I had the honor and privilege of doing an online interview with book coach and author Jennie Nash, along with two incredible women who are pursuing their own writing careers, Abby and Melanie. We mainly discussed the difficulty of managing the “mom” self with the “writer” self, especially as our children are really young and need us for their physical needs.
Because the conversation was so enriching and fairly deep, I thought it best to divide it in half to make it more palatable as blog posts. I really hope to reach all of you mom-writers out there who are in a similar situation – wondering how you can possibly get what’s bursting in your heart and mind on paper while still raising a family!
The bottom line seems to be this: Don’t compromise integrity. Put your priorities in order and realize that 1) you will need help developing and honing the process of your writing, and 2) you have to let go of some things, such as a perfectly clean house or totally homemade meals. And this is not only okay but NECESSARY.
I formulated the questions based on two podcasts these women created about the topic of “mom-writer.” I’ll include those links on the final blog post that will be published on September 20th so that you can get the full picture of the conversation.
So let’s begin…
1. Jennie, you mentioned, “Wanting to write is a kind of a curse. The only way out is through.” Do you think writing is kind of a double-edged sword, ladies? I mean, it’s both a blessing and a curse. Some have even compared writing a book to the pregnancy and birthing metaphor (which I TOTALLY agree with). Explain more about your thoughts on this.
Wanting to write is totally a blessing. To be called to do something that results in a creation that is so meaningful to the creator and the audience alike is a win-win situation. I find that writers are almost always insightful, emotionally intelligent, well-read people, so I feel like that’s part of the blessing too: you have to be those wonderful things in the first place. Or maybe it’s that writing brings those things to light; I don’t know. But I do know that writing is a noble undertaking. I think it’s one of the most human things we do: write, read.
But it’s a curse, too, because it’s not like baking a cake or singing a song or running a mile, which are other good things that humans undertake. Writing a book takes a really, really long time to complete and to master, and most of that work is done in isolation. The ROI of money earned to time spent is really not very good, unless you end up being J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, and most of us don’t. You have to be patient and persistent and kind of crazy, really, to put yourself through it.
That’s why I say that the only way out is through. Because if you are called to write a book, it’s not a desire you can easily shake off. In fact, I think the urge to write often gets STRONGER with time. So you may as well acknowledge your desire and get to work!
As for the pregnancy analogy, I have heard this a lot, and while there are SOME things that are very similar (the long gestation, the power of creation, the fact that you have to let both a book and a baby go off into the world to make their own way), the fact is that you have a whole lot more control over a book than you do over a human life. If you look at it from a nature versus nurture perspective, a book is 100% nurture, whereas a baby is some mix of the two.
2. “There’s nothing more important than modeling for your kids what you’re called to do.” What did you mean by this, Jennie? How do we instill a sense of discerning a “calling” in our children?
Well, “show don’t tell” is the cardinal rule for writers, and I feel like as moms we’re always TELLING our kids what we want them to do, or what we want for them, or what we value, but it’s far more powerful to SHOW them by example. They’re always watching, after all, and listening and discerning. Both my children — who are 21 and 24 — are fantastic writers, and people assume that this is because I somehow taught them how to write. I didn’t.
My husband and I read to them endlessly before they could read themselves, which I think is key to — well, everything — but the most important thing, I think, is that my kids saw me day after day sitting down in a room by myself to write. They saw me giving time to the activity, and energy. They saw that it was a valid and acceptable and worthy way to spend time. And at the dinner table when we talked about our day, I would sometimes say things like, “I spent all day writing one sentence that didn’t work,” or “I wrote a scene today I really loved.” I showed them what writers do.
The end result is not just that they are great writers. It’s that they admire me for my work ethic. The experienced me as a person who put her mind to something hard and risky that’s not necessarily practical. They are proud of me, and I am proud of that. I may actually be more proud of that than any of the eight books I’ve written or the company I’ve started.
3. I have three daughters. My middle daughter was born with a rare disease called Apert syndrome, which is a craniofacial condition that affects the development of the skull, fingers, and toes. She’s had 6 surgeries and will undergo likely 15 or more in her life. I didn’t start really writing for publication until she was born and found myself switching between “writer Jeannie” and “mom Jeannie.” How do we retain a sense of self, our authentic identity while writing and raising a family of young children?
Jennie: It’s so hard! I mean, it’s the hardest thing! And to have, on top of it, a child with those kinds of needs — whew! I think you should answer this one, Jeanne! How DO you switch back and forth?
Jeannie: OK, I’ll answer as best as I can off the top of my head. To me, writing has been in my bones and blood since I first learned how to put words together to create beautiful sounds and mental images. It’s been decades of practice, so it’s rather intuitive for me now.
The struggle is when I am in the middle of “the flow,” and I’m kind of zoning in just flawlessly, effortlessly on describing a particular concept or scene, and my older two girls start fighting – or the middle daughter has a potty accident – or the baby is suddenly hungry and has a blow-out diaper. These are things that totally break my concentration.
To avoid that, I usually write uninterrupted when they go to bed or sometimes – I admit – in the middle of the night. I’m all about getting adequate sleep, but when the inspiration strikes (and I need quiet for it to coalesce into something coherent), I take it.
Having a child with special needs has ironically taught me to prioritize my time better. I have become much more efficient at spending my time wisely. I do still scroll Facebook or post on Instagram, but when I have 10 minutes of quiet (or, on the rare occasion, 30 or more during the day), I will sit down and write. Even if it’s gibberish. Even if it’s incomplete.
Children have a way of showing us what’s important. And it’s funny to realize that the busier one gets, the more productive s/he can become with their creative work. It’s about being intentional, I think. Creativity does happen by bursts of inspiration, but I usually jot down those inspired thoughts. I do this in the car (after pulling over), in doctor’s office waiting rooms (where we spend an inordinate amount of time), in the middle of the night by my bedside table, and in the kitchen while I’m cooking.
I keep paper and pen everywhere so that the idea is not totally lost and I can return to it when I have the time.
Actually, I think writers have to make time. We can always say we’re busy, but everyone uses that as an excuse. We make time for what is important to us, always.
Stay tuned for more of the conversation in the second post!
Text (c) Jeannie Ewing and Jennie Nash, 2017. Image (c) Jennie Nash, used with permission.