Since I’m a dog parent, I have few external interruptions to writing. All I have to do is give my babies treats and take them to the potty a few times a day. I wouldn’t have a clue about today’s topic, though I know a lot of writer friends who do. So thanks to Julie Perkins for writing today’s post!
Seven years ago, I worked as a high school English teacher. After the birth of my first son, I decided to take a break from teaching. I wanted to fully immerse myself in motherhood. And, truthfully, I was exhausted and thought parenting a newborn would be so much easier than teaching 150 teenagers to think critically about great literature. In my mind, I went so far as to imagine myself sitting around reading books all day while my infant cooed lovingly from his bouncy chair.
Clearly, I was delusional.
I learned a lot within the first year of becoming a mother—like how to change a diaper, how to stay awake at 3 am while nursing (watch the Olymipcs!), how to eat an entire meal in 30 seconds while holding a baby.
But I also learned two fundamental realities about myself:
1) In order to stay sane, I needed something to do besides taking care of my son and our household.
2) That something needed to be creative, challenging, and able to be done from home.
So I decided to write a novel.
Then I discovered that writing a novel is actually very similar to caring for a toddler. There are these moments of incredible bliss, when the words and ideas flow from your fingers and mind as if by magic, when your heart is inconceivably full of love and joy and brilliance. And then there’s the rest of the time. The novel begging for your attention 24/7, waking you up in the middle of the night, crawling toward the electrical socket bent on destruction when all you want it to do—just once—is come to you the first time you call.
Five years later—my newborn baby now 6 years old and his brother 4—I’m still writing. My novel is complete (although in need of more revision). I’ve written a number of poems and short stories, and had a few poems published in literary journals. In September of this year, my first freelance piece was published in Chicagoland Gardening. Currently, my primary writing focus is writing a blog for my farm, Perkins’ Good Earth Farm. Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1. Make Time To Write (Even if it’s Uncomfortable): I’m a morning person, so I’ve found the writing time that works best for me is before my kids get up. Do I like waking up to my alarm at 5:30 am? Not always (especially not after watching just-one-more-episode of Breaking Bad the night before). But the day-to-day pay-off of actually-written poems and stories and articles and blog posts is so worth it.
2. Keep Learning the Craft: I would love to apply to an MFA Creative Writing program, but at this point in my life, I can’t do that. Fortunately, I can do the following:
- Read books. A few of my favorites on writing are Stephen King’s On Writing, Anne Lamotte’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing, William Zinser’s On Writing Well, and Michelle Boisseau and Robert Wallace’s Writing Poems. And I can read these books while my kids are playing or “reading” their own books next to me on the couch.
- Go to a writers’ conference. Last year I attended the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, where I participated in a full-day seminar on freelance writing. Before this conference, I had never even considered freelance. A year later, I published my first freelance article was published, and I have two more articles lined up for 2015, along with ideas for proposals for other publications.
3. Join a Critique Group: When I first started writing, I asked an editor friend of mine the best way to get my novel published. She suggested I join a critique group, so I did, which led to me a small, dedicated group of writers. (If you want to improve, however, do make sure the members of your group share the common goal of critique and not just sharing their pieces.) For stay-at-home parents, a critique group also provides much-needed adult interaction.
4. Keep Living Your Life: Along with taking care of my children, I also run a small vegetable farm. For some time, I resented farming—the time I spent planting garlic and harvesting spinach and doing the books was all time I wasn’t spending on writing. But now that my children are older and a little more independent, I’ve realized that all that time spent growing things has given me subject matter for freelance articles and my farm blog.
This quote from editor Victoria Mixon sums it up for me: “Never take [writing] too seriously. Just take it seriously enough. You have a life to live.”
Julie Oudman Perkins lives in DeMotte, IN, where she writes, farms and raises two young boys. She is a fellow and teaching consultant with the Indiana Writing Project. Her work has appeared in Connecticut River Review, Picayune, Lyrical Iowa , BlazeVOX, and Chicagoland Gardening. She blogs at www.perkinsgoodearthfarm.com.
Above image, At the Library by Jessamyn West, courtesy of Creative Commons