This is a question I asked myself when lockdown began, and something I’d been asking myself for some time, being honest. As soon as lockdown set in, childcare became a never-ending cycle of thinking up amazing activities, preparing meals, constant washing and cleaning, a million cups of tea, and amidst all that, attempting to do some work and actually write something down that wasn’t a shopping list or an activity idea!
Hence, MumWrite was born. The MumWrite slogan: ‘Creative You Time’ emphasises that mums deserve not only a break, but also time to pursue their creative interests. I’ve seen articles about the lack of balance in terms of what mums versus dads have been able to do during lockdown. The BBC quoted findings from an IFS study on 27th May for instance, saying that ‘mums were only able to do one hour of uninterrupted work for every three hours done by dads.’ I am not saying this is the case for all families but it seems that mums are having even less time to do anything for themselves.
After successfully applying to the ACE Emergency Covid-19 fund for some start-up funds, I opened up applications. I was expecting only a few mums to apply, however I received around 40-odd applications! Mums told me how hard it was to write anything at all, let alone produce something of quality. Some had never been published, some were on a low income, some had studied before but hadn’t found a ‘community’ that understood how hard it is to be a caregiver and a writer.
These were the main reasons people cited for wanting to join:
A community of writers who understand their pressures;
A supportive group to help them share and collaborate;
A kick start after being a stay-at-home mum for a long time;
Not being able to normally afford such an opportunity.
Choosing only ten mums to participate as planned seemed impossible. So, I set up a Ko-Fi page hoping to boost the funding a little, though in the end managing to raise nearly all the money required. I used a range of incentives to get people involved. This made it possible for me to invite 22 mums onto the programme and run two workshop series in tandem. It became even clearer to me in these initial stages that MumWrite is definitely something that mums who write are looking for, and need!
During the programme, the mums receive a series of four workshops focusing on poetry, short fiction, hybrid and visual writing. The mums also receive editorial feedback from myself and are invited to contribute to a MumWrite anthology, published at the end of 2020. What’s been amazing to see is how strong the bonds between mums have been – they’ve set up a Whatsapp group and they’ve been independently sharing feedback. Many have said they’ve found their community of writers, with one mum summing it up by saying, ‘I can’t believe my luck in having such a lovely group to share and create with.’
What makes MumWrite different is that it is a supportive space available at times that work better for mums (evenings and weekends), and where we all understand if your children interrupt. If a mum misses something, I send prompts afterwards and can communicate via email about anything they need help with. It’s also not important how the mums look (i.e. if they haven’t had time to wash their hair or they’re still in their pyjamas), if they’re half-asleep, if they want to speak or not – all that matters is that they’re there and having some time to themselves. I think this has been one of the best things about MumWrite.
Since I run an experimental writing magazine (www.streetcakemagazine.com), my focus is more on experimental writing. However, with MumWrite, I feel it’s also just a space to build confidence and get mums writing through using prompts and generating ideas. Since signing up, some of the mums have been submitting their work to more places and feel more validated as writers. They are finding their ‘Creative You Time’.
If you want to read more about MumWrite or support the programme, please visit: https://www.mumwrite.com/
Nikki Dudley is managing editor of streetcake and also runs the streetcake prize. She also created MumWrite, which is a development programme for mums.