This Is Why We Write: a Mother, a Prayer, and an Answer

This Why We Write- A Mother, a Prayer, and an Answer. #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyWhy write? Because sometimes you give yourself the gift of scribbling down a fervent prayer.  And then, years later you get to read it from the other side when you're living an answer.

Six years ago, I used to pour my earnest, new mother's heart into a blog called The Girl Who Cried Epiphany. (Heavens! I was a babe in the blogging woods - I use "one" like the academic I used to be!)

On this Mother's Day Eve, I discovered what was essentially a journal entry. I wrote the post as I looked at my newborn and worried over what would happen at the other end of my maternity leave. 

Prayer is a word I have and flirted with and danced around and fled from.  I used to worry about the term’s religious baggage.  Also, I have worried that I did not know how to do it properly.

Now, I know that no tradition has a monopoly on prayer and I am aligning myself with Spirit, not with a specific tradition when I talk about the practice.  As for concerns about whether I am doing it right, well, I want to say I really don’t have time for that stuff any more.

Motherhood makes you appreciate each activity a little more because you have less time to spend on everything. Every breath in downward dog is deeper because you don’t know when a wail from the next room will pull you from the mat.  Every chance you get to type with two hands because baby is sweetly sleeping in her sling is to be treasured and exploited fully.  Even though a huge part of me is dedicated to simply experiencing Moira each day, the other side of that equation means that efficiency is more important than ever.  This applies even to talking Goddess or God, or whatever I am calling the Divine on a given day.

Like I said, I do not have time to worry about whether I am crafting perfect prayers, I just have to unleash my soul’s dialog and hope the ideas organize themselves.

And yet, I am left to wonder, how literal is Spirit?  What matters more, the intention of one’s petition or the way one words the prayer, the way one might craft them into mantra?

My deepest prayers as I look into my baby girl’s great blue eyes are that we may find a way for me to stay home with her full time. I always knew I didn’t want to be a working mom, but I thought that was because it would be too draining to do both and because I never liked my job that much.  Never could I have imagined the all consuming love that would make being with my daughter a need not a simple desire.

And so I have found my days and nights filled with a constant refrain: “Please, please, please let me stay home with my baby.”

But then, I wonder about how true “be careful what you wish for” really is. What if the Universe decides to answer my most fervent prayers through a lay off?  You see, it’s economics that is keeping me at work. Not only do I need the courage to leave the security of my job, but I also need to find another source of income to make staying home the idyllic portrait of mother and child that I dream of.

And so, here I write, six and a half years later, a second child born and weaned, several lean seasons survived, a business built and growing.

I'm left to marvel that I did find the courage to leave that job and to feel sick at the "how." Then, I didn't know anything much beyond the mystery of prayers and their answers.  Turns out, it wasn't a lay off but my mother's unexpected death a few months after my daughter's birth that broke my heart even as it allowed me my heart's desire. 

But You're a Great Mom!

But You're a Great Mom. #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyAs Mother's Day weekend approaches (ever bittersweet for a motherless mom), I'm looking back on what I've written on the subject of motherhood. This was drafted in 2014 when my second daughter was an infant and I felt like my business had been chucked in the diaper pail. But you're a great mom!

I hear these words like a curse.

Not all the time, certainly, but these words can diminish and dismiss even as they are are intended to applaud and support.

Like many women of my generation, I was raised to be anything I could imagine. Top of the class and pick of the litter... there were no obvious limits placed upon the ambitions of hard-working, middle class smart girls who came of age at the turn of this century.

In the rush to get the best grades and apply to the best schools, there was no whisper of motherhood. Our mothers may have been our role models, but being a mom was never really the goal. There were too many other things to prepare for.

And now that I find myself in the midst of motherhood, I  feel wildly underprepared.

I know I couldn't have prepped for the love or the exhaustion. But I was also unready for the way that all those past priorities would slip away and "be your best mama self" would be the most important thing.

Not my ability to write or speak or make an income. (Though, paradoxically, those things are still vital since being "just mom" isn't a choice due to the economics of 2014.)

In the original version, I tied everything up in a nice little bow and talked about how great it was to "just" be mom for a while. Considering the fact that I still struggle with all of my roles, I know my pat ending was wishful thinking at the time, not an actual resolution. 

These days, no one says "but you're a great mom!" to me to soothe my worries that I'm not doing enough or accomplishing enough. That has nothing to do with how much I'm publishing or the new way I'm teaching about story. It has everything to do with the fact that I am no longer seeking that kind of validation. Amazing how time and sleep and writing into the beautiful pain of motherhood can restore lost confidence and begin to heal the wound of "I'm not enough."

But do think twice about telling a mother to look on the bright side of motherhood when she's telling you she's lost sight of her career, her creativity, and herself in the midst of all the mommying. Listen to what she really needs from you and support the woman, not just the role she's playing.

The People Need Stories, Not To Do Lists

The people need stories, not to do lists, #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyThe difference between telling a strong story and writing “just another blog post”

There are million different ways to approach a topic. Say you wanted to write about how to talk with your partner about a struggles a creative entrepreneur.

You could use the good old “people love list posts” approach:

Seven ways you “should” approach the situation including “make a spreadsheet that he can understand!” and “make sure everyone is well-rested and ready to fully engage in the conversation.”

If your readers are worrying about how to get their partner to be more supportive of a business venture, they just might come away with a tip that helps them along.

But then there’s the storytelling approach:

It’s one a.m. when she gets to bed. She’s chilled from sitting at the computer for so long and feels so grateful when he entangles his sleep warmed limbs with hers. Visions of Facebook ads and YouTube clips swim before her eyes as she tries desperately to sleep. The kids will be up soon and there’s so much more work to do to get this new course launched.

He knows the pattern of her breath. He knows it doesn’t mean anything good. “Did you get everything done?” he asks. When she snorts, he asks, “Did you get at least one thing done? Are you upset?

“Yes. And yes.” She starts to cry because finishing up a LeadPage doesn’t feel like much when the to do list stretches across so many notebook pages.

She is not ok. She is tired and she is scared and she is so desperate for all of her work to pay off.

It would have been easy to mumble “it’s all good” and roll over to feed her fears into the lonely darkness. Instead, she chose to be honest. She chose to speak her truth and ask her husband for the kind of help that only he can give - to listen to her in the darkness and make the world feel safe again.

Though they’ll both be exhausted in the morning, there’s one less brick in the wall between them. There’s space for sunshine and support and connection to flow in their marriage, in her business, and in their bank account.

This is why storytelling works

Because it’s a story, the reader connects with you in a real way that builds trust. They get drawn in by the emotion. Even if they’re not looking for “quick and easy tips for having tough conversations with your spouse about your business,” people who understand the challenges of entrepreneurship will be drawn in.

Stories are like giant magnets for the brain -  people want to be invited into the room, into the conflict, and into the resolution. A story like this one shows them they’re not alone and exposes the other side of “grow your six figure online business” sales pitches.

How to make storytelling work for you, your audience, and your business

Is that my story above? Well, I can tell you that I am launching a new course and I’m pretty sleepy today…

That’s not the point of all this, though. My goal is to help you understand that stories are what connect you with your readers and with your potential clients.

We dive deep into why we need stories and list posts in the Connect With Your Readers & Clients: Discover the Story Triangle webinar. The recording will be available through Monday, April 11.

Get Instant Access

On Being a Woman With Stuff To Do While Children Are Underfoot

On Being a Woman With Stuff To Do While Children Are Underfoot, #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyIt's spring break week here. At a playdate today, my friend asked how I was going to have the time to get out today's #365StrongStories installment. While we spoke at three this afternoon, I had absolutely no idea. I  just knew or would happen somehow. This yearlong writing project has forced me to get even more vigilant about carving out for "me time." But trying to make time to work and create isn't a new problem - it's as old as the concept of women with stuff to do even with kids underfoot.

This story is excepted from last year's post on the trials and tribulations of meeting writing deadlines even during spring break:

My stepmom kindly recommended I take off my coat and get some work done while she took the kids for a walk.

Clearly I was exuding deadline stress, and I risked infecting everyone around me.

How could I be surprised that I couldn’t get clear on my writing and I felt choked with “bad mom” guilt? I wasn’t asking for the dedicated creative time I needed and so I was spreading myself too thin as I tried (and failed) to dot it all. 

I felt like a fraud, offering advice from and “I’ve got this” blogging pulpit when I was actually just being a terrible, distracted house guest with a couple of needy dependents.

Gratefully, I took that gift of thirty minutes free of mom responsibilities to check back in with my real message, my lived experience, my own imbalance.

I think I found a story worth telling and I drafted a new container to tell it. And then I discovered the space to walk to the beach with my girls – twice.

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It's Hard to Write Your Way Through the Monday Blues

I wish I worked on Mondays #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy What if every weekend was a three day weekend? Sounds like an ideal life, right? From my experience, that isn't necessarily true.

Theoretically, Mondays are a mother-daughter day and I don't work except for during nap time. That never really serves anyone.

Today, I tried my best to write my way through the "I don't like Mondays" blues. I tried to write a story of how I just couldn't show up as a mom when I felt like I "should" be working. I ended up in the worst of both worlds, neither present nor productive.

Every story I tried to tell about the day came out in a tangle. I sounded like a whiny victim or a preachy blogger. After all, the easy solution would be to hire a sitter  for a few hours and just get to work! I'm going to get on that. Promise. In the meantime, here's the Facebook Live quickie for your #365StrongStories shot of video storytelling.

Tell Stories that Matter (Mompreneur Outtake)

Rehearsal for the new course promo video was hijacked by a two year-old.  In the spirit of authenticity and because these 44 seconds tell the universal story of what it means to be a mom entrepreneur, I'm posting it as today's #365StrongStories post.

Plus, I'm pretty sure I said it best in this version. The Tell Stories that Matter: Write Online Content that Your Readers Care About course is for the emerging thought leader who wants to connect to their own stories and to their creativity. It's for you if you want to connect to your readers and build your business by becoming a stronger storyteller. This online course will launch in April and I would love to have you with me from the start. Please join the interest list to receiving VIP updates and special pricing. Tell me more

Is That a Rant or a Story?

Rant or Story? My life is an Unmade Bed, #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy This morning as I rushed from room to room gathering necessary clothes and snacks and computer accessories and toys, it occurred to me: My house is like an unmade bed.

I was tangled in the twisted bed clothes of an entire household of stuff. Everything I needed was lost in this riot of a rumpled nest and it felt nearly impossible to meet the day.

This blistering tirade fueled my mad dash (because, of course, one girl had to make the bus and another had to be dropped at playgroup exactly on time so that mama could make her daylong VIP session with a client).

Once I was safely belted into a quiet car with my coffee, I began composing the day’s story in my head, so pleased that I had such a powerful image and title. But then I paused.

Was I a storyteller or a cranky woman who just wanted to score some sympathy points for performing the impossible? (At this point, I realized that I wasn’t a righteous super hero. I would probably just sound like a disorganized creature who, though hilariously human, was also a trifle whiny.)

Do you want to entrance them with story or blind them with shared rage?

A strong story is compelling. It moves the reader to say “me too!” and click share. Of course, the same can be true in the case of a red hot rant that pushes your audience’s buttons.

But one of these is likely to be full of gory details that you don’t want to revisit or defend in conversation. It’s about a topic that’s too intimate, too raw, too prone to morning after regret.

When you think about it that way, if you’re writing to build your business and establish your professional reputation, you want to avoid that kind of TMI like the plague.

An authentic blog post is intended to give people a window into your world, but the goal is to hold onto a few shreds of dignity and authority so that readers will say “I want to work with that human.”

A story is a well processed piece of prose that features a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a conflict and a resolution and a protagonist you can root for.

When you write a story, you want to be vulnerable, but you’re not yowling about an open wound like you might in a full blooded rant. Instead, you’re showing off your healed scars with a smile.

How do you know when your post is more diatribe than engaging story?

A rant doesn’t have a strong ending. It may not even have a clear beginning. It’s all messy middle as far as your harangue colored glasses can see.

There’s plenty of conflict, but resolution hides below the horizon of a limitless sea of indignation.

Now, your rant may have characters - generally the wounded party (who may or may not be you, the writer) and the evil perpetrator (an actual villain or just the beasts of excess and chaos). In your unfiltered narrative, you might not be able to make your hero likeable enough to root for. An angry victim will boil alone in her vitriol if she doesn’t have a plot to hold her and prove her case.

Ask yourself: how do I want to connect?

We live in the age of storytelling, not in the age of tirades.

Ok, so that is a total lie seeing as we are living through an American presidential campaign, but we really are in a golden age of storytelling when we get to market our businesses not through newspaper ads but through content that connects.

An emotional explosion might bring the right people through your door. But, most often, those rants will fall flat and keep keep your ideal clients at arm’s length. How can they see the solutions you offer through the drama you describe?

Write stories, not rants. Your readers and your business will thank you for it.

Need some help telling a story that connects? Download your free strong storytelling guide now.

Entrepreneuring, Mothering, and Laundry Basket Despair, #365StrongStories 47

Entrepreneuring, Mothering, and Laundry Basket Despair, #365SttrongStories by Marisa GoudyI prefer mountains of laundry to mere hillocks. So, when I enter a marathon sorting and folding session, I know there will be plenty of time for introspection. Today, however, both kids are home thanks to some freezing rain and a minor fever. Turns out I can’t get much deep thinking done when I must constantly exclaim “Please do not knock over mommy’s stacks!”

So I’m left to consider the clothes themselves. Since I could tell you my life story by giving you a tour of my closet, this is actual fertile territory.

There’s this fuchsia Marks and Spencer sweater that’s just beginning to pill. I find this terribly disappointing and give myself over to a little bit of laundry basket despair.

Even in that moment I knew I was actually mourning the fact that I’m folding and refereeing rather than writing and planning. This was supposed to be a brilliantly productive professional day. But wishing I were entrepreneuring instead of mothering isn’t going to get these clothes in drawers or make me any nicer to my kids, so I focus on that sweater (and sounding kind when I beg the girls not to jump on the towels I’d just turned into relatively perfect squares.)

This sweater doesn’t owe me anything. It was some hand me down that I never even put on my first daughter because it always looked too fancy. With my second daughter, I’ve tried to quit hoarding pretty things for the day when our lives were perfect and posh enough to do them justice, so she’s worn it during trips to the grocery store. As I sit in the midst of this domestic mountain range, unable to control the weather or viruses or my own work day, I breathe into the realization that our lives will never be what the glossy catalogs tell me I’m supposed to be striving for.

We’ll have brilliant days while wearing our mismatched pajamas and we’ll suffer through others while wearing our newest and brightest best. Eventually, it will all come out in the wash.