So, I wasn’t expecting to make this into a three-part series, but it turns out there’s so much good info to include here that I couldn’t really edit anything out. These ladies have an uncanny ability to really dig deeply into what matters as women, moms, and creative professionals.
I think what makes writing so important is the heart message. It’s not so much a fantastic story line or great dialogue or colorful imagery. It’s not even really about your literary style or how large your vocabulary is (but these things help, of course). What makes a powerful story that people want to read is the heart message.
All three of these women understand that, because they are also MOMS. They get it! They know how valuable a story is, because they have to work hard at everything they do on a daily basis: wiping runny noses, soothing a crying toddler, and for the moms with older kids, having a difficult conversation or working out a problem.
In this section, we’ll talk about developing and modeling a solid work ethic through our jobs as mom-writers.
8. How does our work in writing teach our kids about creative work and developing a strong work ethic, especially if they are not interested specifically in writing, but in something else?
Writing is just the outward manifestation of passion — at least for writers. Other people are passionate about, say, gardening or programming robots or building the Death Star out of Legos. The thing you do doesn’t matter — it’s the fact that you follow your passion. Kids are so smart — they’re going to see if. You can’t fake passion!
9. How do we make that “mom guilt” work for our benefit? What is the flipside of this guilt? Tenacity?
Jennie:Ohh that’s a good question and a hard one! I’m not sure I have an answer! I guess it would be, for me, something to do with self-care. With self worth. With knowing that YOU matter, not just for being a mom but for being YOU.
Jeannie: I would add that mom guilt seems to pertain largely to how society and others perceive our roles to be. We somehow adopt those sets of beliefs and internalize them. (Sorry, it’s the counselor in me emerging.) Guilt can be beneficial when we channel it into something we deem meaningful, worthwhile.
If we view writing as a luxury or an avocation, we might very well never get past that feeling of I-should-be-doing-something-else. BUT if we start looking at our work as a vocation, work that has the potential to do great things in the world, then we can more easily shift from a place of sulking and sighing while trying to “find time” to write to a place that is empowering.
Guilt can fuel our creative energy, because it’s an indicator that we need to pay attention to what’s going on inside of our heads and hearts. Negative energy can transform into positive energy when we simply reframe what we do. Writing isn’t an “extra,” it’s a gift that the world needs – even if the world doesn’t know it needs what we have to share…yet.
10. How does one know when she’s made it as a writer? What does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
This is something I ask all my clients to define — what success looks like for them — because it’s different for everyone. It could be self publishing a book and giving it to all your friends for Christmas. It could be earning money — any amount of money. It could be making the New York Times Bestseller list and nothing less will do. I find that for a surprising number of writers who come to me seeking help, it’s simply “actually DO it.” They are tired of talking about writing a book and want to actually write it.
11. What advice would you give to veteran writers who are ready for that “next step?” I think there are two audiences you speak to – the novice and the veteran. The novice who’s never had a book published and is at the beginning of the journey may need different advice than the one who has been published (like myself) but feel restless about the tug to go bigger, do more, face the next challenge, overcome the potential obstacles facing them for bigger dreams, etc. Can you speak to that?
My advice to a veteran writer who wants to go big would be about the self-worth thing I mentioned above. It would be along the lines of, “Why NOT go big???!!!” (I mean actually — what IS holding you back and how can you get over that or around it or go through it?) And then I would help that write dig HARD into the market, and the competition, and what is selling, and what they can bring to the table. I would probably help them analyze the way they are connecting with readers. It would be all about competition and strategy and goal setting and project management. It’s stepping in your light and your power as an author-entrepreneur.
12. Abby and Mel, what have you learned by beginning this process of writing? How did you first realize that your dream should become a reality?
Mel: The things I’ve learned during this process are almost too numerous to list. While I felt I had the technical details of writing down, and I enjoyed my own process, being edited and having a book coach is an entirely new experience. I’d spent four years working on my book (off and on, fitting it in around the other things in my life) and I felt very stuck but couldn’t articulate why. Learning so much about how to form the background of my story and why I was writing it helped answer that nagging feeling. I now understand why I couldn’t fit the pieces together – I had my characters, and my scenes, and the general plot, but I’m just now starting to make it flow, to write the characters in a way that speaks to me as a the writer and hopefully (and more importantly) the reader. It has forced me to take an honest look at my work. While it’s taken courage on my part in trusting a process I wasn’t familiar with, I’m finding solutions where I didn’t think there were any. Working with Jennie on this (whom I feel really cares about my story and my need to tell it) has been one of the most rewarding parts of writing (and sometimes rewriting!) my novel.
Abby: I’ve learned that to make this dream a reality, I really needed to accept help. And to do that I had to shelf my ego. Not that I had an inflated ego to begin with – dear me, no! But the first step to accepting help is knowing that you need it. That’s where I had to push aside my ego. As a mom, I’m used to being the go-to in the family. Mom knows everything, right? We’ve all had the kids walk past Dad to ask Mom for something. That “I got this” just naturally spilled over into my writing.
So I have to say that the day Jennie critiqued my first pages was the day I realized this dream was happening, people! Boy, did I need help! I had hoped Jennie would read my pages and tell me I was headed in the right direction. Nope. Jennie read my pages and apparently I didn’t even own a map, yet! She identified a laundry list of things I was doing wrong. But here’s the weird thing- knowing that made me feel better. Knowing exactly where I stood, knowing exactly what she thought I needed to work on gave me direction. For the first time since I started this journey I knew without a doubt the concrete things I needed to make happen if I was ever going to finish my book.
13. What are all three of your thoughts about those who have an aspiration to become a writer but have no real drive to pursue the grueling aspects of it versus the writer who has a “calling,” so to speak? When I say “calling,” I mean the type of writer you all discuss in the podcast – the one who just can’t let go of the nagging, gnawing feeling that she MUST write; the one who is just bursting for the chance to put her creative thoughts onto paper, etc.
Abby: I’m not sure those writers really exist, the ones who have an aspiration to write but no real drive to pursue it. At least I haven’t met any. It seems to me that the drive, the calling, the grit- those things are all inherent to the process of writing. I’m pretty sure they are in the writer’s job description! If you can walk away from it, not do it, you’re probably not a writer.
Although I think that some of us don’t feel as if we’ve earned the title Writer just yet. That’s how I felt for a long time. Years, really. Because when you tell people you are a writer they want to know what you’ve written. For a lot of people, like Melanie and I, the answer to that is tricky. We’ve written a LOT! And we’ve ditched a lot. And we’re still working on that first book. And it’s been years!
But that’s the important thing. We are working on it. THAT makes us a writer. In writing it’s the act, not the final product. That’s something other writers understand, but non-writers don’t. Unless, that is, they’ve witnessed a writer in the long, drawn out act of creation.
Mel: I agree, I have never known a writer who had an aspiration to write but no real drive – once you get involved, there’s no turning back (believe me, I’ve tried!). I did at one time think I could “dabble” in it, but I had no real understanding of the work it would take to finish draft upon draft of something. I think once you realize that, it takes on a “profession” or “lifestyle” aspect. Writers write. It’s not all they do, not by a long shot, but they’re always writing – in notebooks, on laptops, on scraps of paper they find in the car, or in their head – the work demands to be done. The feeling I get when I am writing and I’m able to work out something I was stuck on, or I pen a really great section of dialogue, or I’m able to piece something together perfectly – that is why I keep coming back. That, and being able to look over something you wrote and know how much work went into it, whether it’s draft 12 or draft 22, and you’re proud of it, and it’s something you’re ready for readers to share in.
About the Authors
Abby Mathews is a new writer working on her first novel, a middle grades fantasy novel about losing yourself in books and finding your story mis-shelved. She has two young daughters, from whom she shamelessly steals story ideas. She also has a very supportive husband who encourages her to do crazy things like start a podcast. They live in a small town in New England with their 2 giant dogs, 12 chickens, and a hedgehog.Visit her at www.abbymathews.org
Jennie Nash is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator, a book coaching system that helps writers stop spinning their wheels and finally finish their books. Her own coaching clients regularly land top New York agents, national self publishing awards, and book deals with houses such as Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Hazeldon and Ten Speed. Jennie is herself the author of four novels, three memoirs, and one self-help book for writers, and has taught for twelve years at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. She is the mother of two girls who are off in the world living their best lives. Visit her at jennienash.com and authoraccelerator.com
Melanie Parish has been writing since she knew how to string two or three letters together, and is currently working on her first novel. She lives in the western U.S. with her two kids, husband, and very weedy (but flower-filled) yard.
Text (c) 2017 Jeannie Ewing, Jennie Nash, Abby Mathews, and Melanie, all rights reserved. Featured Image (c) Jennie Nash, used with permission. All head shots used with permission by the authors.