I’ve been writing ever since I can remember.
My childhood desk was stuffed to the brim with scrap papers and notebooks. I kept every blank book project and laminated spiral binding from those magical elementary school days. The three-ring portfolios from creative writing class sat proudly propped among books from my favorite authors; I knew one day I had to be one of them.
So when I finally realized (at age 33) that creative writing was a career I wanted to pursue wholeheartedly, the pool of ideas was infinite. I was overwhelmed with possibilities. It was as if my mind had secretly built a dam to contain every unused creative thought and idea conjured in years past, keeping them safe and thriving until I could finally let them loose.
Last spring, I knew I was ready. Prepared to face the criticism of the world, shrug off rejection. I would become the creative writer I always wanted to be, not just a freelancer for the dreams of others. My own work.
There was just one tiny obstacle I had slightly overlooked.
My romantic notion of what it looked like to have a writing career, back when I was daydreaming and scribbling away, was nowhere close to the reality of what it’s like to be a writer in 2021; particularly, when you add three rambunctious and relentless small boys into the mix.
I wasn’t living in a studio apartment in the city, wearing sundresses, sipping coffee, while free-writing on a fire escape. Or wrapped in a wool sweater by the ocean, cranking out my series of tragedic love stories. I certainly wasn’t locked in a grand library, wafting the smell of mahogany while I barreled through a pile of manuscripts.
You see, writing as a mother of three, in a modern world, in the middle of a pandemic…
when your husband is in healthcare; when your friends all work full-time; when your family is 12-hours away; when your kids are terrible at remote learning; when you switch to homeschool; when you promised your kids a dog before you knew you were trapped; when you were entirely unaware that the world of writing had changed so much that you would spend your days researching hashtags…
That kind of writing can be torture.
Writing as a mom at home is not glamorous, even when you’re writing your own stories. There are more interruptions and lost thoughts than I can count. I’ve written words I thought were spectacular in the thick of parenting, only to read them later and realize they were gibberish. I’ve written wonderful pieces that got deleted because someone needed to watch a video on YouTube. Any workspace I call my own is instantly invaded by crumbs, toys, and crayon paper coverings…but never crayons, which is curious.
Someone is always escaping or killing one of their siblings. There is never enough coffee to get me through the day. The kids don’t understand the concept of ‘work’, nor do they pretend to care. And I can never seem to find my phone when I need it.
On top of all the work stress, I still have to be a mother. A mother who is constantly torn between wanting to prove that, Yes, it’s possible to have a career and be a mom, while also just wanting to lay in the grass while my toddler spills lemonade on my shoes.
When remote work became the new normal, the challenges of working at home with children were finally clear to the masses. Yes, this is what it’s like to work from home with your children. Some of us have been pushing through for years. And when the world goes back to normal, we will still be fighting the little hands batting at our screens.
As mothers who write, we may never have the romantic writing careers we dreamed of as little girls, at least not any time soon. But we’re lucky—we have so much more.
We have little beings transforming us into the most regimented, determined, and fierce writers the world has ever seen. We are fighting against the expectations that have put mothers at odds for decades. The ones that expect us to do everything or nothing; to jump into every child-centered activity with bliss and ease; to put our dreams on hold because our children are Tiny only once, while the rest of the world is free to climb the ladder.
I see the romantic aspect of writing now as less about my surroundings and more about my mindset. I’m fighting for every spare moment of work, locking myself in bathrooms and cars. I balance my life in a way that allows me to put words on a page, food on the table, and mom guilt at the door.
One day, when my boys are grown, they will read my books to their children and remember the struggles it took for their mother to follow her dreams. They won’t remember the messes or the cereal dinners or the breaks I took to write. They’ll remember my determination, and they will mimic it to follow their dreams. They will encourage their children and others around them to step up and follow their own.
And that, to me, is truly romantic.
About the Writer: Shell Sherwood is a poet, fiction writer, freelancer, and creator of silly children’s stories who could live on coffee, pastries, and romantic tragedies. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY with her fiancé and three boys, and aspires to own a small writing getaway in every climate. Learn more about Shell and follow her writing journey via her author blog and Instagram.