Keeping a Creative Mind: How to be a writer/mother/wife/daughter

"Keeping a Creative Mind" is a bi-weekly series by New York Times Notable Author Molly Moynahan.

Shelf of old books

photo via guldfisken on flickr

First, when your little boy decides to give you a new hairdo while weaving binder clips, white out, pencils and possibly a small stapler into the back of your head, let him. This may give you another ten minutes or so of working on your book.

Recognize as soon as the call comes from the west coast radio show your son will forget the “no talking game” and demand something complex from the refrigerator. You will describe your artistic beliefs while mixing Parmesan cheese into orzo. Then he will tell you he needs to sit on your lap and whisper things in your ear even though this sort of thing never happens anymore.

Practice sounding authorial while your child mutters, “I love my momma” in your ear repeatedly.

Second, as he grows older be prepared for his embarrassment and/or anger as his friends read your book. Wait for him to inform you that he read the first page and found it “gross”. This from the boy who listens to Rap songs that are basically one obscenity after another interrupted by a note or two of music. Never mind.

Ask him if he’d like to discuss what he found objectionable. He will refuse and demand you buy him a new I-Pod to help him heal from the trauma of reading a sex scene written by his mom. Do not do this! Soon he will read your memoir, which describes such debauchery you will owe at least a Maserati and a trip to Cancun.

Make your “I am an artist” speech and offer to edit his English paper. He will inform you there is nothing about English you could possibly understand. You are a writer and basically a charlatan. You know nothing that his AP English teacher doesn’t know better.

Third, when your husband walks in the door and says he’d love to hear what you wrote, do not be insulted if after a particularly striking passage he looks pained and says, “I gotta go to the can.” It has nothing to do with your writing. It is, in fact, true.

When later he offers to listen, be careful about reading something that causes him to burst into tears. This is a gratifying response but it could also mean there will be no erotic interlude after dinner. He is worn out and depressed. He is angry at fictional characters. He wants to suggest a different title and maybe you throw in a vampire or a zombie.

“People like zombies,” he says, wiping his eyes.

Later, you overhear him telling one of his ironworker buddies that you are writing a novel with zombies and vampires while you are actually writing a memoir in which the undead play no part. Then he tells his friend the title he thinks will make the book a bestseller, "Bite-Suck-Kill."

You try to be a sport but you feel like showing up at his job and telling everyone how to weld some random piece of iron. “I’m just trying to be helpful,” he tells you. What you say in response is unprintable.

Fourth, do not tell your mother you are writing a memoir. When she hints around about your latest writing project, tell her you are writing a screenplay about zombie vampires who go to Italy to eat Italians. She will not think this is a good idea but she will be temporarily diverted.

“Your childhood was good, right?” she asks while you are describing a gory yet pivotal scene that takes place in a Gelato Store. “Of course,” you say. “It was so good, I wrote about it.”

There will be a pause.

“Well,” your mother will say, “be nice.”

This is difficult advice to follow. You grew up listening to funny stories about someone who was washed out to sea, who liked to smash milk bottles when she was three and left alone on the street in front of the house, who fell off a roof, who was advised to hitchhike when needing a ride home from school. You notice the massive scar on your kneecap and connect it to the funny story about the drunken doctor and the darning needle.

“You survived,” your mother points out helpfully. She is suddenly enthusiastic about the zombie vampire project.

“People like scary stories,” she says. “No one likes to hear about why you hate your parents.”

Fifth, remain grateful and civilized. Do not blame your lack of fame and fortune on e-books or Oprah or people writing novels in a month. Remember, you are the luckiest person in the universe.

One day you will sit on a train and someone will be reading your book. Resist the impulse to announce who you are. It will disappoint the reader and no one else cares. You are in your workout clothes and you need a haircut.

When you get home, tell your husband and your child. They will demand that you read them some of the zombie vampire book. When you explain it is a joke, they will demand dinner.

Call your mother and tell her about the train thing. “Hmm,” she’ll say. “If you get anything wrong I’m going to sue you.” Don’t panic. She is old and won’t remember what really happened either.

Remember, you may be a writer, but family never forgives.



Molly MoynahanMolly Moynahan is the author of three novels. The most recent, Stone Garden, was a 2003 NYT Notable Book. She is currently working on a memoir. Molly lives and teaches creative writing in Chicago. Her website is Her blog is

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