How to write about your family without making people vomit.

Be honest. Be profound. Be surprising.

The Mamamia Women’s Network are launching the first ever MWN Writers’ Competition – to unearth the best online writing talent in the country.

MWN, together with HarperCollins Publishers is offering winners across several categories $1000 prize money, as well as an opportunity to have an ongoing publishing relationship with MWN, Australia’s premier women’s media company.

To give you some inspiration, The Motherish editor Alys Gagnon has shared some of her tips on how to write in an interesting, relatable way about your family.

What are you waiting for? Apply here.

For at least the time of the 20th century, public conversation about family was confined to describing how wonderful it is.

Life was presented as a laundry detergent commercial, in which ideally mum stayed at home to keep the kids out of trouble and the house sparkly clean while dad went to work. On the weekends, everyone enjoyed Saturday morning sport and Sunday morning church.

But as the internet changed the way we communicated, so too did it change the content of our communications.

So-called ‘mummy blogs’ described family life with brutal honesty and have given permission for thousands of new writers to explore their role in their homes and in our communities with vigour.

One of the categories in the inaugural Mamamia Women’s Network Writer’s Competition is Family. As the Editor of MWN’s Family website, The Motherish, here are my best tips for writing authentically about family and domestic life.

Be honest.

Life is not an Instagram feed. No one’s life is that shiny or blindingly white. No one likes perfect. Perfection will make your reader feel inadequate.

Your family may well be perfect. But perfection is not a universal experience and your reader simply will not be able to relate to your writing if it’s not honest.

Alys with her daughter Claire.

Be profound.

Describe the moments of joy you experience. Describe the moment of heartache. Open up the windows of women’s experiences that have been kept closed for too long.

Write about post natal depression, stillbirth, miscarriage, the dire repetitiveness of being a stay at home mum, the dire exhaustion of being a working mum, the pressure on your marriage, the moments of love so intense you think your heart will burst, the quiet calm joy of holding a newborn on a rainy winter’s night.

Be relatable.

Remember that time you desperately needed to know that what you were feeling was normal and that what was happening to you something that happened to everyone else?

Sometimes, people desperately need to know that they’re not alone, especially when it comes to family life.
Write about the universal experiences of family.

how to write about family
Alys is an expert in the art of writing relatable parenting stories. Like that time she wrote about getting head lice from her kids. Image: Supplied.

Be funny.

Kids are funny. Parenting is funny, and even when parenting is not funny, like the time you got covered in baby vomit at three o’clock in the morning, laughing can at least make it easier to cope.

Be surprising.

There are not a lot of new ideas out there, but there are a million new angles.

I was sent a submission last week, “how to lose your baby weight.” I rolled my eyes and thought, ‘oh, here we go.’ The author, Erica, had written an hilarious post that made me laugh out loud, surprised me and made an awesome point about how ridiculous the tabloid focus on post-baby bodies is. “Put your baby in the crib… transfer your baby to a swing… hand the baby over to your parents,” etc.

People like to be surprised and delighted.

Don’t listen to people telling you how to write.

About three weeks after I became a mother, my own mother said something so utterly sensible I’m mystified I needed to be told.

She said, “there are no rules, Alys. You will find your own path through the mess that is motherhood, and that will be the best path for you and for your family.”

She’s a smart woman, my mum. Of course she was right, but she didn’t know how right she was. It’s not just motherhood for which there are no rules.

how to write about family
Alys with her baby. Image: Supplied.

We all have to find our own path through pretty well everything, including our writing.

Find your own way, your own voice and write about the things that make you feel something. You’ll probably find when you do, you’ll be writing your best work.

Alys Gagnon is the editor of She got her start writing by sending in family based submissions to Mamamia. She has two small children, a husband and very messy house.

Got it? Are you ready to apply? Good. Read everything about the competition here.

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