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Jenny: First Words

Hello everyone! I’m Jenny, 39, married to Ken since 1988, mom of three sons (18,15, & 7) and one daughter (18 months).

I started writing in the early 90’s after taking Writing for Children, a 2 year course offered through the Institute of Children’s Literature. Patricia Calvert was my instructor and it wasn’t long after completing the program that several of my articles were published in a local magazine. The last time I wrote an article was 2002, when THE FEAR set in.

My greatest hope is to write again, complete projects I started several years ago, and find who I really am as a writer. THE FEAR has paralyzed me all these years… even writing this post fills me with anxiety, knowing others may see the flaws within both my limited typing skills and my thought processes. I try hard to be perfect and in the many areas I fall short I make an effort to at least give the impression that I am. This self-induced stagnation is unbearable. On one hand I’m wasting the creative gift I was given and on the other I doubt/deny the very existance of that gift.

I need to let go, learn to take risks, and accept that it is okay to be human. I need to accept that not everyone will find value in my work and not everyone will be pleased with what I’ve written. I need to accept that I am an adult and the words I write and actions taken by my characters are separate from who I am. If my characters do or say something entirely immoral, that doesn’t mean I am. I can’t write fearing someone else (my parents, my spouse, my children, my God) will be unhappy with me. I’m hoping someone will be able to encourage me in the mentioned areas and help me finally overcome THE FEAR.

Brittany: A Room (Or Not) Of One’s Own

Hi everyone. My name is Brittany and I’ve been hard at work on a novel for the last two years. I live in SC with my husband, 17 month old son, and baby #2, another boy, who will be born in early June. For now, I don’t get a lot of time to write. I try to jot down ideas while my son is playing, but more times than not, he ends up stealing the pen out of my hand and following that up with a victory dance where he leaps triumphantly on my notebook. For the last 6 months, I have done the bulk of my writing in very short bursts during my son’s nap time–which is unfortunately only once a day. It frustrates me to no end, but the alternative is even more frustrating.

I’ve made a lot of progress though, with over 200 pages written and 39 chapters under my belt. The key to my success is trying to achieve a level of zen while animal crackers are ground into my keyboard and empty sippy cups are hurled at my head. My mantra is always “If not today, then tomorrow.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a mother who writes. Ordinarily, when I think of a “writer” I imagine a reclusive character locked behind a door who neither eats nor sleeps for days. I think of this person because that is how I used to write before I had obligations to other people. I still have an “office” but I use the term loosely. An office seems to signify a private place to conduct one’s business and that is hardly how I would describe the place I do most of my writing. As a mother, I fully expect to find toys littering the floor and a strange assortment of other odds and ends that my son finds endlessly amusing. Lately, it has been the remnants of a bag of polyfill stuffing that he excavated from my craft basket. There are times I wish I could push everything outside the door and lock myself in. All I want is one day where I can write and make some real measurable progress. But of course, I can’t do that and I know it. The thing is, other people know it too, and very occasionally, someone will say to me “Come to my house. Bring the baby. I’ll watch him while you write.” There is a special place in heaven for these people. And I always take them up on their offer.

As a mother, I already know that it takes a village to raise a child, but I’m also learning that a village is also essential when you’re a writer. It takes that many offered spaces to get your novel finished!

Where do the rest of you write? And how do you carve out space for yourself in the midst of chaos?

Bethany: Ah-Ha Moments

I’ve been sitting on this novel outline for months. Picking away at the plot when I had nothing better to do–and blathering on about how I should be writing it.  And then that’s when it hit me.  I was That Writer.  The one blathering and not putting in the time to write it.

Once I came to that realization, I figured I might as well hunker down and figure out the bigger deal–why wasn’t I writing that novel?  Pounding out blog posts, book reviews, and my day job writing projects weren’t causing me issues… why this?  Aside from the trama in my life, I had been waiting to write this novel for the past year and now that the time was right, why wasn’t my brain letting me get to it?

The answer was amazingly simple. I was afraid.  See, I lost an agent this year.  Not under bad circumstances mind you, but I lost one nonetheless.  And if you know anything about publishing, this crushes any writer.  Especially a new one like me. One who’s first novel didn’t sell. One who needs this novel to get back on the market–now for an agent AND a publisher.

At first it seems easy–all that pressure was causing me to lock up.  Or the new baby. The holidays?  How about the recent deaths in the family?

Nope.

It was the fact that way back when my agent did mention leaving, she sent the first 100 pages of this one (rough, rough draft mind you) to a friend… hoping she would help me out.  She prompty said no.  And, honestly, that hurt more than my agent leaving.

But that seemingly bad circumstance made me rethink the concept and start anew.  Totally new.  And even revamp my process.  I started outlining.  Writing bits of dialogue.  Rethinking plot points.  Thirty-five plus pages later into this “outline” I stalled out.  Afraid that I couldn’t do the plot justice. I couldn’t pull off this new, better book.  Fearful that when I re-approached that new agent (again) she’d shoot me down AGAIN. And then where would that lead me?

I suppose right where I am now–not writing. And that really isn’t a way to keep working toward a dream is it?  And that in and of itself is the Ah-Ha moment of the day.  I’m proud to say, scene 1 of the book… now written.  Scene 2?  Waiting for the next 10 minutes of free time I have between dinner, children, diapers, and nursing.  It’s ready to be written now.

Christa: Support a fellow writer

I am in over my head with work this week, but wanted to take a few moments to copy an important entry from my personal blog. Read on:

Today, January 29th, is the release date for the trade paperback edition of Patry Francis‘ debut novel The Liar’s Diary. What makes this release different? Unlike most authors, Patry doesn’t have the time, energy, or probably the money to market it herself. That’s because she’s undergoing treatment for an aggressive form cancer.

If I were dealing with this, I’d want my friends and acquaintances in the crime fiction community to come together for me too. Book promotion is hard enough as it is. To work so hard on a novel, to be trying to make a career in a business that’s increasingly stacked against us, and then to have book sales jeopardized by something completely out of one’s control…. So, even though I don’t know Patry personally, I’d like to join 300+ other blogging writers to ask my readers to check out her book. It looks like a good one, going by the Publisher’s Weekly review -

A case study in the explosive effects of extreme denial, Francis’s debut relies completely on its very unreliable narrator, with mixed results.

- as well as the publisher’s promotion:

A chilling tour of troubled minds, THE LIAR’S DIARY questions just how far you’ll go for your family and what dark truths you’d be willing to admit—even to yourself.

Also, watch The Liar’s Diary book trailer here.

Good luck Patry!

Betsy: Success stories

I noticed in the last couple of days I seem to be spewing advice about how to write/finish large works while being a mother. Where do I get off…? Aren’t I struggling just as everyone else is?

I am, but for very different reasons, ones that have more to do with not having time to feed my creative spirit than logistics. Currently, I’m divorced and have every other weekend free. My kids are older. I could conceivably find plenty of time to write. Different problem there, which perhaps I’ll share some other time.

As it turns out, looking back I realize I had success writing creatively when I had young children. I just confirmed that I apparently wrote a whole screenplay when I was still married and my kids were just under 2, 8, and 10. I wrote my first screenplay when I had a 6-year-old and 4-year-old with a chronic illness requiring frequent hospitalizations. How the heck did I do that? I’ve thought back on it, and I wanted to share how I did it in case it is useful to anyone.

I can remember pretty well writing my first screenplay. First, I wasn’t working. That helps a lot and certainly not everyone has that freedom. My mind was clear to focus on my work and I didn’t feel like I was squeezing in my own writing between my “real” work. (When I write for a living, I have a very hard time writing creatively.)

Second, I knew what I was doing. While I don’t tend to work with an outline, I find that when I have a pretty good idea of the beginning, middle, and especially the end of a piece at least vaguely in mind, it is easier to aim for the ending, like galloping toward a finish line. Except it’s more like hiking up a mountain, because I really enjoy the view along the way.

Third, as we’ve discussed in other posts, I had a scheduled writing time. My 6-year-old was in school for most of the day, and my 4-year-old was in preschool for three hours a day, five days a week. With the drive to and from preschool factored in, I could count on 2.5 hours every day for my work. I probably used one day per week for straightening the house or food shopping.

Finally, the minute I sat down at the computer, I worked, making the most possible of the time available. Knowing the time was there–and how much time I had–was very helpful.

The funny thing about the second screenplay is I don’t even remember writing it, but according to e-mails with review comments that I saved, I managed to get the thing done while my youngest was between 1 and 2. Because I did not use any childcare at the time, I can only assume I wrote it during his naps while the others were at school. (My ex was not very helpful, so I’m sure he didn’t watch him while I worked on weekends.) Alex must have been a decent napper (funny how you forget what #3 did). And I imagine that the minute I put him down I went right to the computer to work.

As we’ve talked about in other posts, there were tradeoffs. For sure, the tidiness of my house suffered. The first screenplay is probably around the time that I stopped keeping Lego Systems kits together, which meant that all of those expensive kits became useless. Honestly, I regret that, but I can’t say I regret having a finished screenplay that was at least read seriously at several studios, even if no one ultimately bought it. I guess this is what you need to think about when you let things go. multimedia-message10.jpgRight now, I’m surrounded by mess, the result of years of letting things go in favor of writing. (Oh, and I gained a lot of weight, too, as I let exercise go and healthy meal preparation.) It’s hard to recover from, and cleaning is not what I want to be doing during my spare time. I think my neater friends shudder when they see my mess. What’s ironic is I really, really like things organized and I hate clutter. But I guess I’ve trained myself as much as possible not to see it anymore, or to convince myself that I’ll take care of one small pile of it tomorrow…

As a technical writer, one small tip I recommend to anyone writing large, structured documents–fiction or non–is to keep each chapter or chunk in its own document. While you might title each document by chapter number, you might alternately want to title each document by subject or current contents, at least in the early going. I find that doing so helps me think about which chapter I want to tackle, and also I don’t have to open documents to find out what’s in them (which can waste time and distract you from what you really mean to do).

As a working mom, I find it infinitely more difficult to do my own writing. How some of you manage to juggle it all is beyond me. I’m in awe and admiration of you.

Miranda: When does giving in mean giving up?

wave.jpgI had another book interview this morning, with a woman who was funny and candid. She works fulltime from home (doing a job she’s good at but loathes) with a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a workday chopped up between taking her kids to and from preschool, feeding them lunch, and putting them down for an afternoon nap, with a bit of help from her mother-in-law around the edges. Oh, and the kids don’t sleep much at night–they go down around 8:00 p.m. (with one parent lying in bed with each child–at which point all four family members generally fall asleep), and, assuming the kids do actually sleep, they wake up at 5:30. How can this woman possibly find time for her creative pursuits–painting, sewing, and knitting among them–which increasingly keep her afloat in the face of a day job she hates?

As we were talking, we hit upon a complicated issue that has surfaced on this blog. I thought about it some more after our conversation, and then talked it through with my dear business partner over lunch.

Here’s where I’m getting stuck. On the one hand, if you don’t push yourself a little, and make creativity a priority rather than leaving it to the bottom of the list, it rarely happens. When you’re in the domestic trenches and in some capacity working for a paycheck, simply getting through the day takes so much effort and mindshare that creativity is not something that just “surfaces,” even though you might be thinking about it. Many of us are sharply aware of the speed at which our years are flying by, and that at some point we must pull our dreams down out of the treetops and fashion them into some kind of reality. Sure, there might not be any gaping holes in the schedule, glistening with creative promise, but there are a few slivers of opportunity in there somewhere. Others have made it happen, within similar circumstances. Why not us, too? Just roll up those sleeves and make it work. As women, if we don’t make our own needs a priority, it’s doubtful that anyone else will do it for us.

So we think, let’s add some structure, let’s add some tangible and achievable goals, let’s schedule some creative time, and let’s stick to it. Let’s add a little bit of pressure, both external and internal. (All of those things are good–and they are things that many creatively productive mothers do do.)

And then there’s the other hand. The friendly voice that says: hey, your kids are young. You have a lot going on. There are “only so many hours in the day.” Be nice to yourself–go with the flow, enjoy the scenery, don’t push too hard. Kids grow at lightning speed, and the quandary of making creativity happen while your kids are still in diapers doesn’t, in fact, last forever. (Though it often feels like it will last forever.) Sure, when your kids head off to school, there are other challenges, but they are different challenges. Your brain and your heart may actually get taxed at a higher rate–and you’ll invariably put a lot more mileage on your car–but parenting older children isn’t usually as bone-numbingly exhausting as parenting infants and toddlers. Slowly, as the years pass, the opportunity for creativity increases. And then, the kids are gone. (Unless, like some of us, you keep having more and more children, assuring a lifetime of offspring in residence.) Just love your children, whatever stage they’re at. Relax, enjoy your family, and live in the moment.

Figuring out where those two hands can meet, and share a high five, is the challenge. For each mother, finding the right blend will be different. For those of us who struggle with this seeming dichotomy, how do we make it work? I know my own fear: letting go, giving in to the domestic tidal wave, means that I get sucked under the breakers and spit out on the beach (if I’m lucky). I know, because it has happened many times. I’ve been a mother for nearly 18 years, and I know that for me, “going with the flow” means being dragged offshore by a voracious riptide. It’s too easy to be fully distracted by the life I’ve established. If I don’t swim hard toward my goals, the creative self will drown. Telling myself to take it easy and not to expect too much feels like a cop out–and tastes like the first gulp of sea foam. I panic.

How then to move closer to the place where I allow myself room to enjoy my “domestic bliss,” while being flexible enough to bend with the challenges–without feeling like I’m just fooling myself? Acknowledge my overflowing days, without giving in? Accept that every now and then, I have to set my creative goals aside–just for a while, not forever–not that I’m simply procrastinating? It may simply be my type-A personality, but giving an inch here feels like giving more than the proverbial mile. I’m not sure how to bend without breaking. The result, when I can’t do what I want to do creatively, is general crankiness, anxiety, and a deep fear that I’ll never get back to the beach.

Fishing line, anyone?

Bethany: Oh wait! I have a baby in the house

I had great plans for this weekend. Much like Miranda, I had plans–ambitious plans–to write.  Resurrecting an old plan for a nonfiction book I’ve had for years (as in 5 years of a proposal sitting in waiting).  It seemed pretty simple.  Open the proposal, refine, adjust, write chapter descriptions, re-read, tweak, save, and then move to the 2 sample chapters.  The chapters I had yet to write beyond the 3 sentence description.  My end goal:  proposal ready for the final edit. Draft of Introduction done (and by draft, I mean brain dump, rough form of chapter).

What really happened was–one run-through of the proposal with chapter descriptions.  Drafts of chapter descriptions.

Ready to let the tears gush, I sat on my bed last night sighing.  My long weekend was lost. Great plans waisted.  Just as I was ready to let the pity take over, the baby cried.  The 5-month-old baby.

That was when it dawned on me.  I’m a mom.  Of two actually.  And with all the mess that is our current life (we’ve just survived two deaths in the family which meant 2 trips out of town at the last minute)– I was taking care of what was really important, my family.  Sure, writing is my dream.  And I need to take steps to make that dream a reality. But, it’s okay to take a step back and take care of the other important stuff first.  Right now, it seems it’s my family.

So watch out next weekend, I’m coming at you strong!  Oh and for that little bit of writing I did do?  Well, I’m thrilled.  Really.  It is better than not getting any writing done.  So, it’s a step in the right directly.  Let’s getting ready for the next step.

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