A New Chapter: Titles and Labels

My favourite mug is a sturdy Emma Bridgewater affair. It is festooned with an assortment of brightly coloured, pansy-like flowers and a single word emblazoned in bold purple text that reads, Mum.

I love Emma Bridgewater pottery and one day I hope to afford one of her teapots (part of an increasingly unlikely fantasy that sees me serving tea and fresh made scones on a summers day to guests in the conservatory). But I love my ‘Mum’ mug best, not because it stands out among my expansive mug and cup collection, but because that little word means the world to me.

The Power Of Words

We are all defined, or perhaps more worryingly define ourselves, by our titles. The words we label ourselves with have power. We all make judgements and assumptions when someone labels themselves as ‘entrepreneur’, ‘housewife’, ‘yogi’, ‘grandpa’, ‘CEO’ or ‘student’. Many would assume that being one of these probably precludes being the others but, of course, there is no reason that someone couldn’t be a student yogi and a grandfather or a entrepreneurial housewife who’s CEO of her own company. In fact who on earth is solely defined by just one thing?

The label of ‘mum’ is loaded with mixed connotations. To some it means a dreamy haze of bedtime snuggles and powder scented kisses. To others it brings to mind sleep deprivation, dirty nappies and cracked nipples. For many, I imagine, it invokes a complex combination of happy thoughts of first steps and family Christmas’ and the exhausting day-to-day realities of juggling work with sick kids, school runs and toddler tantrums. Motherhood is certainly a mixed bag.

For me ‘mum’ was a label I wasn’t sure I should want. Not because I didn’t want children but because it was always sold to me as a choice – marriage and kids or career. And career, for a child of the megalomaniac eighties, was god. You could, it seemed, choose fame and fortune and to live your dreams or sell out for a life of domestic subservience and the festering resentment of unrealised potential. Utter crap, obviously, as an absolute truth but that’s how it was sold back then.

In many ways I had equal difficulty with the label of ‘writer’. Putting aside that to most people the word ‘writer’ conjures up the image of sitting in a sun drenched conservatory, sipping tea whilst easily churning out reams of beautiful, flawless prose that publishers will fight to publish. Yes, all the writers out there can all stop laughing now… or, wait, is that weeping? There is also the question of when you are allowed to adopt the moniker.

If you take up running or pottery or water colours, no one seems to have a problem with you calling yourself a runner, potter or artist regardless of whether you have ever taken part in a single race, exhibited painting or sold a single pot. Call yourself a fiction writer without a published piece of work to show for it and you may well incur the wrath of authors who, having fought long and hard to achieve publication and legitimacy, resent other people adopting the job title without doing the same.

But if I’m not a fiction writer what am I? I’m not an ‘aspiring writer’, I do not aspire to write, I sit down and write – not always well or as often as I’d like but that’s beside the point. I have no problem with calling myself an aspiring novelist because I have yet to complete a novel but I am a writer.

But saying that still sends a shiver of panic through me for another reason, announcing yourself as a writer to the world means there’s no where to hide. You have declared yourself to be a maker of prose and a wrangler of words and you better darn well be able to pony up the goods and prove it! Scary stuff at any point in a Creative’s career but terrifying when your work is still untested.

Choosing A Title

Both labels have been difficult for me to adopt. I was unsure about putting my writing ambitions out in to the world without proof that someone thought me good enough, and it took me a long time to stop listening to the crazy doctrine of my youth and accept I wanted babies. In both cases, I am so, so very glad I did.

I should perhaps pause at this point to explain that I am writing this in my dressing gown whilst listening to the dawn chorus, as my daughter and husband sleep upstairs and 8lbs of just fed newborn baby boy naps contentedly in my arms. I am exhausted, sore and blissfully happy.

I should perhaps also mention now that despite the lack of sleep and the adjustment of suddenly having to wrangle two little people under 3, I feel more inspired and creative than I have in months. I may be perpetually hungry and main lining instant coffee but I also have ideas, stories and characters fluttering around my mind like a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Never have I been so desperate to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and never have I felt that, published or not, I am a writer.

It was when I had my daughter that I first decided to seriously pursue my dream of writing fiction, and now, after becoming a mum for the second time I feel more encouraged and determined than ever to continue. Neither road will be easy. There will be toddler tantrums and nappy explosions and there will rejection letters and bad reviews. Far from feeling like a fraud, though, I feel remarkably lucky and privileged to live the life I do. I get to do work I mainly enjoy, pursue a creative career I love and am passionate about whilst caring for two simply amazing little people to whom I owe the best title in the world to, that of ‘mum’.

So here’s a big shout out to all the wonderful writers out there and a huge, belated, happy Mother’s Day to all the mums.

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