“When I had my daughter, I felt the rebirth of my creative and true emotional self. I rediscovered that vibrant energy and the need to create. I also felt the fears fall away: I had just given birth and was responsible for a whole other person, writing a story was a piece of cake.”
1. Describe your current family situation
I live with my 10 year old daughter and my husband, though my daughter spends almost half her time at her father’s house. My mother lives near and we see each other often.
2. In your eyes, what does ‘creativity’ mean and why is it important to you?
Any form of expression of self that has energy and comes from a place of emotion. It can be drawing, painting, cooking, sewing, making up stories, arranging flowers, decorating a shell. I was going to say anything that doesn’t involve logic but that isn’t true, it encompasses logical practices too. It’s important to me because without expression the emotions inside turn sour and that leads to negative choices, actions, darkness. And it’s an act of communication towards connection with other people.
3. How do you carve out time and space within family life for your creative practice?
I think my experience is not a common one. I work part time and have a long train journey on the days I work so that is an ideal place and time for me to write. I have had periods of excellent discipline where I wrote on every morning journey for weeks, and mused on the journeys home, resulting in drafts of short stories, novels, and poems. Living separated from my daughter’s father means I have fewer constraints on my time than when we lived together, and I have a very supportive husband who encourages me to take time to write on days I’m at home.
4. What kind of creative activities do you feel drawn to again and again?
Writing fiction is the main one but without thinking about it I have made 10 patchwork quilts by hand in the last 15 years, which turns out to be a lot. And colourful swirls in pen. I love to cook and more and more see this as a creative act.
5. How do you get inspiration flowing when you feel stuck?
Staring out of the window on the moving train. Since I’ve had a smart phone I forget to do this, whereas in the years before I had hours of daydreaming ideas. The other thing I do is insist that I write something, anything, words on a page, tell myself it doesn’t matter what they’re about, doesn’t matter if they are useful for the thing I’m working on, just get something out. And thinking about the story when I’m running by the sea. And one more: using post-it notes, summarise strands of the story and play around with the structure.
6. In what ways do you sabotage your own creative life?
I procrastinate. Hugely at times. I have time to write and I decide to spend it reading Mumsnet or even, recently, taking up sudoku. I give myself deadlines and watch them pass by with no repercussions other than beating myself up a bit. Katherine Rundell said a brilliant thing about this at a recent talk. She wrote a cheque for £1000 to the BNP (the extreme right wing British National Party) and gave it to her brother with instructions to post it if she hadn’t completed her novel by her self-imposed deadline. It worked.
I think procrastination must have a basis in fear of failure, that seems pretty common. If you don’t try you can’t fail. I have periods of time where I am far more productive than others and they usually follow some positive feedback.
7. Who or what are your creative allies or mentors?
My husband is my champion, supporter, general-encourager. That encouragement helps me to get going and remember not to waste my precious life. In the world of books are a couple of authors I follow on Twitter, one of whom I was lucky enough to have a two hour conversation with over coffee, which sustained my for about a year. That’s MG Leonard, the other is Maz Evans. I belong to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) and have been to a couple of their events and met other writers, I like it in small doses like that.
8. How would you describe the relationship between your creativity and your mothering?
I was creative as a young adult but when I started working full time I didn’t make space for those activities. There was time but I sidelined my creativity. I made a few bad decisions in that period and rushed to settle in life instead of being brave enough to keep exploring. When I had my daughter I felt the rebirth of my creative and true emotional self. I rediscovered that vibrant energy and the need to create. I also felt the fears fall away: I had just given birth and was responsible for a whole other person, writing a story was a piece of cake.
9. To what extent does your creative work generate a financial income for your family? How does this reality compare to your aspirations around this?
Ha. None. Though I was paid £200 for my first short story. It’s a financial drain, well not a drain exactly but I spend about £800 a year on my writing, in the form of workshops, or hiring an editor, paying for memberships, hardware, and books of course. I have long fantasised about “being a writer”, by which I mean sitting at my desk in the window every day with the words flowing effortlessly through my fingers into the computer and then to a publisher, my books printed and selling.
“Being a writer” is different from writing. I write, squeezing it in when I can, sometimes in short bursts, sometimes not for days, sometimes in a notebook in the garden, sometimes on an expensive Mac in a nice cafe.This doesn’t make me any money. I know far more about the business of being an author than I used to. I know how few people make enough money to live, and how unlikely one is to get an agent never mind a publisher never mind a decent advance never mind sell enough books never mind earn more than 20p per book. And that’s okay. The writer’s life now is part workshops and promotional activities, and part writing, and I’m okay with that, I still aspire to that more than my current situation. But yes, ultimately the dream is to be a successful professional writer earning enough to live comfortable by writing 4 hours a day with no other work.
10. What would you say to a mother who is struggling to express herself in the midst of her family commitments?
I would say, ask for help and do what you can in an hour. When my daughter was a baby, a toddler, on a Sunday when both her Dad and I were home, first thing in the morning I would play with her while her Dad slept in, then he would take her for a walk until she napped and I made sure I didn’t get up but would sit in bed writing on my laptop.
Involve your children if at all possible. I used to do things with my daughter. Soon as she could hold a crayon we would take a big piece of paper and I say “let’s take a line for a walk” and make all sorts of marks on the paper together, over each other, around each other, colouring in spaces that emerged. I look at those now as some of the most creative things I’ve made.
Perhaps write on the wall by the door, This too shall pass. Have mantras. Visualise yourself freely expressing all the creativity you wish. Know that you are building your life with every thought so make sure some of those thoughts are about the creative practice you will soon have more time for.
11. Big yourself up, sister – share your current / most exciting projects, web and social media links:
I’m writing children’s novels and looking for an agent. You can follow me on Twitter @CelineWest
I am a writer currently working on novels for children, though I also write poetry and short stories for adults. I work as a museum learning professional, I have been with University College London’s museums for the past 15 years. I love the variety of objects and stories and feel lucky to have met many inspirational people there.
I am mother to a daughter and live close to my own mother, who continues to play a huge role in our lives.