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Writing Life: Voices of Experience
Mimi Greenwood Knight : Writing for Her

Writing for Her

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

Sometimes I think that getting published was the worst thing that ever happened to my writing. Every writer you'll ever meet wants the same thing. To be published. See his name in print. To agonize over just the right words for his bio, buy five copies for his mother, to be able to say, when asked, "What do you do?" followed by the inevitable, "Have you been published?" a resounding," Yes! Yes I have." It's the Holy Grail of freelance writers. I certainly wanted it back in the days when my office was in my laundry room and I opened my mailbox each morning to find the daily stack of SASEs with rejection letters inside.

You gotta love those rejection letters. "We appreciate the time and effort you put into your proposal". Sure you do. That's akin to the cute guy at school telling you that you have a nice personality. I didn't want their appreciation any more than I wanted him thinking I was personable. I wanted to be published.

Then it happened. I got the call. I got two calls. Three. Sold three essays in three months. Then I started getting assignments for articles. Editors gave me their direct line and personal email addresses. I go to the mailbox now and where rejection letters used to be, there are contracts and magazines with my writing inside. (Okay, there are rejection letters too. Some things never change.)

The problem is that, now that I'm not only writing but selling what I write, now that actual living, breathing people are reading my stuff (living, breathing people outside of my family, that is) it's all but impossible to stay focused on why I started writing in the first place. Back in the day, I was writing because I had something to say. There were messages, ideas, opinions, emotions inside of me that just had to get out and writing was the way I did that. My kids were young and motherhood was so raw — in a million wonderful ways — that I had to write or bust.

Becoming a mom at the ripe old age of 30 (and again at 32, 35, and — Yikes — 42) was the most exhilarating, exhausting, life-giving, draining, confirming, confusing thing I've ever done. I loved it but it was HARD! Katherine Hadley said, "The decision to have a child is to accept that your heart will forever walk about outside your body." Ain't it the truth! Add to that my decision to stay home full-time, the closeness of my first two babies, the location of our house (about 20 minutes from civilization) and my husband's workaholic tendencies and the first three years of motherhood were grueling for me. I made it through with my sanity in tact largely due to the mom friends I made and clung to for dear life. Also due to my outlet-writing.

When I finally came up for air — around the time my third child was born — I was haunted by the idea that there was someone else out there going through what I'd just survived. I had an image of a new mom just as madly in love with her kids as I was, also just as insecure, just as overwhelmed, just as desperately lonely as I had been. I couldn't shake the thought that I could help her. If only I could tell her everything I'd learned and let her know someone understands, she'd have it easier than I had.

So I wrote. I wrote to her. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. There were so many things she needed to know. I had to tell her that losing your temper doesn't make you a bad mom. It's okay not to know what you're doing about half of the time. I wanted to tell her that I knew how much she loved her kids, loved being home with them, even if she cried herself to sleep some nights. I wanted to share with her all the secrets I'd learned, to encourage her to find some friends like mine, but mostly I wanted her to know someone understood what she was going through. I wasn't giving up until I got the word out there where she could find it. She's what kept me going during those two years when I covered three walls of my laundry room ceiling to floor with rejection letters. As long as she was out there, I wouldn't stop trying.

Then it happened. I started selling essays and writing articles. I received phone calls from total strangers — other moms who'd read what I'd written and called to thank me for writing it. Each time I wanted to say, "It's you! You got my message!" I started getting checks too and that was pretty cool. I could buy my kids the extras we'd been doing without. For the first time, we could go to the movies and the Children's Museum. I could buy them brand new clothes not second hand stuff from the thrift store.

The more I sold, the more I wanted to sell. I bought books to tell me how to do what I was already doing, books that told me what editors want, what they look for and what they'd buy. The more extra money I brought into the family coffers, the more I forgot how we'd gotten along without it. The more essays and articles I wrote, the more it burned me up when an idea of mine was turned rejected. I'd flip through magazines and smirk at articles by other writers, "Humph, I could have written that." Sometimes a magazine would turn down my idea then four months later I'd see an article on that exact topic among their pages and I'd be incensed.

I read a great tip that made me a lot of money. Since I was writing mostly for parenting magazines and since the readership turns over pretty fast, all I had to do was get my hands on old issues and pitch their own ideas right back at them. Worked like a charm. I wrote about topics that didn't interest me in the least. Overblown preschool graduations? I'd never been to one but I found people who had and cranked out an article. Thumb sucking? I hadn't raised a thumb sucker but how hard could that be. Churned it out too.

Rejection letters started to really bug me again. After all, didn't they know who I was? Hadn't they seen the writing samples I'd sent? Who were they to reject me? I joined a writer's group and was the only published author in the bunch. I felt superior until I started listening to the things the other women wrote. A couple had real talent. Others were pedestrian at best. But all of their writing had passion. It was angry and chilling, sexy, sweet, and provocative. I became reluctant to read my own stuff at our meetings and secretly decided the other women looked down on me. I decided they thought I'd sold my soul to publication. Although they all claimed to want to be published, they didn't do much about it. I'd advise them about submission and they'd make a half hearted attempt now and again but mostly they just wrote. It seemed to be enough for them. It wasn't enough for me.

One week, the day of our meeting came around and I had nothing to present. I'd been working on yet another article on potty training which had taken up all my time. I started searching around my computer for something old I might read to the group. I found essays I'd written in that old laundry room when my kids were younger. (By now I had a full fledged office.) I was astounded by how good the writing was. I figured I'd learned a lot over the past few years. Turns out I hadn't been learning at all. I'd been forgetting. I'd forgotten how to write from my gut, how to open a vein and let what was inside come spilling out. I'd forgotten that I had something to say. Where was my message? Where was my opinion? Where was my passion? I'd forgotten that other mom long ago, the one I wanted to help. I'd started thinking only how to give the editors what they wanted, how to tell them what they wanted to hear, what they'd pay for. Nowadays, as I perched my fingers over the key pad with a new idea, I'd ask myself who was going to buy it. If the answer was "No one", I'd write something else regardless whether I had an opinion on the topic or not.

Where's that mom now? Who's telling her the things she needs to know? Is she feeling as alone as I did 10, 12 years ago? Clearly I had let her down. I looked at the list of articles I was working on. Discipline. Teething. Separation anxiety. I called one of my favorite editors and told her I had an essay I wanted her to consider. The topic is Mom Friends; Why We Need Each Other. As soon as I had it written, I'd send it to her. I've already decided, if she doesn't buy it, I'll keep submitting it until someone does. If I can't sell it for $1,000, I'll sell it for $20. If I can't sell it for $20, I'll give it away. When I'm finished with that one, I'm writing another one from the heart. I still have something to say and there's still a mom out there who needs to hear it. After all, if I don't tell her, who will? •

© 2005 Mimi Greenwood Knight. All rights reserved.

Mimi Greenwood Knight is an artist in residence and freelance writer living in Folsom, Louisiana with her husband, David, four kids, three cats and five dogs. More »

Updated 1/6/14