Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Advice to a Writing Mom

Dear Regina,
I was just wondering if you have any tips for an aspiring writer who's also a new mom. I've got lots of ideas I'm trying to get on paper, but between house-work, part-time tutoring, and my six-month-old son, I can never seem to find the time. I'd appreciate any feedback you could give me. Thanks! ~K

Hi K,

Thanks for writing!

I'm going to presume in my answer that you're talking about writing fiction, not about simply getting published as a non-fiction author (which is much easier, btw, and a much more attainable and financially rewarding goal. :) ).

What I write below is true for a nonfiction writer of course, but nonfiction writers can usually get paying work writing articles and reviews while plugging away at their memoirs or their great idea for a diet book, while potential novelists usually have to mentally resign themselves to three to five years of hard non-paying work before they see even a dime of payback (if that). It has taken me about ten years apiece to write each of my novels, so I'm serious.

It's true that writing my children's book, Angel in the Waters, took me about a month to write, but it took me ten years to get it published! (Publishing a first picture book, generally speaking, is MUCH harder than publishing a first novel, for two big reasons: 1. picture books are more expensive for publishers to produce, so it's harder to convince them to do one. 2. EVERYONE wants to write a children's picture book, so publishers are flooded with submissions, and the competition is much tougher.)

So, how can you juggle writing a novel with being a wife and mom?

First, writing has to fit with your vocation as a wife and mom, not compete with it. I know I couldn't do anything without the total support of my husband. Honestly. Not only does he make time for me to write, but he reads, critiques, and edits my work (I call him the secret of my success). I know how important this is because it really enables my writing to happen. As a counter-example, he isn't supportive of my other hobbies, like sewing, so now I rarely sew. :)

So that is a definite first thing: consider (and inquire into) your husband's feelings on the matter. If your husband doesn't feel like now is the right time for you to pursue a writing career, then maybe it's not the right time for you to go professional. Don't worry: Beverly Cleary once wrote me a very kind note saying that she found she had better ideas once she got older. Life experience helps you to write more deeply and gives you more things to say.

So if you are just going to be scribbling in private until your little ones are flown, that's fine! Lots of women publish their first book only after their mothering years are over, so be content if that's where God has you now.

But even if you aren't able to be a professional writer, if that's your long-term plan, I'd say it's very important to write something every day, even if it's an email or a prayer journal entry. Make a habit of methodically correcting your email and IM conversations: be a stickler about grammar and try to stretch your vocabulary. It will make it easier for you to write if your mental writing muscles are in shape. If you are working on a novel, as often as possible try to work on it every day, even if it's only for a few minutes.

Please don't fool yourself into thinking that you'll write on vacation or you'll write when you have time: as C.S. Lewis says, most great work happens under unfavorable conditions because favorable conditions never come! There is a real discipline to the writing process that can only come with committment of time and effort. And for moms, this often means wearily staring at the computer when you'd rather be napping or sleeping or surfing the Internet. I've written several books while balancing a nursing infant on my knees (and getting terrible neck cramps in the process).

But being a mom has a way of prioritizing your life. You learn how to seize the quiet moment when it comes, and sometimes you're almost too busy to have writer's block!

If you do decide to make a committment to becoming a professional writer, I'd recommend cutting back on time-wasting entertainments like watching movies, TV, emailing, blogging, and ebaying. We don't own a TV and we watch movies infrequently. For my husband and I, writing adventure novels IS our entertainment. I really think that's the main reason I've been able to produce as much as I have. Over the years, I even cut back on lucrative things like freelance articles so that I could prioritize novel-writing.

And as always, submit everything to God. When I was in college, I made a regular habit of writing my novels in front of the Eucharist. I know that to some, that might seem almost irreverent, but for me, it brought the reality home that everything I write is written before God, and I am responsible before God for everything I write. He has a way of making our weakest efforts blossom. And of course everything we do accomplish happens because of Him anyhow.

God bless your discernment and your writing! As well as your family.
Peace and good
Regina

6 comments:

Claire said...

Regina, I know many of us can benefit from your great tips... so thank you! I really enjoyed this post. And I think that writing your novels in front of the Blessed Sacrament is beautiful... in fact, I've done much of my writing that way, too.

Pax Christi,
Claire

Clare said...

I'm in high school, and have the same problem. Are there any other ideas you would suggest? Thanks!

regina doman said...

Just to make a habit of writing and to read as much as possible. While you're in school, learn as much as you can about ...people. Seriously, people are an author's lifelong study because every character (even if you are writing about mice knights in armor) is based on a real person. Make friends with lots of people, study psychology, read lots of great novels and plays to find out about what makes people tick. And learn to love as many people as you can.

Basically, there's no conflict between being a great writer and a great saint: both depend so much on understanding and loving people. That's how I see it, anyhow.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur said...

Thank you for the wonderful tips!

Best wishes,

Patrice

Alyssa said...

I think that writing in front of the Eucharist is a wonderful idea, not irreverent at all. (Maybe that is why you're such a wonderful author?:)

Anonymous said...

teehee, would it surprise u??? i think i know clare [without an i] and she's already taking psych, taking it much to seriously for my liking :) jk, but we're on the right track from what u've said i think :)
dominque
ps if its not the clare i know sorry