Tansy Ragner Roberts: From Baby Brain to Writer Brain

Tansy-Ragner-Roberts-From-Baby-Brain-to-Writer-BrainTansy Ragner Roberts is a Hugo Award-winning writer who also lost her mojo after babies. The subtitle of this chapbook – Writing through a world of parenting distractions – is an apt summary.

From Baby Brain to Writer Brain is the second in Brain Jar Press’s Writer Chaps Season One. It’s also the first one I read, in between feeding my five-month-old son, letting him nap on my lap, and being filled with angst about the prospect of writing-while-parenting. (I’m a professional writer so writing is also work, you see.)

Tansy found herself in what appears to be an impossible situation:

A good way into a binding contract from a traditional publisher, she birthed her second child. Her chapbook is a race through the first three months after birth and, astonishingly, how she clawed her way back to the writing desk during that time.

While much of Tansy’s doing came down to the fact that she had no choice, and while the circumstances are extraordinary for most writers (if we accept that “most writers” are not under contract to major publishing houses), the chapbook contains the simple wisdom that has resonated in all writing advisories through the ages:

Just write.

Ragner Roberts acknowledges that not using your writing muscle means that it becomes writing flab very quickly: It’s hard to use it, takes real effort to get it back into peak condition, and almost requires a focused program of personal training. She was lucky to have this in the form of encouragement from her editor. It is also useful for all writers.

Here’s how it works:

Just write 100 words a day. Every day.

It’s an almost Stoic approach to writing. The chapbook is filled with reminders that being present and prioritising progress is more effective than setting a high bar and failing to meet it.

As for the parenting stuff, it’s more than a little thin. It could be summarised as, ‘get help, let your housework go, and suck up the guilt’.

Even though this chapbook is about writing through parenting distractions, it would’ve been helpful to have a splash more of the parenting included. As it stands, From Baby Brain to Writer Brain feels more like Writing By Way of Parenting Abdication. It suggests that you should get away from your baby and smash out the words.

For many parents who simply don’t have the human or capital resources to do this, it’ll be as useful as the proverbial tits on a bull. I do wonder how different would Tansy’s perspective have been if both childcare and an available set of parents had been absent? I suspect that she would have been ok with shelving her mum guilt and writing instead of parenting.

Informing Ragner Roberts’s view is that the material wasn’t written after her first child. She took a year off after her first bub. Many mums do tend to admit to just ‘getting on with it’ more effectively after child number two. So if you’re a new mum, take her advice with a pinch of salt.

The book has a distinctly rushed tone, which is also perhaps apt. But it feels like someone ran through her website and cobbled together some blogs before throwing a title over the top. It barely scratches the surface of the nature of being a mum who works as a writer.

These problems – aside from the mum stuff, obviously – mar the entire season of the Writer Chaps, as you’ll see in my other reviews. This is because they were largely pulled together from writers’ blogs.

You could argue that they’re fast and furious because they’re chapbooks; but just because a dog is small and lean it doesn’t mean it’ll run as fast as a whippet. It’s either clever publishing, or lazy. I suspect a little of both.

Nevertheless, this volume is still instructive, and bears reading more than once.

From Baby Brain to Writer Brain is published by Brain Jar Press. For more information, visit: www.brainjarpress.com for details.

Image: From Baby Brain to Writer Brain – courtesy of Brain Jar Press

Review: Leticia Mooney