Words: Charlotte Philby

Not long after I had my first baby, I found myself in a rut. Within a matter of days, I went from working a full-time, fulfilling job as a journalist in an office full of brilliant, inspiring people, to being largely stuck indoors (it was November), on my own, with a newborn. I wasn’t depressed so much as I was bamboozled.

Getting to grips who I now was – this new identity, away from the one I’d forged over 27 years – was an overwhelming process. Suddenly I had all these thoughts, which would rise like a wave, seemingly out of nowhere, and crash around me. After flailing for weeks, unable to catch my breath, in a bid to make sense of it all, I picked up a pen…

Spurred on by a wonderful friend who recommended The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I threw my thoughts onto the page where slowly – and seemingly of their own accord – they settled into their own patterns. 

Writing is a great tool when you’re stuck inside your own head, as many new mothers feel – not just as a creative outlet but as an emotional one, too

A consciously un-self-conscious approach, the book advocates writing briefly every day, whether or not you feel like it at the time, as a way of nurturing your inner voice. You don’t have to have an idea in mind, the author states; every morning simply pour out the first 600 words that flow from your pen, and this will help unblock the clogs that can cause so-called creative blocks. A particularly helpful tool when you’re stuck inside your own head, as many new mothers can feel – not just as a creative outlet but as an emotional one, too.

Writing as therapy is hardly a new concept, but a variation of the process identified by Freud as the “talking cure”, which now forms the fundamental basis of psychoanalysis. For me, writing in this way offered an effective system for filtering and sorting through some of the many fears, hopes, anxieties and dreams that come with becoming a parent. So much so that in a moment of forthrightness, I signed up to a creative writing course at my local polytechnic where I met an array of weird and wonderful people, from all walks of life.

It was enlivening to hear other people’s stories, instantly drawing me out of my own head; I’d become so insular, so all-consumed by what was happening in my own, increasingly-narrow world

Just getting there was a dream: once a week for three months, to hop on the tube on my own, grab a coffee, and spend an hour or so immersing myself in a class where each week we’d write a new story based on a subject of our teacher’s choice.

As well as enjoying the process of writing, it was enlivening to hear other people’s stories, instantly drawing me out of my own head; I’d become so insular, so all-consumed by what was happening in my own, increasingly-narrow world that to hear my 80-something class-mate reciting with amazing recall tales from his days in the war, or the immaculate Sri Lankan lady fictionalise her time running an animal rescue centre from her millionaire’s palace, was just what I needed.

When my baby finally began to sleep for longer stretches in the day, I would run to my room, slump on the bed and pour out my soul onto my laptop

From then on, I joined another local writing group – we’d meet one evening every week at the house of our teacher, the wonderful Irish poet Martina Evans; regardless how tired or uninspired I felt come Thursday evening I’d make sure I was there, pending various outbreaks of reflux or chicken pox.

Inspired further, when my baby finally began to sleep for longer stretches in the day, I would run to my room, slump on the bed and pour out my soul onto my laptop. Bugger the laundry, the cooking, and the 3,000 other unfulfilled chores, this was my time… As the weeks went on, I found it helped to create a third-person narrative for my own experience in my writing, which allowed me to be more brutally honest about how I was thinking or feeling.

Writing gave me an outlet – not just a structure to my day, which I craved, and a sense of purpose beyond that of raising a baby – but a means to reflect on who I was, where I’d been and where I wanted to go

As the process developed, this formed the basis of a novel loosely based on my own life – albeit reimagined as a brutal murder mystery – which no-one in their right mind would surely ever want to publish. Because it’s 95 per cent not very good. But that’s not the point. The point is that it gave me an outlet – not just a structure to my day, which I craved, and a sense of purpose beyond that of raising a baby – and a means to reflect on who I was, where I’d been and where I wanted to go.

With this in mind, we decided to launch MOTHERLAND CREATES a series of creative competitions promoting and rewarding creativity, starting with MOTHERLAND WRITES, launched at the beginning of this month, charging you to write 2,000 words on the theme of parenthood. Not only do we hope to help share some of your stories, but we hope that in the process you, too, might find an outlet to help reflect on and explore one of the most changeable, emotive and definitive periods of your life.

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