My Family · On Writing · Parenting

The Secret

Sometimes I feel stupid. I feel inadequate. I feel like there’s something really wrong with me. I can’t always chalk it up to over-active-pre-menstrual hormones or a bad day. Sometimes I really feel deeply like I just don’t get ‘it’.

I’m a writer. So I write. This part has always come naturally to me. I can write in my journal for hours. I can read for hours. I can write any style of writing you ask me to – but then the problems bubble up like chocolate secrets in an Aero bar. I’ve submitted my writing to so many people (essentially that’s who I submit to – a person on a team at a literary magazine or a person on a jury for a grant) and when I do get a response…it’s most often that ‘it’s not quite what we’re looking for’ or the silent killer of all responses ‘it’s nothing we haven’t read before, and a bit cliché to boot’. Okay. Maybe the words aren’t that harsh. But maybe they are.

When I get responses like this – and this is after I research the type of work that has been previously published to make sure I ‘get it’ – I feel utterly defeated. Even when I try to get it. To understand. To write like the others. To communicate like the others. It seems I can’t. And…they say ‘you’re trying to fit in’.

Um. Yeah. I am. Because I want to be a part of the Canadian literary scene that it feels like everyone I know and look up to is a part of. I want to win poetry awards and writing contests. I want to get a big-money grant because it will make me feel validated in a way that only winning these things can make me feel.

Validation. It’s a wicked word.

Beneath it all, I just want to be liked and if that goes well, I want to be loved. I want this for my writing. But when I so often ‘miss the boat’…like, I’m not even on the same body of water the boat is on, I feel so damn shitty inside.

Does this mean I don’t love myself enough? Because if I did then it wouldn’t matter what other people thought of me, much less my writing?

Does this mean I’m egotistical? Because I like the feeling of being liked and winning things? Especially when the benefits of winning are monetary…sweet jeebus knows how grateful I am when money comes in for my writing.

I am grateful. I pray. I wish on eyelashes…and I promise you on all your pinky fingers that it wasn’t until a couple years ago I actually started wishing for things I hoped for. Before that my wishes were for others.

What if I just don’t get it?  What if I’ll never be a great Canadian writer because I simply don’t know how to be?

Where is this coming from?

I got an extensive response to a piece of writing, an essay, I submitted. I really enjoyed writing it. It was from my heart. It was honest and, I felt, revelatory. But it didn’t work for the publication. Like, at all. Suggestions were made to submit to other publications that this would likely fit. But guess what? Those publications don’t want it either. I’ve been there. Been rejected for that.

What if the only thing that gets published is stuff I publish myself? What if the only essays that make the cut are the ones that I post on my blog because I won’t ever cut them myself?

Yes, I have a book of poetry published and a memoir too. Why can’t I feel the joy of these publications in my heart though? Why do my expectations of their success seem to rarely light my inner fire? Why do I forget what it feels like when I do get a rave review? It wasn’t but a month or two ago that Michael Dennis reviewed my book and it was an amazing review. Why do these feelings not stick to a place in my heart and mind that keeps me feeling warm and fuzzy?

It’s been a cold, cold Winter. The sun is out and I’m grateful for the warmth she’s bringing, but it doesn’t penetrate. The cold has already burrowed into my bones. Not even chocolate can seep to the parts that seem unmeltable (new word) these days.

No one likes to be rejected. I know that. All the ‘greats’ were rejected a thousand times before they hit it ‘big’. I know that. But I gotta believe that it made them mad as hell and made them feel wrong and different and alone and not good enough. They drank or cheated on their wives or killed themselves. The pain is real and true. And success doesn’t look or feel much different. I’ve read about that too. The greats continued to drink or cheat on their wives or kill themselves.

I’m not suggesting I’m going to do any of those things. I’m not compelled that way. But I’m compelled to be affected and to write about how this feels.

What’s a girl to do? I cry and that makes me feel a little bit better. I feel guilty because I don’t want to sound like a suck or a weakling or someone you need to console and lift up. I can console myself. This is how. I’m not so far down I’ve got rocks in my pockets. I’m just…trying to understand how to navigate through the muck that comes with not fitting in. I’m trying to figure out why I get so fucking upset I want to give it all up? Just. Stop. Writing. What’s. The. Point. ????

What’s it gonna take, Vanessa? Do you want Margaret Atwood to call you and tell you she loves your poetry? And your hair too? Do you want Lena Dunham to invite you on her show to play the role of a misunderstood mother/poet? Oh, and by the way, your doting, supportive husband will be played by Tom Cruise and you have to kiss him at least twice? Do you want a hug from a jury member for the Canada Council grant just before he/she hands you a big, fat cheque?

Miller just ran up to me and hugged me. The tightest, most lovingest (new word) hug a kid can give. It felt damn great. Why can’t this be enough?

What if the secret to it all is that you have to be a little mean on the inside when the rejections come? What if the secret is to holler a loud fuck you to all the people who tell you no?

If that’s the secret…well then I don’t want to know it. I can’t do that.

What if the secret is I just don’t know what ‘they’ know, and maybe I never will?

Maybe the secret is acceptance. It’s the not knowing that means something.

Maybe the secret is to write it out. To feel crazy and out of whack and wrong and less than. Maybe the secret is to cry and eat food to make you feel better. Maybe the secret is to get hugged by someone who loves you unconditionally and let that love bring you back to the page. To the words you could never give up on.

Maybe the secret is circular. ‘Cause I feel like I’m back where I started. Feeling a little stupid and inadequate and, definitely like there’s something really wrong with me. Maybe that’s what makes me different. Maybe I should stop now.

I’m gonna go kiss Miller. And snuggle with Oscar. (And do a sorta Duck Lips pose at the same time.)


Here’s what I wrote that got rejected, for what it’s worth….And, please know that the rejecters were kind even as they said no. So no hard feelings toward them. I leave those for myself.

When it comes to writing poetry, I’m like a bee and a squirrel. I’m busy like a bee because I’m a mother and I’ve taught myself to stop fighting this fact and own my motherhood like I’ve taught myself to stop fighting my identity and own my writerhood or my poethood, if we’re getting specific, which I think we are – and should be.

Just like it was terrifying for me to say out loud and exclaim to anyone who would listen ‘I am a writer!’ when I was 19, the truth (my truth) was that it was terrifying to say out loud ‘I am a mother!’ some nine years later. Except I wasn’t saying I’m a mother to anyone but myself…and most importantly, to the paper and the laptop. And, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a mother or that I didn’t feel prepared, it’s just that you can’t truly prepare for it until you’ve got your baby in your arms…and you love him like you’ve never loved anything before – even your writing.

After my first son was born, I got extremely ill. I was hospitalized for two weeks, too weak to even hold my precious son. It was a brutal time for me, for us…and yet, I wrote in my journal all day and night, I planned my husband’s 40th surprise birthday party from my hospital bed, and by the time I went home, I had written out exactly what I wanted to happen at my funeral. I know that much of what helped me heal both physically and mentally was my writing. I was ill because being pregnant and giving birth had done my body in. Still, I pushed myself to stay positive and keep busy. And writing was a major part of this healing process.

I’ve always been busy. And, ironically, when people say to me ‘You’re so busy, how do you get all that writing done?’ I feel guilty and angry because it seems like being busy is a bad thing. It’s weird. But the truth is (my truth) that I do better – I feel better, I’m more prolific with my writing – when I’m busy. When I’m not, I feel lost and uninspired and, well, like something’s really wrong. Like I don’t know who I am. Especially if I’m not writing.

Like a bee keeps busy buzzing from flower to flower collecting pollen, I scoot from school to work to desk to lunch to piano to fill-in-the-blank-fun-things-we-do-with-family-and-friends collecting life experiences (and dirty laundry and groceries and vacuum bags…). I time-manage as well as I can so I can fit it all in, and when I overfill my plate, as I often do (just ask my hubby…my very patient hubby), I get burned out and I need to sleep and write in my journal to get to the root of what’s causing the burn out this time.

This is where the squirrel part comes in. As I’m buzzing along from life experience to life experience, I’m writing small ‘nuts’ of poetry in little notebooks, on the backs of receipts and in my journal. Poetry comes to me at the worst possible times. When my arms are elbow-deep in bubbly dishwater, when I’m driving, when I’m about to fall asleep, exhausted from another day. I hold on to as many ideas as I can, and trust me, many a grand poem idea has been lost to the broken-memory-monster (aka Mom-brain), with the promise that I will give myself the time and energy to splay them out before me and cultivate them into full pieces at some point in the near future.

I had to learn to let myself be a mother and a writer at the same time. I want to point this out because what was happening…what I was putting myself through was this guilt-ridden, competition-based negativity – feeling guilty that I wasn’t being a good mother if I was writing, and wishing I was writing when I was mothering. My mind was always in seventeen places, and I was distracted and unhappy and feeling heavy with guilt.

So what’s the secret to being a mother and a writer? How does one negotiate the two very real, very important, very natural parts of the self on a daily basis without going completely crazy or getting depressed? The secret is be in the moment. I know, I know. This tidbit of zen-like advice feels cliché and may make you get hot with frustration. Trust me, I know. I feel it too. But, after many, many pages of searching and self-guidance in my journals, after researching, and after paying attention the other mothers in my life who also wear many ‘hats’ and whom I learn from and love, I realized that there was no way I could split myself and be one or the other – a mother or a writer.

The secret is – I am both. All the time. And, so, accepting that just because I’m not writing doesn’t mean I’m not a writer and conversely, just because I’m writing doesn’t mean I’m not a mother (or a wife/friend/sister/daughter/etc) was a huge step for me. I had to let myself be what I was as I was living it. I couldn’t keep feeling less of one part of my self as I was being another.

After I accepted that my writing life wasn’t going away it was just shifting, and after I stepped back and looked at all the little pockets of time that were showing up for me to write a poem or two, I started to regain my confidence as a poet. I started writing about my experience of being a mother as well as what it felt like to be a writer who is also a writer.

There is much poetry in parenthood, and I’ve embraced this fact and let the little ‘nuts’ of stanza fall to the page in the pockets of writing time that I’ve learned to fill during the busy-ness of my life as a mother. I am a better writer since I’ve become a mother, and I’m a better mother since I’ve chosen to be in the moment and let the poetry flow when it flows or when I make the time to unleash it. And there is always time for poetry.


5 thoughts on “The Secret

  1. First of all, here’s a hug. (((Vanessa))) Secondly, there’s a contradiction in what you’ve written here. In your essay you say you’re comfortable identifying yourself as a good mother and a good writer, but everything you wrote before that says you don’t believe you are. Seeing as how you have the happiest, most well-adjusted, and loveyest (new word) kids on the planet, I think we can put your mommie-doubts to rest. ‘Kay? So that leaves the writing and the nagging question, Are you a good writer? Well, you’ve published two books, won awards, and some notoriety. So on the surface, yeah, you’re a good writer and you’ve got the evidence to prove it. But it’s not enough. And that’s a very hard lesson to learn. The good things people say about your writing will NEVER be enough to fill you up, never enough to silence the voices in your head, at least not for very long. There’s only one thing that can do that, and it’s you and your belief in your gift. Then whether your writing is wildly acclaimed or trashed or overlooked, nothing will be able to affect that unshakeable core of truth. And I don’t think you’re there yet.

    But you’re a lot closer than you were.

    The time is coming, and soon, when the rejections, lack of financial success, and anonymity won’t matter near as much as the opportunity to put pen to paper one more time; when you’ll master the art of leaving your heart open to constructive criticism but push back against unfair judgements; when you’ll disengage from outside opinions and write because you’ve discovered you’re in love with it, and in the end that is THE ONLY THING that matters. When you believe it, THEN you know you are indeed a good writer.

    Don’t stop before that happens. Persevere. And know I love you.


    1. Thank you Penny-Anne. I can always count on you to hold up a mirror and gently help me through. You always know exactly what to say so I, not only feel better, but learn. Love you so.


  2. You are truly an amazing writer and mother and friend, Zia, sister. You inspire me on a regular basis. Thank you for sharing all the parts of you xo


  3. Vanessa,

    Your blog is earnest, and I can wholeheartedly feel you here. As writers (or writers at heart…even though publishing companies might reject us), our desire to be validated is never quenched, is it? You and I met very briefly at the media night for Whiskey Sour City. It was fleeting, but I recall you saying to me in an email that you had to fight for my poem to be selected in the book (I wrote the Tongue in cheek biopoem). I was grateful that you did that for me. I have to believe that someone, somewhere, will do the same for you — see merit in your writing, in who you are – and offer you the contract you so desire. Maybe I’ve been reading too many “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. I don’t care, they uplift me in my own time of challenge. The point is this: there’s a market for everything. If they can market “Fifty Shades of Grey” and capitalize on that, then someone WILL be inspired by the energy put forth in the words you share with this dilapidated, fragmented world. I admire people like you (writers, bloggers, poets) who shed their cloak and offer themselves to the world in a very honest, naked way. As someone in education, I know that the small things we do daily are sometimes never forgotten by people around us. Someone reading your pieces (here) will find worth and consolation, validation. A gift….we have to believe this.

    Keep on keeping on…

    …from someone who is just as frustrated and plagued with weary winter and self doubt. 🙂


    1. I remember your poem, and my fight for it, vividly! Thank you for re-connecting. I hope you’re still writing and submitting…which it seems like you are based on this response! Indeed…I had a bit of a soul-vent in this post…and I’ve since received several more rejections – and an acceptance! I’m also grateful the sun is shining and Spring is doing her best to over-power Winter! be well!!


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