It may be especially common in the children's literature field for writing and parenting to be linked. On one level, it seems obvious - we have kids, so why not use our talents to write for them? And yet, parents are incredibly overworked. Why do we choose this incredibly busy period of our lives to write books?
In my first Writing While Parenting interview, we heard from spiritual activist Ami Chen - click to the previous article if you haven't read it yet, I found some seriously tasty wisdom nuggets in her answers!
This week, I've interviewed an author with retrospective insight about writing throughout her daughter's childhood. I found it intriguing to hear how her art changed as her baby grew into a young adult. First, a little background about our special guest, author Kristi Wright!
Kristi Wright’s indie-published middle grade adventure series, The Basker Twins in the 31st Century, raises funds and awareness for childhood-onset disease, Friedreich’s ataxia. She is an Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and a writing mentor for the non-profit Society of Young Inklings. A founding contributor to a blog on the craft of writing Middle Grade novels, MG Lunch Break, she offers writing workshops at numerous elementary schools.
Now, on to the questions!
First off, please tell us a little about your projects, and the intended audience:
When Sarah was a baby, I wrote historical romance novels.
I switched to middle grade novels when she wouldn't stop begging me to let her read my books. I wrote/finished my first middle grade novel when she was 12.
When Sarah was in college, I wrote a YA fantasy that dealt with sexual abuse. It was a pretty dark subject.
After that, I switched back to middle grade novels and also started writing picture books. I think I've found my sweet spot :)
I'm writing a magical realism middle grade novel right now, and I'm doing final copy edits on the third book in my self-published futuristic middle grade series.
How aware are your children of your writing efforts? What do they think of the whole idea?
I think Sarah had a pretty keen understanding that I was a writer from an early age. She understood that I wrote stories in addition to working full time. Eventually, I became a jobshare partner, which gave me a little more writing time. When she was really young, I wrote in the early hours of the morning (typically one hour) before she woke up, pretty much every day. When I started to jobshare, my days off were my writing days (as long as school activities and other parenting responsibilities didn't get in the way.)
Sarah was very interested in my writing. She wanted to read what I wrote, which is why I eventually switched to middle grade. She loved the series I wrote and was sure it would be a movie lol. It took a while before she grasped that I wasn't going to be the next JK Rowling. Likely that was a bit of a disappointment, but generally she was very proud of me.
When she was in college, I gave her my YA to read. It was during a time when she was having a bit of an emotional crisis. I remember her texting me that while she was really sad, it made her feel better to know that her mom could write something so beautiful. She was proud of me. I cried when I got that text. Having her as a fan of my books meant so much to me, especially since I never got any of those books traditionally published :)
I only mention this because I felt a lot of guilt when Sarah was growing up. I often felt like a bad mother because of my demanding job and my writing. In the end, I think she was really proud of me for having goals and working hard toward them. I like to think that it had a positive affect on her.
Do you prefer to write when you can be away from your family, or do you have ways to stay focused when you're home together? Any tips? :-)
I tended to get up super early to write. Sometimes, I was "bad mom" and let Sarah watch TV for extended stints while I wrote. Mostly, I wrote when she wasn't at home or when she was playing with friends or with her dad.
I may be wearing rose-colored glasses as I look back. I know that it was really hard to work and write and be a decent mom. It would have been just as hard in a different way if I had been a full time mom trying to write. In some ways, having a job already made me have to compartmentalize my life, which meant that compartmentalizing it again for writing wasn't such a stretch. I spent most of Sarah's childhood feeling guilty that I wasn't doing enough, but I think all moms find a way to beat themselves up. I was stressed all the time, probably cranky and very, very tired. On the writing side, I accepted that I would be slow to finish novels, because I couldn't write full time.
I only had one child. If we'd had more children, that would definitely have affected my writing time.
Also, I wouldn't have been able to write as much as I did if I hadn't had the most supportive husband I could ever imagine. He let me be selfish and protect my writing time, because he knew I needed to write. He didn't care if I made money on my writing. He knew it kept me happy and balanced. But that meant that he never had a hobby, not till Sarah went off to college. He was always the one who sacrificed. I have plenty of friends who don't have that kind of support. Often times, it's the woman who sacrifices in a relationship. Now that he has more time, he's taken up music and wood working.
So, I guess my tip is: have a regular time that's your writing time and then get the whole family to protect that time with you. Make it a team effort so that you aren't constantly having to sacrifice the time because everyone sees it as a lower priority. Usually early morning or late night are typical options, but it could be another time. Do your best to get your spouse to see that not writing isn't an option for you, that you are a better mom and person if you are writing at least a little bit every day. It takes a village for one mom to be able to write a novel :)
Do you find it's more helpful to try and stick to a regular schedule, or just grab whatever available time you can? How do you like to get back on track when too much "life stuff" gets in the way?
I kept a pretty strong routine when Sarah was younger. I had a less strong routine when she was older and had more activities.
Did you write before you became a mother? How do you believe parenting has affected your writing (e.g. inspiration, content, self-discipline...)?
Honestly, I wrote/finished my first book when Sarah was a baby. Somehow, I never had enough discipline to finish a project till then. Feels nutty now. Wish I'd had more discipline before I had my baby, but that just was what happened. I always knew I wanted to write, but I couldn't bring myself to get it done till I was pushing 30. I finished the first draft of my first novel on my 30th birthday.
What would you like your children to get out of your work, when/if they read it?
With my first middle grade project, it was important to me that I write something that would appeal to my daughter... so I totally wrote it for her. After that, she was already aging out of those books, so I didn't have the strong focus of writing for her. But I did want her to be proud of me. That always meant a lot to me.
I really related to the part where Kristi admits she never had the discipline to finish a book before she had a baby! I feel like becoming a mother definitely gave me practice in sacrificing my time even when it was extremely difficult, and eventually I was able to reinvest that same self-control in actually writing my books.
There's no one answer to the question of where we find our inspiration and discipline, yet I believe there is a common thread to be found running through our lives and art. I hope the Writing While Parenting interview series gets you thinking - and maybe adopting some new attitudes or habits in your own life.
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