Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Use Your Words

OK. Some of us have children who can't use their words because they have no words, are unable to speak or use alternative communication. Many of us use our words as literal spokeswomen for our children in the day to day care and advocacy for them. Many of us were writers before we became our children's mothers, our children's literal voices, and many of us continue to write -- not just as the voices of our children but so that our voices might be heard. Before I gave birth to Sophie and before she was diagnosed with infantile spasms, I was a writer, but it took me nearly ten years after her birth to put my pen to paper and my fingers to the keyboard and write again. It seemed impossible to me to write through my life, impossible to give shape to the chaos that had been unleashed with Sophie's diagnosis. I began to write again while attending a workshop at UCLA called Writing the Healing Story, led by a beloved mentor, Barbara Abercrombie. I began writing again and in the writing, I emerged, again -- the person I was, the person I am, the person I was meant to be.

Using words, I carved out a place not only for myself but also to give voice to my daughter who has no voice. I worked for many years on a memoir and then a few more on short stories. I began this blog nearly four years ago and met many like-minded people, mothers and fathers, those who had children with voices and those who do not, and I'd wager that most of them find the writing, the using of words, if not necessary to their very survival, then at the very least healing and centering. I imagine that even those for whom disability is not known find that writing is a way out of the oft-overwhelming life of being a mother.

I met Kate Hopper, the author of Use Your Words, A Writing Guide for Mothers, through this blog, I think, although like so many connections that are forged online, I'm not certain how I found myself on her own wonderful website and began to learn a bit about her family, her writing career and her teaching. Kate teaches writing online and at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and has been the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and a Sustainable Arts Grant. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals, including BrevityLiterary Mama, and The New York Times online. 

Kate Hopper

I'm excited to help Kate promote this wonderful guide -- it's the sort of book that you can pick up and start reading and stop reading and start reading, again, chapters and snippets and whole long passages. You can live your life while reading this book, distracted, even, and find something interesting or inspiring or useful. Kate includes really wonderful writing prompts for the more serious writers or even for those who think they can't write but have something to say and don't know how to say it. This is one of my favorite quotes from the book and reminds me, a bit, of how I began writing, again, so many years ago:

I think the easiest place to begin writing your mother stories is with a detail, an image. It was with one or two sensory details that I began writing my memoir: the image of my daughter writhing on a blanket on her open warming bed; the sickly-sweet smell of the NICU. These are the details that helped me dive into my narrative.

Use Your Words is not just a book for those of us struggling to write of our children's disability. It is a book for all mothers, new mothers and old mothers and those who want to shape their voices and lives. In fact, I have a contest for you and a chance to win not only a copy of Use Your Words but also a one-hour phone consultation with Kate Hopper and publication in Literary Mama's online magazine. To enter the contest, send me an essay of 600 words or less, using Kate's prompt below. The deadline for the contest is June 1st at 8:00 am California time! I will pick my favorite of your essays and send it to Kate for a chance to win the Grand Prize. My winner will also receive a free copy of the book. Sharpen your pencils or your fingertips and use your words:

Writing Prompt:

Sensory Details as a Way to Begin 
Think about the time when your child (or one of your children) was born, when she first arrived home, or even before she was born. If you adopted your child, maybe you want to focus on the first time you saw her photo. Is there a certain smell, sound, taste, texture, or picture that comes to mind? Start with that. Write it down. What other concrete details do you remember? Let your mind wander. Jump from image to image. Try to use as many sensory, concrete details as you can. Don’t pick up your pen—just keep moving it across the paper—and don’t worry about grammar or spelling.
If those early days and months feel too far removed, choose another period in your child’s life that seemed particularly vivid to you, and begin writing details from that time.

**Send your completed essays to my email: elsophie AT gmail DOT com


  1. Dear Elizabeth, thank you for this lovely post, and thank you for your wonderful words that never cease to inspire me.

    Single Dad, this book can be for you too!

  2. This sounds like a well of creative inspiration! It makes me want to enroll in some classes. What a lovely woman she is, and an encouraging mentor.

  3. "I'd wager that most of them find the writing, the using of words, if not necessary to their very survival, then at the very least healing and centering."

    yes. absolutely.

  4. Oh, dear...I thought this blog would be about "swear" words....silly me!

  5. Nice!
    This post makes me think back to when I met you and your writing--and Sophie through your writing. I am so glad to have had that experience and to remain in a friend/writer relationship with you. Your blog is one of the things I look forward to reading every time I see a new post is up! xxoo

  6. Very cool!! I will FB/Twitter this for you :)

  7. Ooh, exciting! Another blog to check out and another book to read. Good thing it's nearly summer and I can foresee less time in the car and more time to read (and write). Thanks!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...