Power of the written word

Emily Writes. Photo: Supplied
Emily Writes. Photo: Supplied
An innocent blog post six years ago changed a Wellington mother’s life. Emily Writes talks to Rebecca Fox about losing her anonymity and parenting in the age of social media.

Emily Writes* wonders sometimes what her life might have been like if she had not vented her sleep-deprived frustrations at 2am.

Struggling to get her baby to sleep, Writes, who also had a toddler at the time, was feeling a little overwhelmed, so she tapped out those frustrations into a blog, sent it to a couple of friends, posted it on Wordpres and thought no more about it.

She had no idea the post had gone viral, as parents around the world identified with her struggle.

The next day her phone continually beeped with each notification, but her toddler had hidden it on her. When she found it, she was a bit overwhelmed by the news, so ignored it.

Then she realised friends were posting it on her Facebook page saying "read this, this woman’s crazy".

"I went to my inbox and I had like 15,000 emails from around the world. I freaked out. It was the first thing I’d ever written and I hadn’t shared it. I didn’t know how it happened."

Writes continued to ignore the popularity of her "rant" until friends encouraged her to continue writing.

"So I wrote something else. Then Penguin Random asked me to write a book and now a play’s being done on it."

She also has a third book waiting to be written. Writes still pinches herself when she thinks about how far she has come.

"It’s been a lovely surprise really. I’ve no idea how I got here."

It is even more poignant for Writes given she had always wanted to be a writer and followed in her father’s footsteps becoming a journalist.

But after working in a newsroom for a while, she discovered it was not her cup of tea.

"I was really bad at it. I was a terrible journalist. People think if you can write you can be a journalist, but it’s just a tiny part of it — you have to be objective, committed, dedicated and be good at meeting deadlines — nothing I was good at."

So when she was made redundant, Writes thought it was the end of that dream.

"I became a public sector drone for a while until I had babies. I’d long given up on my writing dream."

However, the popularity of her honest "rant", which inspired her best-selling book Rants in the Dark: From one Tired Mama to Another, gave her a second chance.

But it has not been without its challenges.

The popularity of her work brought her some "frightening" attention, both positive and negative —

one man even lectured her on breast-feeding — and started to have an impact on her mental health.

"Having people say your children are unsafe and should be taken off you really messed with me. I felt I was in two worlds, one where people were, like, ‘Yes, I totally feel’ this and the other saying I was this monster.

"It all came to a head a couple of years in, and I realised I had a bit of a breakdown and was really struggling with the attention."

Writes was being stopped in the supermarket or in the playground by mothers wanting to share their stories, often very sad and emotional tales of loss.

"All this happened around the time my son was desperately unwell."

She was constantly trying to remind people that it was just a "rant in the dark", a release for a young parent trying to come to grips with the challenges she faced.

She says the feedback from her work highlights the pressures parents face these days.

"We are in this strange space: it’s like a bizarre throwback to the 1950s-style sitcom where everything has to be perfect, you have to have the perfect house and the perfect matching children.

"That scares me. Mothers feel any deviation from that picture perfect Instagram norm is wrong to the extent that you’re a terrible parent if you don’t have a clean house every day or pretend that child at the park being naughty isn’t yours."

She believes the humour in parenting has been lost as a result.

"People are too afraid to make jokes about parenting. They’re afraid to say ‘I’m having the worst day’ or ‘I wish I’d never had kids’. That any of those things make you a bad parent."

Writes sees her column and blogs as a way for others to see they are not alone at 2am as they scroll the internet’s advice on how to get their baby to sleep.

"It [the internet] comforts you while also attacking you. It’s really difficult to navigate. It’s got to the point now that even people who don’t have children put their two cents in."

Having a play based on her life is very strange.

"I’m still trying to get my head around it all."

Her children are now 6 and 8 and this year, for the first time, she will give up her day job to concentrate on writing. Her two books and weekly columns have all been written at night.

"I’m going to try and make it as a proper writer."

She has a third book to write, but admits balancing writing about her experiences and keeping her publicity shy husband and her children out of the limelight is difficult.

"I’m constantly looking at boundaries. When is it my story or my child’s story or my husband’s? I don’t want them to feel like they can’t share things."

So she thinks her third book will be more about trying to be an adult.

"I thought I’d be grown up once I was married and had kids, but I don’t feel I’m quite there yet.

"I’ll do what I did with Rants and start writing and see what comes out."

*Emily Writes is a pen name.

Emily Writes Rants in the Dark, Regent Theatre, April 17.
In conversation with Emily Writes, April 12, Petridish.

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