cure warts. Now I force my mother to take walks because walking is believed to slow memory loss. We recently sold my childhood home. Among the papers I found is an autobiography I penned in the third grade. The autobiography shows no sign of literary talent whatsoever. My eldest child left for college the same year Writing Motherhood was published, which means that my first born and my first book went out into the world at the same time. Whenever my kids are having a tough time, I tell them, “It’s hard being a person.” Sometimes I overhear them offering their friends the same words of encouragement. For all the changes and transitions, all the upheavals and heartaches, two things remain constant in my life: my commitment to my family and my commitment to my craft as a writer.
SP- What prompted you to become a writer?
LG-Tobias Wolff, in his wonderful novel Old School, writes, “No true account can be given of how or why you become a writer, nor is there any moment of which you can say: This is when I became a writer.” I agree. Yet I can also identify certain experiences, certain influences, which put me on the path to become a writer. Foremost is the cooperative community in which I was raised. Founded in the 1940s by a group of Quaker pacifists, my community attracted many artists—writers, dancers, and musicians among them. Every gathering was the occasion for an impromptu square dance or poetry reading. The talk was literary. And people didn’t just read books; they wrote them. More than any other influence, my community taught me to value creativity over commercialism, artistic achievement over material wealth. My parents taught me something of equal value to me as a writer. As therapists, they taught me how to listen. One of my writing teachers says that writing is 90 percent listening. You take in the world around you, not just with your eyes and ears but also with your whole body, and you pour what you hear onto the page. But writing requires another kind of listening. Like therapy, it requires an inward listening, a listening to the rustle of your own soul. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Maybe that’s why I became a writer: to validate my life.
SP-How did you Writing Motherhood get started?
LG-The idea for my book came to me, as if in a flash, on a high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps. Inspired as I always am by the infinite beauty of the mountains and the rigors of a walk, I decided to write a book that would bring together everything I know about being a mother, a writer, and a teacher. What I liked best about the idea is that my book would help dispel the myth that motherhood is an impediment to creativity, proving instead that our every day lives can be a rich source for stories—a mother lode, if you will. So yes, my book was conceived in a moment of inspiration, but you should know that it was birthed through years of perspiration. Its pages are rooted in a lifetime of writing and teaching.
SP-Can you tell us what we will find in the book?
LG-Writing Motherhood offers inspiration and instruction for mothers who want to write about their lives—at every age and stage. First, you will learn the 7 Building Blocks of Writing Motherhood—the tools you will need to reconstruct and deconstruct moments of motherhood in writing. Then you will embark on a three-stage journey through Writing Motherhood: “In the Beginning—Taking Your First Steps” explores some of the issues that surface when we first become mothers and writers; “In the Middle—Finding Your Balance” traces the shadowy line we straddle in middle age, when we find ourselves wedged between growing children and aging parents; and “Beyond Motherhood—Holding On and Letting Go” examines the fears, questions, and possibilities that arise when we begin to redefine ourselves independently of our children. Every chapter begins with a story from my life or my classroom, and each ends with an invitation for you to write down your story.
SP-What are the similarities between writing and being a mother?
LG-Ahhh…there are so many. In fact, you’ll find a list in my book, in a sidebar called “Like Mother, Like Writer.” Let’s begin with the most obvious: storytelling. Writers are society’s storytellers, right? Well, so are mothers. Like tribal elders, mothers hand down our family’s stories from one generation to the next, connecting grandparent to parent to child. Another similarity is voice. A writer’s voice is distinctive; it is what distinguishes one author from another. The same is true for mothers. When a mother speaks, her children listen. Why? Because her voice carries authority (notice that the word authority derives from the word author). And speaking of listening….that might be the most important similarity of all. As I’ve already stated, writers must learn to listen. So must mothers. Sometimes, all we do is talk (give instructions, recite rules, offer advice) when all we really need to do is listen. With so many similarities, the good news is that, as a mother, you have already mastered many of the skills you will need as a writer.
SP-You hold workshops on this topic. Maybe you could tell us about them.
LG-I began teaching Writing Motherhood years before I published my book, and I remain committed to bringing my method to mothers everywhere. To that end, in addition to the ongoing classes I teach at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, I lead one-day and week-long workshops to women’s, parenting, and educational groups nationwide. Check out my website for upcoming events, or contact me directly to schedule one in your area. What I love most about the groups I lead is the chance to witness the energy and synergy that manifest when mothers come together to share their stories. But rest assured. You don’t have to come to a class or workshop to get started on Writing Motherhood. My book lets you follow along at your own pace, in your own time.
SP-What advice would you give a woman who’s toying with the idea of sitting down and writing for the first time?
LG-Susan, I just love the wording of your question: toying with writing. That would be my number one piece of advice: keep it playful, keep it fun. I don’t mean light—or polite. I want you to tell the truth when you write, however scary or ugly or dark it may be. But don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Which brings me to my second piece of advice: Even if you hope one day to publish a book or to post a blog, remember that you are writing for yourself. Lastly, begin wherever you are now—whatever age you are today, however old your children are this year, whatever your life circumstances may be. Don’t feel you have to go back and chronicle all the years you’ve missed. No, that would be counterproductive. Begin now. This morning. With the seat you are sitting in, the coffee on your counter, the rain outside your window. From there, you can go anywhere.
SP-Anything you learned while writing the book?
LG-Again, great question. Because it points to the reason why I write. I write to learn—about myself, who I am, where I came from, what makes me laugh and cry. That said, I did learn something very important through the process of writing Writing Motherhood. I learned that I could write a book. And more importantly, I learned that a book gets written the same way a child gets raised: not overnight, or in a flash of inspiration, but day after day, with hard work and perseverance and faith—faith in myself, in my story, and in the process.
SP-What’s next for you?
LG-When I was at work on Writing Motherhood, I told very few people what I was doing. I guess I’ve always been a bit reluctant to talk about my writing. Maybe I’m superstitious, or maybe I want to conserve my energy, or maybe I want to protect my idea, especially one that is embryonic. But I will tell you this. I am happily at work on my second book, a memoir. And the key word here is happily. After the past few years of book production and publication and promotion, I have learned what many writers have long known: that the greatest reward of writing is the writing itself.