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Monday, 30 April 2012

Dealing With The Big ‘R’: Rejection and Embracing the Process

Got a rejection at the end of last week by the agent whom I wrote about in my ‘Tired, Tired, Tired’ post.  At least it didn’t come on a day when I was super tired, so even though I was disappointed (very), I could reason that it was all for the best (sort of) and move on to thinking about the crushes I have on a couple other agents.  It’s the dating thing again, I’m looking for The One.

I was thinking back to an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show.  I'll admit, I love Oprah.  (It’s too bad the show has gone off the air, although probably for the best because otherwise I’d find myself scheduling my day around it.  But, I did fantasize about having my book in The Oprah Book Club, what writer hasn’t?)  Anyway, one guest on the Oprah show was the woman who invented Spanx, the shaping hosiery company.  She is a super successful businesswoman, but she said that came after many, many failures.  Oprah asked her how her family contributed to her success and she told a story about her father.  Every day, at the dinner table, he would ask each member of the family what they failed at that day.  And each member had to talk about a failure, what they learned from it and how they dealt with the set back.  Her father thought the true measure of character was how someone dealt with failure rather than success.  I love that.  It’s something I want to instill in my children, too, but first I have to get the hang of it.  Dealing with set backs is a huge part of life and embracing the process and the journey is what we’re supposed to focus on, instead of the result, because the end result is about 1% of a 99% journey.  (I came up with those percentages after working out a very long mathematical formula in the early hours of the morning.)

I’d love to embrace the process more, but it’s hard when days fill up with endless grocery runs, repetitive tasks, the demands of small, helpless children, and those rejection emails in the Inbox.  I’m working on it, though.  The process, I tell myself, must be embraced! (As I stand in line at Tesco for the millionth time buying the seventh bottle of milk in the last couple days---why don’t I buy in bulk, you ask?  Good question).  Maybe part of embracing the process was me buying a giant wheelie carrier for my groceries, the kind the little old ladies use.  I bought one at IKEA with big polka dots on it because my frequent grocery trips with arms loaded with plastic bags make me grumpy. 

I’m lucky, so lucky, that my kids and husband are healthy, that I’m healthy, and I can write when I grab free time while also being there with my babies.  Maybe realizing that while celebrating the other failures is embracing the process.  I’m not sure, but if you’ve figured it out, let me know.

How do you deal with failure?  And how do you embrace the writing process and the journey seeking publication?  A schedule?  A room?  Small milestones?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Published Author Ruth Thomas On Writing and Children

We are thrilled to have Ruth Thomas answering some questions today about mothering and writing.  She is the author of the novel, Things to Make and Mend, and  short story collections, Super girl, The Dance Settee, and Sea Monster Tattoo.  I am always impressed by women who manage to mother and write, and Ruth has been gracious enough to offer some insights about her own journey toward publication.

How did you manage the demands of young children and writing?  What did your schedule look like?  (Did you have child care during the day or did you only write in the evening?)
I have three  children, aged eleven, nine and five. When they were babies I gave up writing entirely for the first six months of their lives (ie, there's been a year and a half in the past decade when I haven't written at all.) I thought it would be less stressful to accept that small babies and a meaningful writing life can be pretty incompatible - apart from anything else, you just get so tired you can hardly speak, let alone construct honed sentences at a computer keyboard! I also just wanted to enjoy my children's baby-days rather than spend the first few months of their lives feeling frustrated and anxious that I wasn't producing any work. After they were six months, they all went to nursery for about three mornings a week (approx. 9 - 1) so I was able to get back into some kind of writing routine. This echoed the way I'd always worked before I had children - ie, I used to combine half a day's writing with half a day of paid work. (Of course, I wasn't earning any money now though, so our income nose-dived, as did the tidiness of our house... ) From the age of three, the children went to state-subsidised nursery school, which improved our dwindling resources a little, but not the amount of time I had to write. I rarely write in the evening because I'm not an 'evening person' - I just get too tired. I do try to keep a notebook, but that's very dependent on whether I remember to put it in my bag!

What is your schedule like now that you are published?  Is it easier?
Strangely enough, although my children are older now and at school, I don't feel that I have much more time to write. I think this is partly because I am working on novels at the moment, which require a lot more thinking time: it's hard to focus on the plot and structure of a longer piece of work when you're always having to break off to pick the children up, cook tea, wash school uniform, help with homework etc. I don't think being published has any bearing on my schedule - I suppose if you had some huge advance from a publisher, you could maybe afford extra childcare, but I wouldn't want that (the extra childcare, not the advance!) I value my writing life hugely but I would be very sad to feel that I was prioritising my writing career ahead of my children. I also think it would be detrimental to my writing - ie, if you get too precious about it, it can end up a bit navel-gazing. I think the distinction between 'writer' and 'published writer' is fairly academic - ie, if you want to write you will find some way to do it, whether you have children or not, and whether it gets published or not.

Describe your journey as a writer before and after children.
I began my writing life in the early '90s after graduating from university and finding myself temporarily unemployed... I started with short stories (which remain my first love as far as literary genre is concerned.) I wrote two collections, 'Sea Monster Tattoo' and 'The Dance Settee' and these were published in 1997 and 1999 respectively (both Polygon.) My daughter was born in early 2001, and my sons in 2002 and 2006. This explains, really, why I had nothing else published till 2007, when my first novel, 'Things to Make and Mend' was brought out by Faber. I wrote this between about 2003 - 2007, when I could grab the time between family commitments. I'd never attempted a novel before, and the way I went about structuring the plot was to 'piece' scenes together over different times and locations, which suited the sporadic chunks of time available to me.

Tell us about your new book and when it's coming out, and if/when you are having a signing!
My new novel will be published by Faber in Spring '13. It's set in a Scottish primary school in the early 1990s (I couldn't have written it without having first-hand knowledge, as a mother, about primary-school life...) Please check Faber's website a bit nearer the time for more details.

Thanks so much for your insights, Ruth.  Her books are available on Amazon and of course, always ask at your local bookstore.  I am reading Things to Make and Mend and really enjoying it.

Tune in on Monday to read about dealing with rejection!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A Place of Your Own by Val Innes

For me, being creative means writing. It is also about finding my way around the curve balls that children throw at you; parents have to be experimental about how best to navigate through a day that is littered with distractions and emotional outbursts.  But I have another "creative" hook in my favour.  I have designed a table which those of us who work from home can use for everyday family life AND maintain control over the paper and memorabilia that appears at our work space.  I call it the "Menemsha Table" - a name taken from my favourite spot in Martha's Vineyard. It reminds me of where I want to live when I earn enough money (...if...) to write by the sea. 

As a person I am scatty. In a professional (pre-children) capacity I would consider myself organised. As a writer I should be somewhere in between, but I have no opportunity to "hit my desk running" because it takes me a good fifteen minutes to clear the space to work - eating into my precious writing time.  An example of items on my desk the other night?  An apple cut in half - bought that day and clearly rotten inside. Did my other half forget to place it in the bin?  Yes!  An alien baby (why do we buy these toys for our children?), two coffee cups - my fault, so that is okay. And... fungal cream. I am not going to explain that one, but it definitely is not mine.

Because time is so limited and when it becomes available I need to make every moment count I have decided to keep my desk an "off limits" area.  I did include the kids and we all made a poster with one "rool" we each have - did you like the trendy, young spelling of the word rule? Turned out it wasn't so cool according to my seven year old, just bad spelling.  Said seven year old's rule was "NO-ONE touch her teddies"; her dad?  "no one is to interrupt when someone is talking." Mine was "don't pinch my stationary or touch my desk." (I get two because I devised the idea)  My three year old's rule?  "Chocolate just chocolate." That was it, no explanation!

It has worked for one night, but today I have found myself putting lone Lego pieces and alien baby shells on my desk and stuffing the pile of "drawings" I get from nursery into the drawers - if I put them in the bin, he spots them.  So I guess I need to be organised and not blame everyone else.  I can then give me myself a pat on the back as I produce more writing. If a tidy desk doesn't increase output I shall kick myself up the backside instead, and then produce more writing.

But perhaps having a place of your own isn't that important; it is about keeping all the clutter from family life out of your mental space to let you focus more.  Will it work for me? I'll tell you next week!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tired, Tired, Tired

The baby woke up at 5 AM and I didn’t get to bed until midnight last night, because we had a dinner party for my husband’s lab.  To say I’m tired is an understatement.  And I know that writing is going to be shelved this morning because the house is a giant mess and the dryer broke. 

My usual 9 AM to 11 AM writing slot is going to be spent calling a repairman, freezing leftovers and cleaning a kitchen that looks like the cat did all the cooking last night.  I try not to beat myself up about not writing when life happens.  Life is what it’s all about, it’s what should come first.  But, I’ve never had to be so flexible with my schedule as when I became a mom.  So when these days happen, I try to think about my writing when I’m doing something else.  To me, that counts.  I don’t think it would count if I only thought about my writing and never did it, but there are days when it’s just not going to happen and thinking about a plot line or a character has to fill the gap.  This can really get me pumped when the next writing session happens.  Being forced to step back from writing by other mom duties means when I actually do write, there is more focus and clarity in my writing.  So today, I’m going to think about the new short story I’m excited about.  I LOVE writing short stories and I always begin a new one when I finish a novel. (Okay, so that means this is only my second short story!)  It helps me clear the palette and gets me revved up to write again while I wait to hear back on agent submissions.  It makes me feel less powerless when waiting for months on end to hear back about representation.  It helps to remind me that I write because I love it and it gets me focused on something else besides the novel.

One thing that is really hard to deal with when you’re a tired writer mom is rejection.  I’m currently waiting to hear back from an agent who has my partial manuscript.  (I am on the agent search after completing my second novel and going through several rounds of editing)  Anyway, the agent with my partial sounds like the perfect agent for me.  She seems positive, proactive, a great communicator.  She likes the kind of book I think I’ve written.  She’s had the manuscript three weeks tomorrow and her normal response time, she says, is five weeks.  If she sends me bad news today, as tired as I am, I’m going to feel like I’ve been dumped by a boyfriend.  That’s the thing about the agent hunt.  You get a crush, you look them up and try to get to know them on-line, you write to them, you put yourself out there, and you hope they love you.  You start loving them before you really know them, before you know whether they even like you or not.  Good news is ten times sweeter when you’re a tired mom, but bad news is ten times worse, too.

How do you deal with fatigue and writing?  Do you push through and write anyway?   Does fatigue spur you on?  Do you shelf it or think about a particular element of your writing instead of doing it when you’re tired?

Friday, 20 April 2012

Finding Support For Writing

It’s easier to find support for mothering than for writing, because writing is an almost clandestine experience.  My main support is my husband who takes my writing as seriously as I do and is my number one cheerleader.  But lately I’ve been feeling it’s important to try and reach out to other writers going through the same thing, hence the blog.  After years of avoiding fellowship with other writers, I went to my first writing group.  I'm not sure I will go regularly, but I'm glad I went.  They were an encouraging, and gently critical bunch.  I listened to people read their pieces and I learned that there is always something good to find in someone else's work even if it's not your preferred genre, your cup of tea, even if it's hiding in there, way deep down.  Some of the work blew me away.  And I hope other members, even if they don't like short fiction, found something enjoyable about my work, too.  When a member began reading his science fiction piece, a genre I do not like, I was surprised that I was taken in by the world he had carefully created.  And I found myself championing him more than I had expected to in the group. 

I don't think I can go too often, because at this stage, I am ready to get critical feedback from folks who aren't afraid that I am going to break down in tears right in front of them.  But the writing group was a great way to see things about my work that weren't coming across well and to get some general writerly support.  I highly recommend any writer trying a writer’s group, if nothing else than for being reminded that there are as many different paths people take with their writing as there are writers.  There isn’t just one way.  Although none of the other writers at my group were mothering young children, they were wrestling with their own, equally challenging time constraints, managing to fit in their writing on lunch breaks, after work, or in the wee hours of the morning.  And this was perhaps the most important part about finding fellowship, knowing that time constraints are there for us all, that being exhausted after a day's mothering, (even though in my opinion more exhausting than a day at the office) doesn't have to get in my way.  After all, what struggling writer doesn't have a day job?  And what published writer doesn't have other demands, besides writing, put on their time?  I think finding a schedule is good practice for any self-guided pursuit and that in itself can be the kind of support you can give yourself without anyone else involved at all.  What are ways you find support for writing?  What are ways you work your writing into your home life?

Tune in next week as we discuss claiming the identity of a writer even when you’ve not yet published your book.  And we are so excited to have published writer Ruth Thomas, author of Things to Make and Mend, with us next week, answering our questions about how she manages mothering with writing.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Challenge Finding Writing Time by Val Innes

It is 10.39pm and my mind is a whirl of words as I mentally write this post.  Unfortunately, I am still hard at it.  The housework, that is.  And I repeat... it is 10.39pm.  Herein lies the problem for writers who are parents or carers.  Time.  Time to write, time to give quality attention to your children and time to keep the house in order (notice I don't say organised). Time for your supportive (or not?) other half.

Interestingly, I don't crave "me" time in the sense of sitting down and doing nothing. I am wondering if you are the same?  If you are like me - and Anna - you will know exactly why.  Writers are compelled to channel any spare energy or time into putting words on paper (or screen) and I find it frustrating to see my desk littered with ideas and features half written when I know that I have to morph into "mum" mode again.  Writing is my "time".  I relax even when writing to a deadline, and my brain can wring out all the tiny nougats of information that pervades my head when I am looking after the family.
Each night after I kiss my children's warm cheeks and tuck them up in bed, I tip toe out of their room with a smile spread across my face.  No more organising or decision-making for me and I needn't worry about being leaped on or head-butted (by accident, of course).  I don't even miss the tender declarations of love the kids say from time to time, because I am about to enter the zone that is just for me - my "writing" time.   And I will began to write... as soon as I hang out my laundry!   

Monday, 16 April 2012

Welcome to Mother Freakin' Writers

Mother Freakin’ Writers is a blog for all those trying to mother, father or parent and write professionally.  It’s for mothers at all levels of the writing process with the end goal of publication.  It’s for all those trying to fit in time to write while taking care of children and trying to meet the demands of both unpaid roles.  Before I had children and even after, I would read about women; playwrights, freelancers, novelists — all successfully achieving their writing dreams while mothering young children.  Interviewers never seemed to ask these women how they managed to find time for both.  There were always the broad, glowing, ‘she manages to have it all’ statements, but nothing about the nitty gritty, the late nights, the scheduling, dealing with the isolation of mothering and writing.

So, this blog is a community for all those wanting to share their tips, their struggles, their latest roadblocks, and the success stories of writing while mothering.  And fathers are welcome, too, because we all face similar constraints as caregivers who write.  Since I was a young child, I have written.  It’s something I have to do.  It’s something I will always do.  Even if I die at my keyboard with a margarita in one hand, pressing ‘send’ on another email query.  After having children and becoming a stay-at-home mom (and please, we need to come up with a better term for us than that), I started pursuing writing full-time.  And it wasn’t at all how I pictured it to be according to magazine articles; like the ones I would read in pregnancy magazines.  (Babies don’t sit on your lap while you type away at your latest manuscript! — more on that article and other fallacies to come in later posts…)

I wrote a novel and had an agent during the first year of my first child’s life, which looking back on it, was kind of a crazy time.  But, like I said, writing is something I have to do.  It’s something that makes me a happier person, a better mom, but there are sacrifices.  I’ve been through the ups and downs of submissions and not seeing the work published in the end.  I’ve been through the harsh realization that it’s time to put the old away and write another.  And now I am finished with my second manuscript and seeking representation again.  The entire process is a lot like pregnancy and giving birth; without an epidural. 

My blog mate, Val, and I, hope Mother Freakin’ Writers will become an empowered community of writers supporting each other in the uncertain journey toward being Mother  Freakin’ Published Writers and in the uncertain journey of motherhood in general.  We hope to see you here frequently and we’re very excited about building this community.  Join us!  Val will be posting on Wednesday with her own personal take on being a Mother Freakin’ Writer.  Look for my next post on Friday about finding support for writing.

In later posts we will be inviting some of you to tell your stories about writing and mothering.  What are some of the things  you’re looking for in a mother writing community blog?