Writer Mother Interview: Anne Tyler Lord

Anne Tyler Lord lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband, ten-year old twins, four cats and one dog. She has been a stay-at-home mom for almost a decade and recently returned to work part-time as a child and family therapist. During her time at home, she launched a writing career. Anne is currently working on a novel based on events from her family’s history on Iowa farms. She also writes non-fiction about creativity, parenting and educating gifted children and speaks at conferences.

Anne writes a regular feature on her blog, The Writer’s Life, that discusses the wild and wacky life of being a writer and what inspires creativity. Coming this summer (2011), Anne will feature a series on her blog about sustaining energy and joy in the creative process for writers. And, she will be offering online coaching to those who want to put the fire back into their writing life.

How many children do you have Anne, and what age range?

Sean and Sophie

I have ten year-old twins, Sophie and Sean. Sophie is an aspiring writer who loves Sci Fi and fantasy. And, Sean, is an aspiring graphic novel writer and illustrator who loves all things adventurous. My husband is our tech guy and lovingly supports our careers.

When did you start writing? Had you established a writing rhythm or career before or did it happen alongside the kids?

Although I wrote nonfiction and technical research in my career before kids, I began writing fiction when my twins were about two years old. Or, I should say, my desire to write fiction began at that time. I refer to it as my writer interruptus phase.

I remember reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She talked about how she wrote productively when she had an infant, and I marveled. I wished I could do that, but I was just beginning to write and find my voice. I didn’t feel like a writer, but every phase in a writer’s life is important, even the difficult times. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Today, I am continually adjusting my writing times and projects as our lives change. I am learning to be more flexible with the ebb and flow of our lives.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I had children later in life (age 35), and I decided to stay home. Although I was physically exhausted much of the time, my mind had new freedoms. In a strange way, my overwhelming life of caring for children also supplied me with the energy and passion to start writing.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

I definitely adjust over a longer time-span. I prefer (and only feel capable of) focusing on three to four big things at once. I have chronic pain conditions and recently went back to work part-time in my career. I had to slow down in other parts of my life. This meant less blogging and online time to have enough writing and family time during the transition.

I always have plans in the near future to be able to use my super powers to multitask. I have just misplaced my magic wand. Taking it day by day has been the best plan for me.

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

There have been moments when my children felt I was on the computer too much. It can be hard to quit writing when the muse is animated. But, I have been sensitive to their needs and moved most of my writing time to mornings, school time and weekends.

At times, I involve my kids in the writing process. They have helped with research when a project interests them, and they follow the adventures of some of my characters and give feedback. They joined me for NaNoWriMo this past year and it was exciting to see their love of writing grow.

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother, your writing and your job?

There are too many voices in my head competing for attention. The voices that start sentences with, “You should…” are the most annoying. I often have to remind myself to back away from the monkey mind and relax. This allows my character’s voices to come through more clearly.

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

Housework and cooking. I manage my fair share (sort of), but luckily my husband cooks and does housework. Maybe he will find my magic wand next time he cleans up.

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career?

As mothers, we care for our children, home, career, and a bazillion other things. Often we put ourselves last, and hunting for time in our schedules to write is a never-ending task. But I have learned a secret that seems counter-intuitive. In addition to the managing my schedule, I give even more attention to filling my personal fuel tank of life happiness and joy.

States of mind such as guilt, procrastination, burn-out and even constantly being stuck in the mode of Mama Task Master can arise out of the feeling of lack, when something is missing in our lives. It is easy to assume that finding more writing time will solve the problem. However, it may not be our busy schedules, but rather emotions that are overwhelming us. These negative feelings take a lot of energy to maintain. Often, this experience is what can derail our writing life and cause blocks.

The solution is to fill our fuel tank with activities and events that are rewarding and embrace every moment of fun (don’t think about other tasks, or that you should be writing). We all strive to work hard, but don’t forget to play hard, too.

Your children will show you how: Get messy, laugh, dance to music, go places, get lost, play with you kids and smile at their beauty, curiosity and goofiness. One activity I do with my children that has spanned over several years is a regular story time when we create characters and stories. This has lead to many art projects and plays.

Your personal fuel tank of happiness and joy is the same place where creativity springs forth. When your tank is full, writing time appears and is much more productive and creative. Fully engaging in creativity and fun with my family has been the best cure for my guilt and episodes of writer’s block, and has been a source of great joy and inspiration in my writer’s life.

Thanks so much Anne for that wonderful interview and all the best with finishing your novel which sounds really interesting.  I met Anne through twitter and I must say that as a person and also through her wonderful writers_life site both I and many other writers have found her to be a very inspirational and encouraging woman with an energetic and happy personality.

You can follow Anne on twitter @AnneTylerLord or her excellent @writers_life twitter handle and #writerslife twitter stream or her website which focuses on writers health and happiness as well as showcasing some of Anne’s writing.