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My toxic creative writing cycle as a mom writer

mom creative writer holding baby

January is over. The New Year's resolutions have been made. The first new moon and full moon have come and gone. Overall, I feel motivated and ready to take on 2024!

This year, I have a manifestation list I'm proud of; I know I can accomplish these goals. I just have to make time for my own dreams. Prioritize my writing the same way I prioritize the jobs of my freelance clients. I have to make time. I have to get serious.

Wait...this all sounds familiar. Have I been here before? Yep, many times.

Every year starts off like this: hopeful, motivated, inspired. Then, reality kicks in, accompanied by doubt, fear, imposter syndrome, interruptions, and general chaos. By February, I find myself at the beginning of another toxic cycle I can't seem to shake.

It looks a little something like this. Warning: this is a long one.

Phase 1: The Dream

January 1st is here, and this is my year! I'm going to be a full-time poet and writer. I'm really doing it this time. New Year, new me. This is my year to be creative.

I have so many ideas! I have so much motivation. I've learned from lots and lots of mistakes. But this time, I have a plan.

I'll work freelance for some of the day to pay the bills. Working at home will save me time and money. The other half of the time, I'll focus on my own stuff. My blog, my poetry collection, my children's books. I'll pretty much carry my Freewrite Traveler with me everywhere to jot down any and all inspiration.

I'll balance my day with social media marketing and writing, and when my books are finished, it's game on. I'll market the hell out of the ones I'm self-publishing and create a solid querying strategy for those I wish to publish traditionally.

I can do this. People do this. I got this.

Phase 2: Mom Writer Reality

Okay, this is a little harder than I thought. I'm having difficulty finding the energy and time to work on my creative endeavors.

I spend most of my free time catching up on work or looking for work, and no work week ever goes as planned. I keep getting behind from everyone being sick, sports, Boy Scouts, birthdays, holidays, play dates, and general life.

When I do finally sit down at my desk, my mind goes blank. I forgot the poem I had in my head, and where I put the random paper, I scribbled it on. The narrative for my blog is fuzzy. None of my manuscripts make any sense because it's been so long since I've written them. Plus, I have zero content to post on my socials. I can't make a video right now–I look like a dumpster fire.

But it's no big deal. It's okay. I'll catch up when things get normal again. Normal.

Wait, another snow day? Shoot, another half day? Didn't you just have a school break? What do you mean you left your book at Dad's?! I forgot to buy a birthday treat. Shoot, we have no food; I'll go to the store. Well, after the well visit for kid 1...and kid 2. Oh, kid 2 has a fever? Scratch that. Cancel the well visit and convert it to a sick visit. Reschedule well visit for kid 2. Kid 3...where is kid 3? Trying to repaint the living room. Nice.

Now, there's a ton of work to do and no time to do it. It's time to start the zombie cycle of staying up late and waking up at dawn to get it all done. Bills first, then dreams. Creative writing, go sit in that corner for a bit.

Finally, everyone is healthy, and it's time to balance work and creative writing as planned. Wait...why are all my kids home today? Oh, it's summer break. Fantastic.

Phase 3: Financial Reality

Meanwhile, the bills continue to pile up every month. Even if I do find time for creative writing, I feel guilty.

Can I make money creatively? Probably. I know I can. But is it worth the risk right now? I have a family to worry about. My partner is working long hours, fretting most of the effort. And yes, I contribute and pay bills, but I can do more. I should do more.

Pin to save for later!

Time to scour Upwork and Fiverr and Indeed and ask all the people I've ever worked for if they have work. Maybe I'll even find something creative. Work secured: law content, travel content, tech editing job (which I really don't get, but he likes me so, score), AI tech writing. Done.

Finally, I have a full-time schedule. Bills are getting paid. This schedule is actually not too bad! Flexible enough to schedule around chaos. Manageable enough to fit some creative writing in here. Perfect. I'm so happy with life right now.

Phase 4: Working Mom Reality

Too happy with life. BOOM. Pregnant again. (No, this does not happen every year. But it's happened four times for sure!)

The work was flowing. My clients were happy. Things were going somewhere. Now, there is a timeline and extra pressure. There is no room for dreams right now.

Now I have to tell my clients. Another toxic cycle that doesn't change:

How much work can you do before the baby? When do you leave? When do you come back? Can you work with an infant? Will you miss deadlines? Did you see that email I sent in the middle of the night? NO? Why not? Oh, the baby. I think we'll look for someone now to take your place. It sounds like too much for you. We can't wait till you're back full-time. Sorry, we wish you well! Bless you! The baby is beautiful.

It sounds cruel, but it's a business I'm familiar with. Freelance means you're an independent contractor, not an employee. You're not entitled to state family leave. You don't get personal or sick days. You don't have the security to keep your position. Even if you are an employee, I've worked in small places that have broken those rules, too. Those clever little loopholes employers love.

Plus, freelancers these days are a dime a dozen. Thank you to the pandemic for that one. It's not easy for working mothers like me. If companies can snag a single, young, kidless, 100% available employee for the same job, they will. Again, it sounds cruel, but it's business.

I have a new, healthy, beautiful baby, and I should be happy. I should be enjoying my maternity leave, but I'm panicking. I'm trying to get back to work after only two weeks. I'm trying to get my clients back. Sadly, most have already moved on. After all the experience I gained, I'm back to square one. It's time to go find more clients and restart my career again.

Oh, wait...wasn't I going to make a career out of creative writing? Kind of forgot about that one.

Phase 5: Creative Freelance Dream?

Okay, so I don't have enough time to work on creative projects. Maybe, at least, the freelance work I acquire can be creative? That's what I'm going to do. I'll find freelance work that is worthwhile in the creative niche only. Solid compromise.

Let's see what freelance jobs I can find for creative writers. Job search:

  • YouTube script writer: must have proven experience and accounts to show. (Uh, nope.)

  • Law blog: must have a law degree. (Nope.)

  • Travel blog: must be able to travel. (I'm assuming they mean without kids?)

  • Tech Blog: must have a technology IT background. (Nadda.)

  • Medical Blog: must have a medical degree. (Oh boy.)

  • Poet (Someone needs a poet!): must be able to write 2-3 sentence poems based on stories we give you. (Awesome) Pay: 50 cents a poem for 20 poems a week. (Drat.)

Phase 6: Creativity On Hold

There's no way. How can I justify a creative career? I can barely help provide financially for my family. I can't take hours away that could be used to secure more work. I can't be picky anymore. I have to take what I can get.

Here we go again. Job search:

  • Editing tech job: test and add links, temporary. (Take it.)

  • Random blog gig: only pays $30 per article, but flexible. (Take it.)

  • Ghostwriting job: 5 cents per word, but flexible (Take it.)

  • Blog job: write about bathroom installation; must have no typos for payment. (Take it. *sigh*)

  • An old client came back! (Take, take, take it!)

Charge what you are worth! The experts say. No one will take you seriously if you take low pay! You can secure quality jobs if you stick to your price! Except, I don't have time. The electric bill is due, rent is due, insurance is due, everyone needs new boots, and baseball season is almost here. I don't have time.

I don't have time to market myself for a better price or take that course that tells me how to do it. I don't have time to wait around for clients. I don't have time to be picky about the type of job. I don't have time to be creative in any way.

This is the phase where I lose it. And it usually happens a few times a year.

Phase 6: The Breakdown

I start to miss the world of stability. The one where you get a steady paycheck and stable hours and more predictability and a W2. People tend to respect you more when you have a 'traditional job.' It's like being a part of a club that lets society know you are 'normal,' not lazy, not incompetent.

But I can't be a part of that club. I don't have a village to watch my kiddos for free. Maybe I can try? Maybe there is something. Maybe someone will let me bring the kiddos? Fat chance.

So I switch gears and search for more part-time in-person work. But...

  • This one requires a Master's degree, not a Bachelor's degree.

  • This one requires you to be on-call.

  • This one requires you to travel across the country.

  • This one requires pays so little it's not even worth getting daycare or a babysitter to go.

  • This one requires overnights. Maybe? Maybe I just stop sleeping. That's a job.

I can't go in person. I search for more remote work. But...

  • This one requires you to be available by phone 9-5.

  • This one also requires a Master's degree.

  • This one requires a hybrid Texas.

  • This one requires weekends, holidays and evenings too.

  • This one is perfect! Apply. Congrats! You are the 9,000th applicant. Awesome.

Now the comparisons set in.

Why can't I do this? Other people do this. Other moms do this. I see them all the time. They work, they write, they publish books. Okay, social media is not real, but I also have friends–actual friends– who do this. Work, dream, and mom. Hell, just to work and mom would be nice at this point. Why can't I figure this out?

Phase 7: Defeat

This is it. This is my life now. I was never meant to have a career.

I'm stuck. I don't know what to do. I cry a lot. I drop off social media again. I stop writing. My Traveler, which I do all my creative writing on, is dead. I cancel my subscriptions for creative work again. I unsubscribe from creative groups and organizations and anything that haunts me. I work when I can on whatever I can secure. Creative writing is not even on the radar.

I've given up so much over the years. I battled my way through job after job after job–most of which were not creative at all– only to fall flat on my face every time I had another kiddo. Every time I try to do it all. December is here again, and I'll be buying my gifts from the thrift store, on credit, or shopping for unused things people are giving away.

Then, enter the holidays. My season of hope.

December is stressful but it also brings a slew of motivation, inspiration, and good-feeling stuff. I always feel more grateful for my kids, my family, my friends, and everyone who loves and supports me in the way they can. The truth is, I'm lucky, and most of the things I worry about are seasons of life I have to make it through. I can do better. I can always do better.

Enter January 1st. Happy New Year! New Year, new me. This is my year to be creative.


So what now?

That must have seemed a little sad, huh? It is. It was. So what's different now? A lot.

I'm finally in a space and place in my life where I'm tired of hiding the struggle. I've seen a lot of other mothers out there who are sharing their struggles, but I can't quite relate. My journey is different. Very different. I don't have a traditional job or family or dreams or life in many ways. Some of my struggles are ones that all mothers or working mothers deal with, but not all.

The difference with this year is I'm embracing the struggle and all the chaos that comes along with it. I've been part of a group called Moms Who Write for 4 years now. We are all about embracing chaos, but I was still trying to hide mine. Maybe that's what has been holding me back. Maybe by still trying to revert back to what I THINK I should be doing, I've been missing out on the opportunity to create something new.

Creative accountability

You'll be happy to know that this year, I AM holding myself accountable for being creative. I have been carving time, providing myself space, and prioritizing time in my planner daily. I've realized I have to take myself seriously in all areas of my life. It's not easy. There is guilt that comes with it, and there have been many sacrifices made.

The other major difference is I'm embracing my support system. I have an amazing new partner who is just as ambitious and understands my desire to pursue these creative dreams. I have kids who think having a mom who is 'a writer' is so cool. I have friends who are in the chaos with me who support everything from my dreams to my breakdowns to my silence. I have a family who loves me and wants me to be happy and safe.

So now what? I'm going to try to break my own cycle this year by giving myself a break. I'm not going to compare myself to other mothers or writers or working women. This is where I am in life. Maybe if I start to embrace it more, opportunities I never dreamed of will reveal themselves.

Worth a try, right?

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The Writer

Welcome! I'm a poet, author, mother, and dreamer of creative works, sharing my writing journey for all to see. My work is raw, honest, and not always pretty. I cover the darker elements of motherhood and being a woman, finding beauty in the shadows despite the smoke screens we like to build to shield them. 
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