Friday, February 5, 2016

How the birth of my son changed my life as a writer, & 5 tips for making it work

I even had another MFA student tell me that I couldn’t do both--motherhood and novelist.  “You can’t have it all,” he said. 


After my son was born, I realized that my former view of the world was incomplete.  I had only thought about my characters from the perspective of the child, but after I had my son, I understood the fears and complexities of motherhood.  I had never loved another person as much as I loved my son.  I was terrified of what the world might do to him.  I understood “mama bear”.  I understood that I had to protect him, that he was my responsibility.  I revised my first novel manuscript with this new perspective.  Mind you, before his birth, this ms. had been rejected by hundreds of agents, and it took me a long time to fully understand and revise the book based on the gravity and miracle of this new perspective.  (I hardly had time to take a shower.) 

My revised novel had a depth and perspective that had been lacking in earlier drafts.  
            My son opened my eyes.  He made me a better writer and human being.  I remember first talking to an agent in 2006, walking back and forth with him in my arms, hoping that maybe this agent would be the one.  (She would be, but not for another two years!  ... long story, and lots of rejections along the way.)  

When I got my first book deal, my son was just three, and we were
Fun in NYC with my former editor, Sarah Knight.
at the beach together.  He was screaming, "Yay, Mom!"  We spent a lot of time at the library, so he was thrilled at the idea of seeing my book in our library.  (As was I.)  Then, we went to New York City and he met my editor.  That was pretty amazing!  At my first book-launch party, he came up on stage with me while I read from The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.  Today, he's a voracious reader and creative writer in his own right.  At ten years old, he's gotten to meet scores of writers; he's also had the opportunity to listen to panels on setting, character, and everything in between... and he enjoyed it.  He also read my second novel, Above Us Only Sky, and I'm relieved to say that he liked it.  Having my son read one of my novels is a "pinch me" thing.  Unbelievable.  
         My second novel, Above Us Only Sky, is dedicated to him.  He gave me new eyes with which to see the world.
            I had thought and I'd been told that motherhood would be a hurdle to being a successful novelist.  I even had another MFA student tell me that I couldn’t do both.  “You can’t have it all,” he said.  "You won't be able to do it."  He was wrong.  I can.  So can you!  Today, I'm published, and he's not.  Today, I balance the worlds of writer and mom.  They’re intertwined. There is nothing better than being my amazing son's mom, and I wouldn’t be the writer I am if it weren’t for him.  

Five Practical Tips for Being Mom and Writer
1. It seriously does take a village.  In order to write, I had to leave my house so that I wouldn't be distracted by everything: even if someone was watching my son, I'd start thinking about laundry and dishes and the two-hundred other things I needed to accomplish.  

Find a quiet retreat.  I had some neighbors who let me work in their house while they were at work.  It was free.  I was a half block from home, and I didn't have to buy anything or reek of coffee to work there.

2.  Don't beat yourself up.  You can only do so much, and your baby is only going to be a baby for so long.  It goes by way too fast.  Chances are, you won't be able to write every day, maybe not every week, and that's okay.  Family comes first!

3.  Whether you have postpartum depression OR you're the
happiest new mom on the block, make some mom friends.  Seek them out.  You'll sift through and find some keepers, and those keepers will end up saving you in a million ways, and if you're like me, your friendships will last a lifetime.  As your child gets older, maybe all the kids will have a playdate at Kim's house, and the next day, it's your house, and the next day it's Annie or Marie's house.  The fact is that you'll have some time to write, and your son or daughter will have lifelong friends.

4.  When you have time to yourself, WRITE.  Don't do the dishes.  You can do those later.  Don't write bills.  Do those later.  You're the ultimate multi-tasker.  You know it!  You got this!

5.  As a professor once told me: If you only write one page a day, you've written 365 pages that year.  That's a novel.  Don't stress.  Write.  Revise. Query.  Repeat.  Write.  Revise.  Query.  Repeat.