Episode 62: I Knew I Had It In Me, I Just Had To Lay It Down

In this episode:

How are writers like Olympic athletes? They make great stories! They make great comebacks!

When we recorded this episode, the winter olympics were on TV, and both Jennie and Mel were obsessed. (Abby, eh, not so much.) But this week Mel relates to Shaun White, the American Olympic snowboarder. Not because she dazzled us with some sweet moves on her board, but because she recovered from illness and poor performance by making a comeback. Shaun White almost QUIT after a horrific accident months earlier (his poor face), but he stuck it out and kept training after his recovery. 

I knew I had it in me, I just had to lay it down.
— Shaun White


In this episode, Mel fixes the issues with her last submission. She says that she was disconnected with her story and her characters. We always talk about how stupid mistakes are surface stuff - you don't get into their heads and it's like puppets on a string. She also admits that she wrote a lot of stuff down, but nothing really happened. She credits taking another crack at those chapters (and night walks with rap music) for her fresh take on the pages that needed some serious help a couple episodes back.

A couple tips, if you find yourself stuck with a boring chapter (or two):

  • Don't leave your audience out of the action - show it!

  • We want to see your characters under pressure, to see what they're going to do - it's okay to make things hard for them!

  • Get us in your character's heads - what are they thinking? If they're struggling, how are they coping (or not?)

  • Remember: dialogue is about reactions - if done well, it's a great way to disseminate information without falling into an info dump.

Jennie also wrote about what writers can learn from athletes here, on her Medium blog, No Blank Pages.

And for those of you who are interested, here is Shaun White's epic win, as mentioned by Jennie and Melanie.

Episode 61: Letting Go

In this episode

Jennie celebrates her youngest getting a job, Mel tries to save Abby's life, and Abby was in the throes of mold investigation (and letting go of a garage full of art supplies) this week on Mom Writes! 

(And also some writing stuff.)


Abby decided that by letting go of her old art stuff she was able to accept that she's still creative, but a different way. It's okay to move on and release tools of creativity that you're not using - it doesn't mean that you don't have new tools to harness your creativity, and now Abby's using WORDS to express her creativity. A lot can be said for getting rid of stuff you're keeping around for one reason or another - guilt, or fear, or. 

The way I feel about writing is the same way I feel about photography, but here’s the difference: the minute I have to sell something or there’s money involved, photography becomes stressful for me. That hasn’t been the case with writing at all.  When you’re writing a book, everyone is buying the same story.
— Abby Mathews


We talk a lot about using your old teenage diaries to influence your writing voice (if you happen to be writing awkward middle schoolers, that is!). So dig through your old journals from high school if you want to flashback between the highest highs and lowest lows of those sweet teenage years. 

We do some serious brainstorming on how to solve a logic problem in Abby's book - how the book characters actually get out of their novels and into real life. Sometimes you really do need to talk things out and get ideas from readers (or your fellow podcasters), that you can ultimately take or leave, but sometimes three brains are better than one!

Finally, Mel comes to terms with her reluctance to move to Scrivener - change is hard! (No really, it has some cool tools. You might want to check it out. No, they're not paying us.)

Episode 60: Moving and Sequels and Middle School Kissing

To iron or not to iron, that is the question. This week we talk about ironing. Well, it's just one of the many things we talked about. When we batch recorded this set of episodes last winter, Melanie and Abby were both sick. We sent Mel to urgent care, then soldiered on and recorded this episode without her. (Thankfully she listened to us and went to the doctor, because as it turned out, she had a bad case of the flu.) Of course, Skype was also sick, and it totally froze on us while sharing a screen. But, like, always, we make the best of it. 

In this episode:

 

The Mathews are moving from Rhode Island to Florida! Abby has just a couple months to pack the house and make all the arrangements and do all the things, including finishing her book.

I refuse to even put the book on pause while I sell the house - because I don’t want to stop it. People may see the writing aspect of this as a chore, but the writing is stress relief. Why in a time of stress would I want to get rid of the thing that brings me joy? I can keep the momentum going while life is super chaotic because we did all that prep work in the beginning before I even started writing it. Now it’s just putting words on the page.
— Abby Mathews

Jennie points out that the mapping-out part of writing is the part most people resist, and a really detailed outline is different from what Jennie asked Abby and Mel to do. Having a picture in your mind, having the big why figured out does allow for creativity and flexibility while keeping your end goal in mind. 

Abby made a deal with herself to devote whatever time she has to writing first thing in the morning, really prioritize it, and then spend the rest of her time getting things in order for the move. She admitted she needs to let go of the word count and focus on spending butt-in-chair time on the book - getting wrung up about word count goals while trying to move a thousand miles away isn't necessarily going to help her finish the book. 

Jennie cites something she read recently about a writer asking her readers what they would do if they only have 5 hours a day to do their job (like their day jobs, if you're not lucky enough to write full time - that's most of us!). What would you cut out if you only had x amount of time? How are you using or not using your time productively? If you really, truly had a time limit and things were down to the line, how would you streamline your time and make the most of it?

Abby and Jennie also spend some time talking about possible sequels for her book. Abby wonders how much to include in book one, and how do you know what to leave open for book two, three, etc? According to Jennie, book one has to stand on it's own 110%. It must have a satisfactory resolution. Take some time to sketch out the whole universe - how is this going to play out in subsequent books? It's good to have a plan for storylines that help each book stand as a complete novel.

Most writing isn’t done on the keyboard - it’s done in the shower, while you’re driving, running errands. Give that mental real estate to yourself and let things come into your brain about your story - that’s writing too.
— Jennie Nash

After Skype freezes and we reconnect, Jennie goes on to tell Abby that she has inadvertently stumbled upon a really powerful story element that she needs to take advantage of. This is the big advantage of having a book coach-- someone who can see and point out a fabulous opportunity to grow your story according to your big WHY. They spend some time hashing out the logic behind what Abby has written. Abby's had the dad in her story disappear, and while she intended to bring him back fairly quickly, Jennie goes on to point out that by making his disappearance part of the struggle, it gives Abby the opportunity to deepen why it matters to the characters. Let the characters suffer!   

The father's disappearance also allows Abby the chance to pursue her story's budding romance in a way that is more meaningful than a simple girl-likes-boy. The characters can share a secret, be allies, reveal a side of each other than neither has shared before. But should they kiss? And when? 

As part of Abby's research, she quizzes a girlfriend's 6th-grader all about kissing. Would she read about kissing? Do 7th-grade girls even kiss boys? Like, what's the deal?! Jennie and Abby also talk about how things have changed since either of them was in school, and how female empowerment is much more the norm. Abby wants to write a book that definitely reflects girl power. And she wants to bake that into the budding romance. But the deep-level WHY has to be baked into all these details. The last 20 minutes of this conversation pretty much dissect a single kiss. 

Episode 59: Just Blow Something Up...

In this episode:

[NSFK—the end of this episode is Not Suitable for Kids. Abby swears and we don’t edit it out, plus we mention dildos about 16 times, so put on your headphones as we enter chit chat territory at the end!]

Both Mel and Abby are sick. But Mel wins. She has the flu and shows up anyway because she is convinced that part of her self-care is talking about her edits. She tried extra hard this week to make up for her “bad edits” last time.

Jennie’s comments last time were along the lines of “but nothing is happening in the story.” So Mel’s solution was to go back and blow something up.

Jennie points out how dangerous it is to “blow stuff up” in a story. You can very easily make it about plot and not story. Mel’s story is about life and death and the choices we make around life and death. Mel’s writing played into that, so it works. But Jennie cautions writers not to just randomly include epic events in their stories if they don’t serve a purpose in the overarching WHY. If your motivation is “I just gotta make something happen” then that’s bad.

There needs to be a logic to every single action a character makes.  It has to be logical in the universe of the story, and it has to be logical to who that character is. (Would that character actually do that? Why would they do that? And is it clear to the audience why they would do that?)

Mel beat herself up over her previous edits, but we talk about writers’ high standards for themselves. Why do writers think it has to be perfect the first time they write something? Mel points out that first-time writers hold themselves to that standard of perfection because they have been raised on a million wonderful books in their final form and have yet to develop an appreciation for the iterative process of writing.

Jennie says no one is immune from this, and that the people who are willing to put themselves in the vulnerable place of sharing their work are the people who end up doing good work. There are so many skills you have to master when writing a novel—SO MANY!  So go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. 

Besides having the flu, Mel also lost her work when Word crashes and she lost four pages. It could have been worse, but she had really liked those pages! Jennie shares a secret, and she calls it “device agnostic.” She talks about how everything she does lives in Dropbox.  

We end by talking about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. We all have funny stories that revolve around hoarding childhood treasures.

Episode 58: Luke Reynolds, MG Writer & (God Bless Him) Former Middle School Teacher

This morning we interview Luke Reynolds, author of The Looney Experiment (Blink),  Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You, and most recently Fantastic Failures: True Stories of People Who Changed the World by Falling Down First, which comes out Sept 11!

We talk about how Luke was inspired to write Fantastic Failures through personal experience via his career in teaching middle grades and junior high students. So many young people struggle with overcoming failure and rejection, and Luke wanted to write a book for kids that shows how the most successful people in history have a long (LONG!) history of personal and professional failures.

Luke himself always wanted to be a writer, but his B+'s on writing assignments in school never made him feel that he could be successful - he only learned later that persistence was the key, and having an honest perspective on what it takes to complete a book - drafts upon drafts upon drafts! Luke also credits his oldest brother for noticing he was on the wrong path and making him run with him every day, forming a connection and keeping him out of trouble. We need people to care about us, be authentic with us, and lead us - and then hard work and grit come into play. Various biographies in Fantastic Failures had people who wouldn't have made it without help along the way - friends, families, mentors - that encouraged them to keep going. 

One of the takeaways from this book is to change the idea of failure - don't see it so much as failure, but as one of the steps in succeeding. How do we change this perfection for ourselves and our kids?

"I think it's become somewhat popular to talk about failure and making mistakes in general, but the next level is really hard to get to - to actually start talking about our OWN failures and rejections...to start talking really openly about how I failed as a dad, as a teacher, a writer, a friend, a brother...to start normalizing it. We all experience deep rejection and failure, and we'll talk about the "safe" failures - things that happened 30 years ago, but not yesterday." - Luke Reynolds

One of the main reasons Mel and Abby started this podcast was to start recognizing and normalizing the iterative process of writing, and how bad writing and bad first drafts are a normal thing. It can be a beautiful process, but only if we see failure as one of the steps to success. And is there any real joy without a struggle, anyway? If something comes easy to you, you don't feel as great about it as opposed to the things you really had to work for. 

"The people who sustain their love of something are people that fail often, early on - and you can't get the love of it out of them. People who succeed very quickly tend to quit quickly as well." - Luke Reynolds

Luke's Books

Episode 57: Writing & Super Zoloft

In This Episode:

Mel got some feedback that was not very positive, but she wasn’t surprised by it. She had a rough stretch in her personal life (hard, not-exactly-podcast-material-kinda-stuff), but she forced herself to finish her pages. When she got her edits back, she admits that it hurt. It felt like she had really screwed up in her writing.

Mel says, “It just brought to light how distracted I had been. I was distracted from my story. I wasn’t really connected to it. I was trying to put the things in it that, for some reason, I thought needed to be there, but there wasn’t that thing that we always talk about. There wasn’t a connection to the characters. There a bunch of stuff in here, but it doesn’t really mean anything.”

Jennie and Mel talk a little about the interplay between being a person and being a writer. Mel hates the trope that you have to be a sad, depressive creative in order to write well. Mel talks about her struggles with mental health, and how they have the exact opposite in her writing. Things for her grind to a halt until she can take care of herself. She tried to tape her life together so that no one could see that things were falling apart. She didn’t want to admit to anyone that she was struggling.  Mel thinks that creatives can be more prone to dealing with this sort of thing.

I don’t really think it’s addressed as often as it should be. Or admitted to as often as it should be. Or maybe it’s used in a way that says, ‘Oh, well. That person’s really troubled, but they’re also really brilliant.’ You don’t have to be both. And when I’m troubled, I’m not brilliant.
— Melanie Parish

You connect to people through your art, and you can pull from your experiences. Your empathy can help you as a creative. Jennie points out that, “The things Mel is talking about is not being able to control what you feel. What we’re doing when we write a book is controlling what the characters feel and playing with that emotion like it’s clay. But you recognize that you can’t control what you yourself feel.”

Mel admits to feeling all her feelings. All of everyone’s feelings. ALL the feelings everywhere. Yet there was no emotional connection in her story. “I was afraid to put it in there, or I didn’t know how, or I couldn’t narrow down what I was feeling in a way that was useful.”

But finishing her pages-- even junk pages—felt like a win. A win that Melanie needed.

But is anything she wrote salvageable? Mel jokes that she did great on one paragraph, and she's keeping it!

Abby asked Jennie if this is typical? That every writer everywhere, somewhere over the course of their book will have a bad streak. Jennie says, “100% of the time. And 100% of the time when I reflect that opinion back to the writer, they’re not shocked. And then there’s always some reason. Writing is not separate from who you are.”

Jennie reminds us no one is immune from real life—sickness, accidents, loss, doubt.

We can’t have our only metric be page count or word count. Or how fast we wrote them.

Slow writing, like slow cooking, it just takes time.
— Jennie Nash

In craft talk, Mel has an uber-dramatic scene that she wants to keep. Jennie said that sometimes when you have intense drama, the writer stops writing and acts like a camera, forgetting that the reader is still looking for meaning.

Mel did her best to tamp down her feelings in real life, and her characters stopped feeling, too. Abby jokes that Mel’s characters took Zoloft and quit feeling. Jennie says that Mel’s Infinity Device in her story is like super-Zoloft! What she’s writing in her story IS ACTUALLY what happens if you tamp it down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 56: A Writer's Brain

Jennie on World Building

In this episode: 

  • Jennie stereotypes Mel's musical tastes. 
  • Check out Melanie's 8-hour writing playlist
  • Jennie eats her breakfast of avocado toast on Ezekial bread with Penzey's everything bagel topper.
  • Jennie and Abby discuss worldbuilding and how your details serve the story.  
What do I need to have happen in this scene? What do I need to have happen in this world? Why is it even there? Because if you can’t answer that, you want to take it out.
— Jennie Nash
  • Don't just think about what's cool or plausible, but think about what serves your story. 
  • Abby's discusses how watching the TV show The Goldbergs triggered a chain reaction of thoughts that took her from The Goldbergs to Ferris Bueller's Day Off to a memory from her days teaching high school to the book Wonder to the new, fabulous ending to her story.  
  • Sometimes you have to stop along the way and go backward in order to replan how to move forward based on new discoveries in your story. Abby had to go back and remake the last half of her two-tier outline to fit the new ending. 
  • Abby thinks it's important to draw on things that have happened to you and weave them into your fiction to make it more believable. 
One of the worst things you say to a fiction writer is, ‘Did that happen to you? Like, is that real?’ because it diminishes the work. Like what *Abby* just did of filtering everything, and massaging it, and making it fit the story... All those decisions and all that work, that’s the creative process.
— Jennie Nash

Episode 55: Ending Chapters & Doing Some Research

In this episode:

All writers struggle with something. That something may change every time you sit down to write, but Abby has pretty consistently struggled with how to end her chapters. Jennie gives Abby some story-specific advice about how to end her latest submission.

In this episode, Abby also does a little research. Let’s face it, Abby’s research is way more boring than Mel’s. Abby didn’t get to go to a gun range and learn to shoot. Abby didn’t take her car to an ill-frequented gravel road, open the back doors, and peel out. Mel has done some pretty bad-ass research. Abby just talks to people.

But today, Abby talks to someone pretty special— Jennie’s daughter! Jennie’s youngest daughter, Emily, makes an appearance on the show. Home from school for a break, she comes in to talk about how old she was when she first read Pride and Prejudice. It’s an answer that both surprises and delights Abby. But even better is the why behind why she picked it up in the first place. (Spoiler alert: to learn about boys!) The conversation helps Abby pin down more story-specific details.

 

Episode 54: Author Accelerator Book Coach Julie Artz on MG vs YA

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In this episode:

In this episode of MomWrites we talk with Julie Artz, novelist and author of blogs at  Terminal VerbosityThe Winged Pen, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Julie has also been a PitchWars middle grades mentor, and is active in the leadership of her regional SCBWI.

One of our friends in a writers group asks Julie: How do you tell if your book falls into middle grades territory or YA territory?  Can you write about a first kiss in middle grades? 

Julie: Yes! Totally appropriate to have first kisses and a little bit of romance, but the important thing is that it's *awkward* first kisses. Very much beginning stages of interest in romance and the opposite sex. See Barbara Dee's Starcrossed and Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. 

We talk categorizing children's lit and how to categorize where various MG and YA fall? People "pretend" there are three children's categories (picture books, MG, and YA) but there's really a lot more. There are subcategories within categories, lots of nuance and several different formats ranging from beginning readers to advanced readers, even within a small age group. Middle grade is even being split into 8-10 and 10-13 (lower MG and upper MG, respectively), and YA is similar, with a younger YA category and an older, more adult YA category. It's not as black and white as it used to be! Books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have blurred the lines quite a bit. 

Crossover between age ranges does make things difficult for new writers when trying to "follow the rules" for age ranges and genres. Abby was struggling when trying to decide what age to make her protagonist, and Jennie told her  "Just make a choice and write to that age. Don't worry about isolating the readership." She used Harry Potter as an example - when the series starts, he's 11, and it works, because we read to find out what we'd do in the situation these characters find themselves in. The world of Harry Potter is incredible and universally interesting, and that's why you find people of all ages reading it.  

Voice is really really important in MG and YA. If the voice isn’t there - you can assign whatever age you want, but if your 12 year old sounds like a 16 year old, it’s not going to work.
— Julie Artz

Another way to differentiate between YA and MG is where the character's focus lies:

Middle grades: friends and family are still the focus of the world. There's a little bit of focus on turning towards adulthood.

YA: Individuality and questioning where character's place in the adult world is paramount. 

OR how the book ends:

Middle grades: There's usually an uplifting message or hope for the characters at the ending of the book.

YA: Doesn't necessarily have a happy ending or "hope".

OR explicit content:

Middle grades: watch the violence and the swearing! No sex! Awkward first kisses are ok. 

YA: violence, swearing and sex is more accepted.

It's important to remember that there's a lot more gatekeeping by parents and teachers with middle grades than in YA. There can be edgy subjects (drug addiction, mental illness, self-harm, teen pregnancy), but in general those characters experiencing those things are not the POV characters. Example: Kate Messner's The Seventh Wish dealing with drug addiction (the drug addict is the sister of the main character). Rather, the POV characters in these MG novels are dealing with these issues but removed from them by at least one degree. 

Episode 53: Writer Friends and Written Cliches

In Today's Episode:

Finding good writer friends can be hard. And once you throw your work into the mix, things can go bad. Fast. Abby and Mel talk about how they used a FB writers group (Writer Moms, Inc.) to find ladies who give them what they really need from writer friends— emotional support. (Hi there, Joy Rancatore and Mea Smith, we're looking at you!)

Also, Melanie finds herself trapped in an embarrassing situation. She finds herself describing one of her characters as if she were writing a a very cliched scene from a romance novel. We have a few good laughs reading it out loud (and thankfully Mel is a good sport about it). But Jennie walks her through what to do if you find yourself writing cliches with a simple fix to help you move on.

Episode 52: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

In this episode:

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What's the worst that can happen if you don't sit down and write? Well, your book never gets finished. Book coach Jennie Nash and Melanie Parish talk about fear as it relates to getting words on the page.

Book coaching is partly about craft but just as equally-- if not more so-- about support. Great words are the end result of an emotional process that takes two people - the writers, and the readers. The book coach stands in for the reader and can give you the "you can do this!" motivation you need to get it done.

This week Mel celebrates getting done on time with the help of some MAJOR coffee intake. How did she take time to do it? Sheer determination, and the knowledge that taking time to write and the end result of getting her pages done is much better than wallowing in self-doubt and not spending the time to do it.

Every time I sit down to write I’m still nervous, it’s still nerve-wracking...it’s taken me a really long time to come to terms with the fact that this is something I can do, that this is something I’m good at.
— Melanie Parish

 

Self doubt throws up roadblocks ALL the time - but the alternative is going nowhere and not finishing your projects. The other alternative is to just try - even if it's hard, even if it's scary, even if you fail a bunch (we all do!). 

Mel says that book coaching has absolutely been vital to her motivation in working on her book. Getting validation on what she's doing well vs doing poorly has been instrumental in the sense that she's gained an understanding of what works, and why it works, and how to move that through the rest of her writing while ditching the stuff that's holding her back. 

When you do things well and you know it, you can keep doing that thing well—you can be conscious of how you’re doing that thing well... it’s like if you go to a golf coach because your swing isn’t working, they’ll tell you that your stance is good, you grip is good, but you need to work on your shoulders.
— Jennie Nash

 

The reason why a lot of writing workshops and typical teaching in writing doesn't work is that you don't get the kind of individualized feedback that you get with book coaching. If you don't get any specifics on why something works or doesn't work, you can't take that criticism or feedback and better the rest of your writing. Abby says that in her fine arts classes in college, you weren't allowed to say "I like it" or "I don't like it."  You were forced to be specific in your criticism or praise, and that's what book coaching does as well. You can't be steered in the right direction with generalities. . 

Writing is a teachable skill, and good writing is a teachable skill.
— Jennie Nash

Episode 51: Writing Under the Influence of Emotional Exhaustion

In this episode:

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THIS IS HOW A REALLY BAD AGATHA CHRISTIE KNOCK OFF MURDER STARTS!
— Abby, stuck in a dark Macy's dressing room, sans pants

 

Abby deals with some S-H-I-T : emotional exhaustion! Power outages! Migraines! ER visits! Parents! Writing wedding vows, shopping for dresses, trips out of state and sick kids! Writing gets pushed aside sometimes when we're dealing with real life. This week Abby channels her emotional woes into her writing and uses it to write an epic car crash scene for her book. 

 

(One of the great things about Author Accelerator coaches is that they totally get that you have a real life and they're not going to give you a hard time when you've got to drop everything and deal with it. As parents, our families always come first!)

We talk all day long about show don’t tell - what that means is what you’re doing right here. We see Bernadette’s dad trying his very best, trying so hard to be a good dad, but he’s FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. What we feel is the impossibility of this situation.
— Jennie Nash

 

Abby admits that she wrote this chapter twice - the first time around felt a little flat. When she went back and read it, she put the action in but not any thoughts or feelings that Bernadette is experiencing. She added in what would be happening to her emotionally, all these extra details, that really made the scene on the second go around. Learning to write better is about self awareness - there are NO RANDOM THINGS in writing. Everything has meaning, everything connects to the story, everything drives characters and plot and meaning. Make your events, your characters, make everything matter, and it's going to matter to your reader.

Or another way - it's like braiding hair, according to Jennie. You can put something in and the reader holds onto it, and when you bring that thread back into the braid/story, it's very satisfying to the reader to see that character or point or thread again. When you don't re-weave a storyline or a character back in the reader wonders what happened and what they're missing. 

Moms who write - what we have is a more active imagination than the average person. Our job as a writer is to imagine other people’s worlds, make things go wrong, make bad things happen for our characters. You can’t be a good writer and sit down, do that imaginative work, and then shut it off in the rest of your life. Writing is emotional work, too—it’s not just intellectual work.
— Jennie Nash

Episode 50: Clint Edwards and #Expectations

NSFK. Let me repeat. NSFK. (Not Suitable for Kids!)

Buckle up, Buttercup, because this episode will take you all over the map when it comes to parenting and writing. Mel said it’s because we're "Grade A Bullshitters" and Clint said, "We gave the podcasting world a real gift with this one. You're welcome." We cover everything from children who narc on their parents, to dogs who pee like fountains, writing when you also have a full-time job, and... well, LIFE. Because sometimes you just have to sit back, look at things, and laugh...

In this episode:

Today we're wrapping up our June Father's Day series with Clint Edwards about parenting, writing, and all the glorious mess in between (figurative, mostly, but also literal. Kids are freakin' messy).

Clint is the author of the popular blog, I Have No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things (Parenting, Marriage, Madness), and I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband. He's been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and like, a dozen other awesome things that you can totally check out by going to his website, www.byclintedwards.com.

Clint gives us the skinny on balancing a full time job and great writing while ALSO being a husband and father. It's a lot, you guys, but we all understand because that's what we're all about here at MomWrites/DadWrites/ParentWrites. It's hard to prioritize your writing when you've got everything else on your plate, and it often involves getting creative when you're finding time for your work. (Yes, sometimes this means getting up really early or devoting your lunch breaks to writing instead of food, or handing your children the iPad and letting PBS Kids raise them for an hour. We're sorry/notsorry about that.)

We also talk about realistic expectations when it comes to making a living as a writer - it's a hard road, and you may never get to the point where the only job you have is putting out amazing work, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. For many of us, it's part therapy/part creative outlet, and it does us no favors to ignore or pack away that part of ourselves. Plus, it teaches our kids that we're actual human beings with dreams and ambitions and not just walking/talking/scolding snack vending machines.

It’s not really about money, it’s really about passion and interest in what you’re doing.
— Clint Edwards

 

Ain't that the truth.

Episode 49: Creative Obsession with Dan Blank

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In this episode:

This week, Abby sits down to have a conversation with writer dad Dan Blank about obsession. Dan dedicates his days to helping creatives, specifically writers, with all. the. things. And today he and Abby talk about what to do when obsession derails you from your creative work. They talk about how to harness that obsession, when to give yourself permission to take a break from your creative work, and how to get back on track if you do.

We talk about Dan's speciality - helping creatives get the most out of their time. Dan's Mastermind class welcomes creatives of all stripes - writers, photographers, artists, etc. Dan's class tackles issues we deal with on a regular basis, co-operatively - you get feedback not only from Dan, but all your Mastermind classmates. 

Obsession is a necessary component for writers. If you can't obsess about your book for the time it takes to get it done, it won't get done. Donald Miller of the Storybrand podcast states that the first quality you have to have in order to write a book is that you have to be able obsess about it for at least a year in order to see it through. A year! We know - it's a long time, but that's usually about how long it takes (if not longer) when you've got a full plate, as most of us do. 

I don’t believe in balance, I believe in obsessions.
— Dan Blank

 

In life, we've got so much on our plates - unless you're radically clear about what's important to you you're going to flake on everything, go a mile wide and an inch deep on everything. Radical clarity is knowing what you want to do, and why. Once you've got that lined up your motivations and plans can fall more easily into place. 

Obsession is a two-sided coin, though. What happens when you obsess about the wrong thing? How do you even know when you're obsessing about the wrong thing? 

Abby says that her real-life stuff was getting in the way of her book stuff - a cross country move has sort of taken over her life for the past six months. Writing and creativity was her solace, but she hit a rough spot for about two weeks where she couldn't think of anything else but getting the move arranged. Despite showing up for her writing every day, her brain was not on board with it. Why?

A lot of us have a challenge between short term and long term goals - reacting to crises, emergencies, need-to-deal-with-this stuff is very much in the short term. And these things happen to all of us - there are points in life where sabbaticals, breaks, whatever - are absolutely necessary. Remember to put in a boundary, though - give yourself a time limit. A day, a week, a month, whatever you need, but make sure you check in with your work. Take a look at it even for five minutes once in a while and say, "I see you, you're there, you're waiting for me when I come back." Instead of feeling bad about it, you're going to feel positive knowing that you're taking care of the things you need to, but that the work is waiting in anticipation for you to return to it. 

Sometimes it doesn't matter what words - just that words are flowing. When you feel uninspired, it might be garbage, but it might not! We surprise ourselves. Melanie often uses negative emotions to connect it to her work in just the right place, and sometimes we can use what we're feeling to get the words out. 

Dan compares this to showing up no matter what - this is your profession, your chosen passion. You'll lose the battle if you hem and haw on whether or not you have time for your work. Abby decided that even though everything else was up in the air with her move, she was going to show up every morning even if the words wouldn't come. Dan says that writing every day, even if you don't feel like it, averts the crisis of guilt that happens when you don't show up. Holding yourself accountable, and having others hold you accountable, is something you can use to give yourself the kick in the pants. Sometimes you have to create this for yourself via writers groups, critique partners, or certain individuals that you know can motivate you when you're stuck. 

Many thanks to Dan Blank for coming on the podcast again! 

Episode 48: Interview with Writer-Dad Jim Heskett

IN THIS EPISODE:

Happy Father's Day to all you writer-dads out there! In honor of, well, YOU, we bring you some interviews with our favorite writer-dads. Kicking it off is thriller writer Jim Heskett. Jim-- besides being pretty kick-butt himself-- has written a pretty kick-butt book chocked full of tips and motivation to help you put your butt in the chair and get the work done. No excuses.

Today he shares some of his tips with Abby and Mel. If Jim can balance a full-time non-writing job and a toddler and still get the writing done, so can you!

So listen up, all of you. Writer-moms and writer-dads alike!

 Jim is the author of over a dozen books including thrillers, the dystopian theories, short story collections, and very pertinent to our podcast: The Juggling Author: How to Write Four Books a Year While Family, Friends, and a Full-Time Job. Which is PERFECT for MomWrites listeners, especially Mel and Abby, who find themselves juggling all of these things AND cross country moves... and podcasts.

If you want to accomplish your writing goals you need to prioritize, organize, and cut all the fat.
— Jim Heskett

Identifying your most productive time of the day is essential to figuring out what works for you. If you're a morning person, jump right in after waking up. Some people are more productive in the afternoon or evening--try to reduce responsibilities around these periods to free up writing time. 

We also discuss the importance of connecting with your readers--if you expect people to buy things from you, it helps if they see you as a real live person who will respond and connect with their readership. Jim encourages his readers to write him with their thoughts about his work. What does he do when he gets negative feedback?

As rough as it is, people are entitled to their opinions—or, maybe they weren’t the intended audience.
— Jim Heskett

Most importantly, take the constructive criticism and leave tactless comments behind. 

Jim talks with us about writing with kids - sometimes, you have to learn to adapt. Sometimes it means writing in break rooms at work, writing using the Scrivener app, finding bits and pieces of the day to turn into writing time. It takes practice going from parent mode to writer mode and back again--learning how to focus quickly is a skill, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. 

If you like thrillers, make sure you check out Jim's Amazon page and also his website, where you voracious readers will love to see that he will send you THREE of his thrillers for FREE. 

So, happy Father's Day! Rock on all you writer-dads!