Guest Post: Cordelia Allen Jensen on Putting My Critical Voice Down for a Nap: How I Juggle Motherhood & Writing

Photo of Cordelia by Amy Rose Capetta

By Cordelia Allen Jensen

I am a mother and a writer and, for two years, I was a student. I went back to Vermont College of Fine Arts to get my MFA when my twins were four. Every time I left for residency, I felt horrible. But, after a few days, I would let my guilt go and focus on school.

As painful as it was, I believe I am now able to juggle motherhood with a writing career because I learned during these residencies how to quiet my Critical Voice and stay present.

Some days, are about compartmentalization. I drop the kids off at their first grade classrooms, kiss them on their cute little cheeks, and then trot off to exercise or do some errands before sitting down to write. Before I start I take a deep breath and, just like I did in residencies, I let my guilt go.

I do this by coaxing my Critical Voice down for a nap: I sing her a lullaby called “don’t worry about the laundry, now it’s time to write.” Then, I ask myself to be present with my work. To be present with that character in that moment. (In, really, the very same way I will be present with the kids later that afternoon, playing a game of Hedbandz or Scattergories.)

As a student, I learned I didn’t I have a choice of when to be creative. I learned to do what I can when I can. And so now, when that sneaky Critical Voice pops up from her nap with a new tactic (this time to say: what you’re writing isn’t good enough), I toss her her her blankie and remind her about something called revision.

Some days, compartmentalization is impossible. On those days, I mix things up. Here is my strategy for working alongside children:

Have “Shared Creative Time”

Give them a huge white piece of paper and ask them to draw their story setting while you draw yours. Or teach them about Story Mountains and have them fill one out while you write. Draw sketches for them and see if they can write a poem from your sketch. Or vice versa. Make character playlists together on iTunes.

If you have a small baby, you might get most of your writing done while the baby sleeps.

But, if you are lucky enough to be hit with inspiration while the baby’s awake, you could free-write while the baby nurses or tell your story out loud to your baby as she plays.

Grant Permanent Access to Creative Materials 

Tate playing Hedbanz

I have a lot of flat surfaces and art supplies set up in stations on the first floor of my house. That way, when anyone is feeling creative, there’s a place to make magic happen. When kids are younger or if you have the kinds of kids that don’t love writing and drawing, setting up building or dress-up stations would work just as well.

And although that pesky Critical Voice might tell you that sounds like double the mess, chuck her a cereal bar and tell her that messes can wait, but creative play is the thing of life.

Some days I am a better mom. Some days I am a better writer. Some days I am only good at predicting who will get the final rose on “The Bachelor.” But, every night, before a new day begins, I try to give a bottle, draw a bath, and lay my Critical Voice down to bed. In hopes that, tomorrow, she might, feeling a little more grown up, need a little less attention.

The Big Book of Poems

Photo of Lily by Laura Gill

By Lily, age 7

My mom
sitting on
the couch
in her studio writing
a big book
of poems.

Me sitting
beside her.

I’m watching her
deeply thinking
in her book.

We will always
be friends.

Cynsational Notes

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia’s debut YA novel in verse, Skyscraping, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in early 2015. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer-In-Residence at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens. She’s also represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. and thanks Laura Sibson for her help in editing this post.

From the Left: Cordelia, Lori Steel, Nicole Valentine, Shelby Rosiak. Photo by Laura Sibson, also a Writer Mama.

5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Cordelia Allen Jensen on Putting My Critical Voice Down for a Nap: How I Juggle Motherhood & Writing

  1. Love this piece! I wish I'd read it when my kids were younger, because you're such an inspiration to Tate and Lily. Lily's poem is wonderful, and I expect that within 20 years, we'll be hearing about her first book coming out.

  2. Compartmentalization and Inspiration. That's what it's all about. I loved Lily's poem because it shows how fabulous it is that you are a writer and a mother. You write when you can and you inspire always. That's the beautiful, wonderful, incredible thing about being a mother who writes. Brava!

  3. Lovely! Especially the poem. I worry about the impact of writing (rather than cleaning or ironing like a good Mummy) on my children; then my eldest comes home from nursery with the 'book' she has written. I'll take that. 🙂

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