My two careers: mother and writer

I finished my synthesis paper to get in-service credit for the Read, wRite, Revise conference. In the process of writing it, I had this epiphany about my two careers. Below is my paper.

Life is Hard

by Docena Holm


            This paper will be my thoughts on what I’ve learned about writing from the conference, Project Writeway, speaking to my daughter’s class, and attending my youngest daughter’s poetry reading.

Project Writeway

            From January until the middle of April, I participated in a writing contest through the blog Throwing Up Words. The starting challenge was to submit the first 150 words of a novel. There were sixty entries. Fourteen of those entries were chosen to move on to the weekly challenges. Every week there was a writing challenge, a vote on the entries, and then one-to-two entries would be invited to join the at-home challenge. There were ten challenges. Each week I was challenged to write or revise a piece of a specified number of words. Each week I worked and revised and asked family members for input and was stretched in my writing abilities. Each week I hoped I’d make it on to the next challenge. Each week I stayed in the contest. I dug deep, wrote genres I’d never written before, cut words, and grew as a writer. I found my voice. I learned that I’m not humorous, that I like to hunt for the hurt but not to the truly hateful or wicked. The most personal challenge was an essay on why I write. I’ve included it here.


                        “Can teenagers love?” asked my oldest daughter. She’s dated a young man for over a year. I loved a boy in high school. He proposed. I said no and left for college      where I met my husband.

                        I write to be forgiven.

                        After a three hour elementary school concert, we found my second daughter hiding under a table, crying. When classes weren’t performing, the rest of the school waited together in a large room.  The noise, the bodies, the smells were all too much for    her. At other times, the seams of her socks, the buzz of fluorescent lights, lumpy oatmeal       on her tongue, my anger, her tantrums, me shoving her out the door to get to school…

                        I write to understand.

                        My son worships his dad. They wrestle, joke, torch a stripped lug nut to change a tire. To become a man, my son sleeps in a tent on the frozen snow, endures his dad tickling him for an entire minute, and hauls himself up on his chin-up bar when he goes in or out of his room.

                        I write to relate.

                        I review Shakespeare lines with my fifth grader, proofread papers for my 9th grader, sort through pennies with my son for a merit badge, write down my five year-old son’s stories about monsters, and relive moments of my senior’s life as she prepares for college. I listen to my children’s successes, failures, heartaches, joys. I teach them that the only person they can control is themselves. Still, there are suicide bombings, earthquakes, sexual abuse, cancer.

                        I remember the pain of a broken heart, the rage of childhood, being left out of wrestling matches between my dad and five younger brothers. I write because I remember. I write to fix a world I can’t control.

I discovered that I don’t write to be published or to fulfill some artistic need. I write to relate to the world and to explain my world. In the last challenge there were three finalists. I won! I won Project Writeway, Season 1. And the prize—a critique of 2000 words of my novel from Carol Lynch Williams’s agent, Stephen Fraser. Carol was a cheerleader for me and e-mailed asking who I would submit to if Stephen didn’t want the manuscript. I was sure this was my big break. Stephen e-mailed me the very day he received my 2000 words. He gave me a critique. Not a contract, not a request for more, not my dreams come true. So I looked forward to the conference for ideas on how to revise my manuscript and work for Stephen Fraser as my agent, as Carol advised me.

Read, wRite, Revise

            I love being a part of this conference sponsored by the Department of Literacy at Boise State and SCBWI.  Even though I was the conference coordinator, I was still able to attend most of the sessions. I learned from Alane Ferguson that you always write about your demons. Hers is the murder of her friend. I learned from Gloria Skurzynski that rejection doesn’t kill you or she’d be dead fifty-nine times. I learned from Sherry Dismuke and Susan Martin that creating a simple poem about a feather can reveal my conflict with writing and that I miss taking education classes. I learned from Alane’s writing intensive that the story needs to grab the reader right from the beginning with action, but more importantly with a connection to the main character. I learned from Matthew Kirby that plot is form and that following the form/formula is what we should do as writers. We all have unique stories to tell because we are each unique. I also really liked how he shared that Martine Leavitt told him to give himself permission to think of writing as a career.

            I decided after the conference and the Project Writeway Challenge that I know how to write. Now I need to give myself permission to think of writing as my career and devote time to it. And I need to dig deeper.

Life Is Hard

            My oldest daughter who is a senior asked me to come and speak to her adult living class about my career as an author. The theme for my presentation was “Life is hard.” We read to have problems solved. Writing is hard. I write to solve problems. I read some of my entries from Project Writeway and was reminded that I really liked them. I am a writer. Why do I have to keep relearning that? Because life is hard, and while rejection doesn’t kill me, I have to choose each time if I will let it make me stronger. I think the class enjoyed the presentation. I wanted to relate it to their lives and doing hard things. That’s what writers do—relate.

Poetry Café

            The poet Malia Collins conducted writing intensives last week with my youngest daughter's fifth grade class. My daughter read me her poems before the poetry reading. She created beautiful, striking images. I was impressed. At the Poetry Café, the students took turns reading a poem they created that week. A couple of the students wrote very depressing poems about hard lives. Then my daughter read her poem and it was rich with images from our home—the smell of cinnamon, the clattering of the keys on the computer as I type, the sharing of books in our home, camping. I learned from my daughter that you don’t have to write about deep, dark, hideous things to be a good writer. I also learned that my career is being a mother.


To conclude

            At every conference I attend, I seek to be renewed as a writer and figure out if I should keep on doing it, if writing is too much of a sacrifice of time away from my family. After my experiences over the past few months, I know that I have two meaningful careers: mother and writer.