Guest Post, Nicole Rollender: Quiet: What It Means for Your (Writing) Life

When my husband and I recently took a road trip with our two young children, the talking was deafening. As we hit open highway surrounded by mostly trees and hills, my husband tried to play a game. “OK, I’m going to count to 15 and see who can stay quiet,” he said. The record for silence in the car that day was about six seconds.

quiet-area-1450738Silence is an interesting concept. Pre-children, when I was surrounded by too much of it, I created noise and clamor: turned on a fan, tapped my pencil against my desk, hummed Blondie. I rebelled against either its calmness or vastness that forced me to think too much. These days, as a parent of young children who barely let me finish a full sentence or a thought or a line of poetry, silence is a locked room whose key I lost in some dream years ago.

I was reading an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and memoirist Tracy K. Smith on femmeliterate, where she talks about 21st century feminism, being a teacher of language, social responsibility as a poet and how motherhood has changed her writing. She had an insightful take on it, which was that caring for young children has forced her to develop a lightning-reflex creativity and agility – and this new form of response crossed over into her writing process:

I have to pick someone up from school, drop somebody off, etc., etc., so my ritual or my practice is when I have the time, and I know I need to get down to work, I just get down to work. And oddly enough, I think those constraints made me more productive. When I was younger and living alone, I could waste all this time, and I could kind of just tinker with things slowly; now there’s a real hunger when I have the space …

I’ve been thinking about the ways my life changed – mostly since having my second child two years ago. The demands of caring for small children has its many ups (all the firsts, the enchanting laughter, the hugs, etc.), downs (tantrums, projectile vomiting, the aforementioned unceasing talking and activity) and the unexpected (how the energy and needs of two children seems to create its own tornado that only quiets when they’ve gone to sleep). At the end of the day, it’s hard, no, let’s say almost impossible, to push my tired, still-feeling-like-post-pregnancy body and mind into writing and editing mode.

I was reading Amy Clampitt’s poem, “A Silence,” and kept re-reading this part, which shows all the chaos we’re surrounded by (all kinds of disordered things) and how after processing them, a (creative) silence opens:

beyond the woven
unicorn the maiden
(man-carved worm-eaten)
God at her hip
the untransfigured
bluebell and primrose
growing wild a strawberry
chagrin night terrors
past the earthlit
unearthly masquerade

(we shall be changed)

a silence opens

For writing parents, that silence might be different than what it used to be. As I steal time here and there even to write this blog, the dishwasher runs noisily behind me, my daughter is playing a loud game on her tablet and my old cat is meowing for his night food. It’s hard to sink deep into that creative trance I used to get into before when I really did have hours of silence. So it’s two things: It’s writing through the din, and it’s also looking for a space and time to secure that needed and actual silence.

What’s seemingly contradictory to me saying how exhausted I am and how hard it is to write is that this year and early next, I’ve got three chapbooks and my first full-length poetry collection coming out. Ray Bradbury wrote, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” This feels true, in that having children opened me up (bodily and spiritually) in a way I hadn’t been before – and both vulnerable and resilient in a way I hadn’t been. I found strength in the ability to grow my children, but also to persevere in my work. But like Bradbury wrote, you need to know how to tap your tired self to let our writing fodder out.

Being a mother writer, I often feel that I shouldn’t ask for help, or that I should be able to nurture my children all the time, and work at the job that pays me a salary, and then also do the writing that fuels my heart. And do it all in the clamor, in the middle of the fatigue. A few weeks ago on a Saturday, I went to the dentist to get two cavities filled (my children were at my parents’ house). When I got home, my lips hung strangely because of the Novocain and I couldn’t speak clearly: Yet the house was strangely silent. It was like floating underwater. I felt hungry. For one hour, I wrote, rewrote and edited in the bright sunlight and was nourished in a way I hadn’t been.

In that same interview with femmeliterate, Smith also talks about being strong enough to know she deserves to take time away from mothering for her creative work. That’s an area where I still struggle, in acknowledging that it’s OK to take time away from parenting, that perhaps it doesn’t have to be at 5 am or midnight, when I should be sleeping. That I can find an easier way to make it work, instead of making it hurt when I take that time:

… it’s really important to find a way to secure that time and space to make the work. As a mother there are so many demands that it’s a genuine struggle to say ok, I’m not going to be a mom for two hours; I’m going to write. But I think it’s essential to do that: enlist somebody to help you with your child so you can be a writer for part of your day. … it’s really important to create security for the writerly self that is a woman and that is an author. Without apology.

Listen to Franz Kafka who wrote, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” And it seems so simple – find the silent time and the whole world will come to you, so you can translate it into your art. But parenting and writing are never simple, of course, so as I write now into dusk, into squinting through my glasses at this bright screen, with my son calling good night, mama over and over, I commit to writing through the din and then making my own silences (where I can transfigure what world I find).

Nicole’s website

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Nicole Rollender

Nicole Rollender

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Nicole Rollender. 

Nicole Rollender is assistant poetry editor at Minerva Rising Literary Journal and editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Radar Poetry, Salt Hill Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and others. Her first full-length poetry collection,Little Deaths, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. Her chapbooks are Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications) and Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, forthcoming this year. She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.


SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Kathleen Winter

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Kathleen Winter.

kathleenwinterhsKathleen Winter’s collection Nostalgia for the Criminal Past won the 2013 Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award for a first book of poems. In 2012 the book won the Antivenom Poetry Prize and was published by Elixir Press. Her poems have appeared in Tin House, The New Republic, AGNI, Field and Memorious. Work is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, Poetry London and Alaska Quarterly Review. She was awarded fellowships by Vermont Studio Center and the Prague Summer Program, and will be the Writer-in-Residence at the James Merrill House in January 2015. She teaches writing at Napa Valley College.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

Guest Post, Douglas Light: My Decade of Writing

Douglas Light

Year One

At age thirty-three, I forged three letters of recommendation, filled out an application, and applied to the Masters program in Creative Writing at City College.

I got in. Quitting my six-figure job in advertising, I focused my full energies on becoming a writer.

My first year in school, I wrote a short story, then another. I wrote and wrote and ended up winning three contests—contest that paid cash—sponsored by school.  This is easy, I thought. I can make a living as a writer.

I didn’t take into account that the contests were only open to students of the program, a very small pool of people. I didn’t take into account that hardly anyone else had submitted work.


Career earnings at the end of 2002: $1,800


Year Two

At the start of my second year in the program, I wrote a story about two young Dominican girls who’d been abandoned by their mother.  I workshopped it.  It was eviscerated.  The only thing everyone could agreed on was that the piece sucked.

I liked the story. I send it out to literary magazine.

Twelve rejections later, the Alaska Quarter Review picked it up. It was my first published story.  No money, only contributor copies. But it didn’t matter. I was thrilled. Finally! I thought. I’m a writer.

The piece went on to win an O. Henry Prize and be included by in the Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology.  Both paid in cash and contributor copies.

Two years into the game and I was on the cusp of blowing up.   This is easy, I thought.


Career earnings end of 2003: $2,400 (increase of 33%); 27 contributor copies


Year Three

I graduated. I never got around to picking up my diploma. It didn’t matter. I was a writer.

My thesis, a rickety, sliver-of- a-novel that made sense in my mind but not on page, was named one of twelve finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.  This is it, I thought.  $5000 prize money and a red carpet entrance into the big leagues.

I didn’t win.

I didn’t place any short stories that year.


Career earnings end of 2004: $2,400 (no change); 27 contributor copies (no change)


Year Four

Five stories placed in one year. I should have been exuberant. But the joy of getting a story published in a literary magazine is a damp match, flaming briefing before hissing dead. I expected that something magical would have happened by then, that my life would blossom, change. I’d be successful. I’d be the person I aspired to.

It didn’t work that way.  At least for me.


Career earnings end of 2005: $2,400 (no change); 42 contributor copies (increase of 56%)


Year Five

I wrote a lot. I wrote more. I got tons of rejections. This isn’t so easy, I thought.


Career earnings end of 2006: $2,400 (no change); 42 contributor copies (no change)


Year Six

Two years of writing, two fired agents and 40 plus rejection—I finally sold my novel. Not the one I’d written as my thesis, but another, my second. East Fifth Bliss. The publisher was a small mom-and-pop set-up in California, two steps removed from vanity POD. I got a hundred dollar advance, an earful of naive advice from the publisher, and a nagging sense that I’d just bush-leagued my writing career.

But I had a novel.


Career earnings end of 2007: $2,500 (increase of 4%); 42 contributor copies (no change)


Year Seven

The novel came out in February 2007. It hit the market like a concrete birdbath launched into the East River—a small splash, a few ripples, then nothing. Forgotten.

I wrote more.


Career earnings end of 2007: $2,500 (no change); 62 contributor copies (increase of 48%)


Year Eight/Year Nine

I wrote another novel.  Shelved it.  I stalled out at 200 pages on the next, then stalled out at 140 on the one after.  Then I wrote After Lilly. I got my third agent. She’d just hooked a half million dollar advance on a novel by a new writer. Here we go! I thought.

Publishers called. My agent talked. Numbers were tossed around. Then the publishers stopped calling.

My friend and I had adapted East Fifth Bliss into a screenplay. We had interest from production companies, investors.  Named actors read the script.

When I told my agent that the movie was going to happen, she said, “Movies don’t really sell books.”

I let her go.


Career earnings end of 2009: $2,500 (no change); 62 contributor copies (no change)


Year Ten

Big year.  I published three stories. My film, entitled The Trouble with Bliss, got made. It stars Michael C. Hall, Lucy Liu, and Peter Fonda.  I got a chunk of cash plus back-end points for my efforts. My story collection Girls in Trouble won the Grace Paley Prize. I got a fistful of cash and  publication. I sold my new novel Where Night Stops and the reprint rights and audio book rights for East Fifth Bliss.


Career earnings end of 2011: $21,400 (increase of 756%); 67 contributor copies (increase of 8%)



Hollywood hasn’t called. The publishing house that was to put out Where Night Stops and the East Fifth Bliss reprint folded.  I kept the advance. The audio book sales were tepid. The movie was met with brutal reviews, though it did well in Europe and Asia. It may pay-out eventually.

When I first started writing, my desire was for people to read my work.  Now it’s for people to buy my work. If they read it, that’s a bonus.

I have a new agent, my fifth. I’m on to the next thing, the next story or novel or screenplay that will—finally—push me over.

The writing game isn’t easy. At least not for me.


Annual earning: $2,140; 6.7 contributor copies