This month, we’re reading Send Me Into the Woods Alone (Invisible Publishing) by Erin Pepler, a freelance writer from the Toronto area. Send Me Into the Woods Alone is an honest, heartfelt, and often hilarious collection of essays on the the joys, struggles, and complexities of motherhood. Keep an eye out here for a video reading and on our Twitter account on April 15 for a Twitter takeover! We snagged an exclusive interview with Erin, which you can check out below.
SLB: Recently there have been a number of novels focusing on the difficulty of balancing motherhood and a creative career; we really enjoyed I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (Claire Vaye Watkins) and Nightbitch (Rachel Yoder), for example. Do you have any recommendations for fiction on the topic of motherhood?
EP: Oh, that’s such a good question. Is it bad that the first book that came to mind is The Push? It’s so dark and I couldn’t relate to the main character in any meaningful way, but I loved that book. There’s an essay collection by Mary Laura Philpott called I Miss You When I Blink that isn’t specifically about motherhood, but she’s a writer and a mom, so it covers some of the push and pull that entails. I love her narrative voice and relate to so much of her work. Sarah Polley’s new essay collection is spectacular and talks about art and motherhood in a really honest way. But back to fiction, when I think about great books that centre on mothers or motherhood, I think of Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.
SLB: Since we’re talking about balancing motherhood and a creative career: what’s your writing routine like? How do you find time to fit writing into your busy day?
EP: It’s kind of complicated because I write every day, but I don’t write for myself every day, if that makes sense. I’m a freelancer so I take on a variety of projects—digital pieces or print articles, for example. Those are very deadline driven, so I have a very regimented workday to keep on top of assignments. My kids are in school so it’s a pretty basic daytime routine. It was definitely a lot harder when my kids were young—in those early years, you can barely find time to shower, let alone write. I had part-time childcare but my career definitely fit around my kids for a long time. It’s not a coincidence that my book of essays on motherhood is coming out the year my youngest child turns 10. It was a concept for a long time before I found time to actually write it.
Writing a book is a separate part of my life and not something I focus on daily. I try to block off large chunks of time to get my thoughts down on paper, outline ideas or draft essays. I work best when I can be alone with my thoughts and work through them. Navigating that internal dialogue and figuring out what you really want and need to say is half the battle, and a lot of that happens before you even start writing. The individual pieces need to be strong but they have to form a collection as well, and that takes a lot of consideration. Personally, I can’t spend an hour working on a book—I need long stretches of uninterrupted time to focus on it. I write a lot at night and occasionally go away by myself for a weekend. I realize not everyone has that privilege, and I’m grateful that I can make it work. And once the entire book is drafted and I get into editing, I can approach it in smaller pieces throughout the week.
SLB: Do you have any motivational/time management tips for mothers who are interested in writing or struggling to fit writing into their schedules?
EP: Do whatever works for you and don’t worry about doing it “right” or doing what works for other people. I know a ton of women writers who get up at the crack of dawn every single morning to work on their books, and that’s not for me. I like to write late at night after everyone else has gone to bed. I’m also a binge writer…like, I’ll sit down and draft a whole essay in one shot and then not touch it again for a week or more. Other people swear by the “write everyday” method and that works for them. I really don’t think there is one proper way to be a writer, especially if you’re a mom and there is already so much demand for your time and energy.
The one thing I’ll say is that you have to dive in. If you wait for the perfect time to get started, you’ll never write anything. There will always be things in the way, so if an idea means something to you just sit down and start writing. A bad first draft is better than no first draft. Just get the words out and worry about fixing it later!
SLB: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many parents are finding that their children are behind on their reading, have difficulty getting started, or are simply not interested in reading at all. Do you have any comments on this and on how parents can foster a love of reading (and writing!) in their children?
EP: The best advice I have is to let your kids find something they love, no matter what that looks like, and nurture that interest. If they love graphic novels or manga, encourage them—don’t push them towards chapter books. If they’re obsessed with outer space or dinosaurs, grab them some cool reference books. All reading is reading, not just the classics. There is a popular kids book series that I cannot stand but my son loves, so I’ve hidden my distaste while buying him copy after copy. He’s also obsessed with these Zelda graphic novels that make zero sense to me—but they don’t have to make sense to me because he loves them. If you expose kids to a lot of different options and reserve judgment, they’ll find something that resonates with them. That’s what motivates anyone to read.
SLB: What’s your worst/funniest parenting moment?
EP: One time, I snuck into my daughter’s room late at night after she lost a tooth, did the whole Tooth Fairy thing successfully and then in a tired daze, left the tooth out in plain sight on the main floor of our house. It was in a baggie and I must have just put it down without thinking. She found it the next morning and I had to weave some elaborate story to cover up the fact that I forgot to throw it out.
Also, my kids have heard me say the F-word exactly two times—both times in the car because someone cut me off and I reacted—and they’ve never let me live it down. They have no idea how much I swear when they aren’t around so they think it’s a really big deal that I swore in the car!
You can pick up a copy of Send Me Into the Woods Alone here or in-store!