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Kate Hopper wants mothers to write it out

Her latest book, “Use Your Words, a Writing Guide for Mothers,” gives aspiring writers the tools and inspiration to tell their stories.

Kate Hopper portrait and book coverWhen Minneapolis writer and Loft Literary Center instructor Kate Hopper began writing her first book, she was surprised by the dismissive way people responded to the subject matter.

“One person even said, ‘Oh, you’re writing about your baby. Isn’t that … sweet?’ That kind of response lit a fire under me because it made me so mad,” she said in a Monday interview.

That first book, “Small Continents,” a memoir about the premature birth of her daughter in 2003, was just about as important a topic as Hopper could imagine, and one that affected a large swath of the population. Yet when she surveyed the bulk of popular literature, she felt as though parenting didn’t make the cut as a relevant topic.

“That’s when I decided to promote motherhood literature on my blog and help other women write their motherhood stories.” 

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Her latest book, “Use Your Words, a Writing Guide for Mothers,” gives aspiring writers the tools and inspiration to tell their stories. Hopper excerpts from the work of numerous other authors who write about the topic of motherhood to emphasize that it can be done — if you can steal a few minutes to write, which she admits is sometimes the greatest challenge.

Realizing that both she and her audience might have trouble getting out, this summer she embarked on a “virtual book tour.” An “actual book tour” is scheduled for this fall.

MinnPost: What is a virtual book tour? What’s that experience like?

Kate Hopper: I worked with Emily Hedges of Hedges Virtual Book Tours to target mom blogs that might be interested in reviewing “Use Your Words.” Each participating blogger was assigned a day and sent a copy of the book, and then on her assigned day, she posted a review or excerpt or Q & A. Many participants also posted an exercise from the book and invited their readers to enter a contest. The winner from each blog had a chance to be featured on Literary Mama’s blog and win an hourlong writing consultation with me. It was such a valuable experience and it really expanded the reach of the book. It was also really satisfying to get daily feedback from blog readers on the book and its impact on their lives. 

MP: Some amazing writers are included in your book. How do you “collect” mother writers?

KH: I’m always on the prowl for new motherhood essays and poems. I primarily found the pieces in Use Your Words in anthologies and literary journals. But often now, women I’ve met through teaching or blogging or at conferences will recommend pieces, and I love hearing about new motherhood writing that way. It’s a very word-of-mouth genre.

MP: A huge percent of the population are parents, and yet there are few forums for intelligent writing on the subject. (And one of the best, Brain, Child magazine, just folded.) Why is this topic so underexplored, even while so many people are exploring it?

KH: I’m so sad about Brain, Child. But I know the editors are planning on publishing anthologies, so I’m looking forward to their next phase. Also, Literary Mama publishes some great essays, poems, and short stories.

I think motherhood literature is underexplored because it has to do with a “domestic” topic. Sadly, there are a lot of people out there who don’t think that motherhood as a subject is worthy of real literature.

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MP: There’s a lot of “drop everything else, they won’t be little long” pressure in the parenting world. How do parents who want to write keep that part of themselves alive over the decades of active parenting?

KH: You really need to make writing a priority in your life. It doesn’t have to be number one on your list, but it needs to be on your list. Now that doesn’t mean that you need to write every day when your kids are young (or ever for that matter). That’s just not realistic for me or many of the women in my classes. But I think it’s important to figure out what is realistic and then stick to a schedule.

If I were to stop writing to solely raise my kids, I would be a very burned-out mom. I need time to think and process and get words on the page so I can return home and dedicate myself to my kids. And I also think it’s really important for my daughters to know that my work — my writing and teaching — are an important part of my life and who I am. I want them to have that kind of passion for their work (and to know that they can take the time to feed that passion) when they are older.

MP: Do father writers face the same issues and challenges that mother writers do?

KH: Some do, I’m sure. But I think men (and this is a gross generalization) are less likely to put aside their writing (or even feel like they should) when they become parents. I know a few men who would disagree with me on that, but that’s what I see.

MP: Do mother writers have advantages? (No daddy blogger makes the kind of money Dooce does, for instance.)

KH: No other mom bloggers make that kind of crazy money either. Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s interesting, because some people thought that dad bloggers were going to push mom bloggers out (or at least give them a run for their money), and that hasn’t happened. I think there is something about the community that arises when women blog that men aren’t tapping into. And maybe there are stereotypes about what dads should or shouldn’t write that are working against dad bloggers. I also think that there aren’t enough dads reading their blogs. I think most dad blogs are read primarily by women.

MP: Successful writers always note the amount of “butt in the chair” time they put in. But parents know that time is always in short supply. How do you keep writing from feeling indulgent in the face of children’s always pressing needs?

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KH: It really is a balance. If I spent all weekend in the coffee shop writing, it’s would feel completely indulgent (and would never fly in my house). But taking that time, whether it’s once a week or even less right now, is what makes me feel like a writer. I need to feel like a writer (and actually write words down) in order to be a good mother and wife. We all need “me” time, whether it’s writing time or time to exercise or meet a friend for a glass of wine. That doesn’t seem indulgent to me.