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Motherhood inspired the powerful prose of Anne Lamott, Susan Cheever, Ayelet Waldman and Alice Walker, launching them, and many others, to the top of the bestseller lists. Award-winning writer Kate Hopper has spent nearly a decade teaching women to write down the bones of motherhood. Now, in Use Your Words, her expert guidance will encourage you to write the stories you need to write, whether your goal is to blog, publish articles, or pen the next blockbuster memoir. ~ Use Your Words, back cover.
Chapter One is all about getting started. Kate Hopper lays out various methods of getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper – listing, free-writing, clustering – and does a great job explaining how each works, using examples from her own work. Hopper’s style of writing is fascinating, in that she pulls you out of the classroom into her own life, creating living color for us to wander through while we learn from her how to recreate these images using our own memories. I have taken several writing classes, and this book ranks highly in terms of helping the concepts come to life.
There are four writing exercises in this chapter, one of which I skipped because it focused on older children, and mine are five and eight months, respectively, so it didn’t really apply to me at this stage in my motherhood journey. But I completed the other four, and really enjoyed the process. These exercises focus on the senses, building on memories of sight, sound, taste, and texture as we seek to capture moments on paper.
Of the four writing exercises, I want to share my work with you for two of them.
Writing Exercise: Sensory Details As A Way To Begin (p.8) – Focus on a sensory detail of a fond memory of your child or children, write it down, then build on it. It suggests focusing on an early memory – the day your baby was born, or the day you saw your soon-to-be adopted child’s picture for the first time – but it allows for those of us who may have trouble recalling those details if our children are a little bit older, and suggests the alternative of writing about a more recent memory, again focusing on the sensory memories over the factual. I chose to write about a typical morning in our home with my then-four year old daughter, in the final two months of my pregnancy with my son who was born last fall.
I wake, her musty breath hot on my face as she nudges in beside me on the narrow strip of bed, soft mutterings irritated asking for a scrap of blanket. Pulling her into the hollow between breast and burgeoning belly, I wrinkle my nose, try not to sneeze as her red cacophony of curls invade my airspace, and snug my own hips deeper into my husband’s sleeping backside as her brother protests the invasion of his already limited womb-space, her back pressing hard against his own back, nothing but my taut skin and our pajamas between them. She settles, breathing becoming regular and deep again, drifting back into dreamland, her little hands holding one of mine to her warm cheek, then pushing it away in the summer heat. No more sleep for me; early morning light is seeping past the curtains, and once my eyes find the light, I’m always awake for the day. I don’t mind. The discomfort of late pregnancy compounded by sleeping bed-hogs has nothing on the sweetness of barely-morning snuggles with sleeping babies, even if one of the babies is still on the inside, and the other is an ever-more gangling four year old. I can’t get enough.
The second writing exercise I’d like to share with you still focuses on the details, but in a different way.
Writing Exercise: A Moment In Time (p.13) – This exercise asks us to focus on a memory of our child or children that we do not want to forget, and then to write it down using as much detail as possible, to capture not just the facts of the moment, but the moment itself. I chose to write about a hilarious moment at the end of a long day of shopping, where my four year old daughter misunderstood a common childhood play phrase.
5:43pm, according to the dashboard clock. Our tiny Rio whirs down the freeway away from IKEA, homeward bound after a long day of shopping with my friend Jeanette and her two littles. Serenity is jabbering away, telling her stuffed animals all about her day with Phillip and Caitlyn. I’m not ignoring her exactly, just allowing the sweet tones to flow over me as I focus on the road, my inept maps app on my phone seeming intent on losing me in suburbia. Hot, humid wind flows in through our cracked open windows, plastering damp curls to both our foreheads, as we battle an Illinois July without air conditioning.
My ears perk up at the words “hot llamas” in squeals of hilarity from the backseat.
“Hot llamas? What are you talking about, baby?” I ask, unable to resist the knowing of my four year old’s thoughts on this one. I see her in the rear-view mirror, glancing up at me in surprise and a little bit of unexpected annoyance.
“Hot llamas, Mommy. I’m not talking to her, I’m talking to my a’mal fwiends.”
Managing to keep a straight face, I ask, “But what are hot llamas?”
She rolls her eyes, and sighs long-sufferingly. “Hot llamas, Mommy. Like, when you is running away from the bad guys, and the gwound is very hot so you has to jump on the rocks and books and blankets so her don’t fall in and get burned. Hot llamas.”
Seriously struggling to maintain my composure at this point, I lean away from her view of me in the mirror. “Oooooh, do you mean ‘hot lava’, baby? I think it’s hot lava, not hot llamas.”
Stealing a glance in the mirror, I’m just in time to catch a withering scowl of condescension.
“No, Mommy. It not hot laba, it hot llamas. Hot llamas! Get it right!”
Hot llamas. Well, alrighty then.
Well, there you have it! One chapter down, thirteen to go. Have you decided to join me in working through this great book? If so, and you don’t have one of your own yet, you can find a copy of Use Your Words by Kate Hopper here.
What sensory detail comes to mind first when you think back to the birth of your child?
This post is part of a series. Click here to read the introduction.