Use Your Words: An Interview with Kate Hopper
As the editor of this blog, one of my favorite sections is our Good Vibrations Sexy Mama series. Parents of all genders often struggle with juggling sex, parenting, relationships, and desire, so getting to hear from other parents can help a lot.
Of course, trying to write on top of everything else can sometimes seem like yet one more project you can’t find the time for. So when I ran across Kate Hopper, author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers and her website Motherhood & Words, I knew that I had to interview her. Even though her focus isn’t on sexuality specifically, she has a lot to offer any sexy mama who wants to put pen to paper or get some words on the screen. And while I’m thinking of it, if you’re interested in writing for our blog, please get in touch!
I have been teaching moms the nuts and bolts of creative nonfiction (memoir, personal essays) for the last six years. I initially developed my Motherhood & Words class because I wanted to create a safe place where writing by mothers about motherhood would be critiqued, nurtured, and viewed as art. Over the last six years I have read so many amazing memoirs and essays. When women write the truth of their mothering experiences, it can be life-changing, not only for themselves, but for their readers. Writing their experiences as mothers can help women process both the beautiful and gritty parts of motherhood and help them feel more grounded.
2) With all of the ways that having kids can affect parents’ relationships and sex lives, some people might not want to add another project to their load. What have you heard from your workshop participants or readers about that?
I think the fear of adding another thing to your to-do list is something that keeps a lot of people from writing. But for me (and for many of my students), the act of sitting down and getting a little of what you’re living through down on the page can actually make you feel less stressed and hectic. It’s also important to remember that you don’t need to write every day to be a writer. I always tell my students to pick a schedule that’s realistic. Maybe that’s an hour once a week. Maybe it’s only twenty minutes. You can accomplish a lot in that amount of time, and it can become “me” time to look forward to each week.
3) Have any of your readers or students said that writing helped improve or enhance their relationships? How so?
Any time you are writing and reflecting on your relationships and lived experiences, you have the opportunity to gain perspective and discover new things about how and why you feel a certain way. I ask my students do an exercise focusing on their parenting partners, and I’m always amazed by what comes out. Sometimes they are processing frustration on the page, but often they end up tapping into details about their spouses and partners that they had forgotten or had been taking for granted. Writing is a safe way to explore the things you don’t feel you can say and also helps you appreciate what you have. I know that when I write about my husband—even when I am writing about challenging times in our lives—I come away from the page with a deeper understanding and appreciation for who he is.
4) What would you tell mothers who are interested in beginning to write? Where should they begin?
Begin with a detail. Don’t worry about what the real story or how long a piece is going to be. Just focus in on a time in your child’s life or in your life as a mother that you don’t want to forget. Write that moment at the top of your page and then make a list of concrete, sensory details associated with that memory—details that involve sound, taste, touch, texture or a picture. Once you have a list of details, write for 10-15 minutes. Don’t pick up your pen—just keep it moving across the page—and don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Try to turn off that internal editor so you are not censoring yourself. No one needs to read what you’ve written.
5) A lot of people want to write about what they know, including their families, their relationships, and the ups and downs they face. How can writers balance their desire to write authentically and the need to care for their family members’ privacy? Has anyone ever told you that they wished they hadn’t included something in their writing? (esp. if they were published or blogged about it)
I know a few writers who have regretted writing too openly about family members on blogs or in columns. This can be an especially sensitive issue when you are writing about your children, who depend on you to protect them. But I don’t want my students to think about this when they’re just beginning to write. If they’re worrying about who will read their writing, they will self-censor and might not write their whole truth.
With that said, I think it’s important to check in with yourself and feel comfortable with what you’ve written before you send a piece of writing out into the world. I always let people who are prominently featured in my writing read what I’ve written before I send it out. And I’ve found that as long as I’m not being self-serving in my writing and as long as I’m turning a critical gaze on myself, most people are forgiving (and even pleased) to appear in writing.
Talking openly about your writing and why it’s important to you helps your children (and everyone else) understand how critical it is for you to be able to express yourself through words.
6) The book contains essays and poems from a wide variety of mother writers. Why is this important? Are there any voices that you wish you could have included?
It’s very important to me—in the classroom and in Use Your Words—to try to represent a wide range of mothering voices and experiences. Diversity was one of my priorities as I chose pieces for this book. And by diversity I don’t just mean racial and cultural diversity. I wanted to represent the voices of mothers whose children have special needs. I wanted to include an essay by an adoptive mother. It was also important for me to have a piece by a step-mother and a lesbian mother. I think we all have something really valuable to bring to the table. That is one goal of Use Your Words: for us to read and share in each other’s experiences as mothers and feel part of a larger community. And I want us to be able to do that across multiple dividing lines. There are two demographics that I wish I had more widely represented in the book: the lower socio-economic class and older mothers. Though I know there are some wonderful pieces out there from each of those categories, I just couldn’t find a piece for each craft discussion that did everything I wanted it to do. But I’ll keep searching, and I’m open to suggestions!
7) What’s next for you? What projects do you have coming up?
The memoir I wrote about my older daughter’s premature birth is being shopped around right now, so that narrative is still percolating in my mind, but I also have been working (very slowly) on a novel. I have very little writing time right now because of full-time work, travel for Use Your Words, and family. But it seems that the important thing isn’t how many pages I crank out each week but rather the fact that I am producing something—anything. The main character is there, in the back of my mind. She pops in to say hello now and again, or I see something as I’m moving through my day, and I think, oh, she would think this or that if she were here. For now that’s enough to keep me going, though I fantasize about a week by myself to write.