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.

Mother Writer Interviews: Claire King

Claire King’s first novel The Night Rainbow will be published by Bloomsbury in Spring 2013. She lives in France where she also works and runs a gîte. She has two daughters Amélie, 5 and Beatrix, 3. She is currently Fiction Editor for The View From Here literary magazine.

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

I’ve been writing for a long time, but really, the successful rhythm and the serious approach to writing only came alongside my children. When my youngest was two, that’s when I really got on a roll.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I went through a long hiatus when my first child was born. Having a baby, far from the support of our parents, took every last drop of time and then some. Of course writing had to go, goodness some days we barely managed to wash and eat. But in the long term, as a result of having the girls, my time management and the way I set priorities definitely improved. And eventually I was managing to fit more quality writing into my days than I had before.

I recently took up the role of Fiction Editor for The View From Here literary magazine. It seems crazy on top of the load I already have, but I see it as an investment in the future. The work that I do currently is interesting, challenging and has allowed me to live where I do, but it does take me away from my family. I would like to be here for my family more often and so am nudging my career in the direction of more literary pursuits!

How do you organise your writing time and space, do you have a routine or is it more ad hoc?

I have no routine. I work away from home on average one week per month and there is no pattern to the timing of this. I also run our two gîtes, including everything from the marketing and website to ironing the bed linen. This is heavily seasonal, but also happens on an ad hoc basis through the year. After family, the writing fits in with all this and the last thing on the pile is housework. The children always have clean clothes but they are often un-ironed and the cobwebs often mount up.

What is important to me is my writing space, or garret. When I sit down to write I physically move myself and my computer from the place I answer emails, do the tax returns and so on. I have a small square table by our roof terrace windows. I sit there, put on my headphones, shut out the world and write.

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 find it easiest to keep to a kind of rhythm, setting daily goals and setting time aside to achieve them. Breaks to that momentum are pretty disruptive and it can be hard to get going again, but I have to accept that they happen. If I have a sick child then it’s time to be Mummy and too bad for the writing. I don’t ever want my children to remember a time when I was too busy to cuddle them when they were feeling poorly.

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

My children seldom see the time I spend writing, they are usually asleep, or, now that they’re both old enough, at kindergarten. Also I write on the train when I’m going away to work. When my children and I are at home together I don’t try and write. It’s no good for my concentration and no good for them needing my attention and being constantly turned away. The only exceptions are when I have a deadline (real or self imposed) and my husband is able to take care of them. Then I’ll shut myself away and explain why it’s important.

I do talk to them about my writing, of course. My children understand why I need to write. They understand that it is one of the ways I work (there are many!) and they understand that they books we all love to read are created by people who sat down to write the stories so we could enjoy them.

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

For me the hardest thing is creating my own space and time. When I’m writing I absolutely must shut myself off. I can’t have conversations or interruptions. I need a clear hour at least, without interruptions. I’ve found ways to communicate that and insist upon it. And I’ve found ways to not feel guilty about putting fish fingers on the dinner table occasionally because I’ve written in the time I could have been making a lasagne.

You’ve made breakthroughs, most particularly finding your agent and your novel The Night Rainbow being taken on by Bloomsbury, at what stage of family life did they occur, why do you think they occurred when they did?

2010 was an amazing year for me, when I made breakthroughs with both my short fiction and my novel. I was a runner up in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2010, and shortlisted in both the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and the New Scientist flash fiction competition. I also won first prize in one of the monthly Writers’ Forum magazine competitions. The most amazing breakthrough came towards the end of the year though, when I had finished and submitted my novel and quickly found literary agent representation in the wonderful Annette Green. Annette worked fast, and by the end of the year I had met Bloomsbury and knew an offer was forthcoming. It all happened so fast in the end that sometimes I have to pinch myself to check that this is really happening. All this coincided with my youngest daughter starting kindergarten, which now frees up more time for me to get cracking on that next novel. I think the discipline that I learned during the years I had the children at home as well as writing and working is hugely beneficial to me now. I don’t waste my time, it’s far too precious, and these days I don’t have to write so late into the night, which I think my husband appreciates…

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

I think women are often more reticent to set time aside, more often putting themselves last. Since writing cannot often be justified as a means of making money (certainly initially) or of pleasing the family, then it can easily drop off the list. I think men in general find it easier to prioritise time for themselves, whether it’s reading a book, playing a computer game, having a drink with a friend, going to play squash, whatever. Women need to get smarter at doing that too – it’s good for us and ultimately good for our families when we create space and time for things that are important to us personally.

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

1) Be crystal clear on your priorities. Know what you need to make it work – how much time you need for family, friends, work etc and give yourself realistic achievable writing goals.

2) Have a plan for how you’re going to achieve your writing goals but be flexible and pragmatic when your plans get disruptive.

3) Tell your family and friends that you are writing and that it is important to you and not just a ‘hobby’. You need their support and to be taken seriously.

4) Get yourself some cheerleaders – network on twitter or on writing websites with people like yourself.

5) Don’t ever give up.

Thanks so much for sharing your amazing writing journey with us Claire and we really look forward to seeing The Night Rainbow coming out. Congratulations on your wonderful news!

If you want to read about Claire and browse her excellent writing articles and links to her short fiction you can find more at http://www.claire-king.com/

For more in the mother writer series see here.

Mother Writer Interview: Laura Wilkinson

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and as a child was a voracious reader. She has a BA in literature and worked as a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. Her first novel Bloodmining, the story of a young woman’s quest to uncover the truth about her origins to save her son’s life,  is to be published in autumn 2011 by Bridge House. She currently lives and works in Brighton.

Tell us about your children, Laura

I’ve two boys: Morgan, twelve, and Cameron, seven. They’re glorious redheads; I call them Ginger1 and Ginger2, and people comment on their extraordinary hair colour all the time, especially as both their parents are brunettes. You can imagine the comments!

When did your writing begin?

As a journalist, copywriter and editor for many years before the children came along, and then alongside them. Fiction came later, around five and a half years ago, once I was out of the totally sleepless nights period with my youngest. Both my boys were horrendous sleepers! My routine has always been fixed around the major needs of the kids and, so far, it seems to work for all of us.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Having the boys focused me. I’d harboured a desire to write fiction for years, but work and other stuff (like going out, partying, and other hedonistic activities) got in the way. As well as fear. After the children came along I became more aware, more centered, and the brevity and preciousness of life hit me, hard. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write I’d have let myself down, and the boys somehow. Now I use the little free time I have doing something that stretches me, challenges me, surprises me, and I find that really, really exciting.

How do you organise your writing time and space?

I work four days a week, so on these days I tend to write in the evening, once the boys are in bed. 9pm to 11ish, sometimes later, depending on how it’s going. I have been known to rise early, 5am, and write for a couple of hours before the rest of the house wakes up, though this is hard during the winter months. I don’t manage this every day, but I aim for three or four evenings/mornings a week.

On my ‘free’ day I write as much as I am able. On good days, I can write for two or three hours, take a short break, and then carry on for another two. Then it’s time to get the kids from school. Other times I find it much harder to get going, and then I might go for a walk, or pop out to see a friend, and then come back to the work. I cherish this day and I guard it ferociously. No visitors, no housework, no shopping. Writing.

I’m workman-like in my approach. I aim for 1,000 words each sitting. Of course, I don’t always manage this. Some days I might churn out a mere 400, but on others I might reach 3,000. It’s a productive week if I manage 5,000 words. My pattern is that I start slow (and yes, it can be extremely painful) and pick up momentum as I go on.

For first drafts I write on a laptop in bed, often in pyjamas, or slouchy clothes. A bed is a place for dreaming and passion. Perfect for first drafts. When I’m editing I’m at a desk on the landing, or at the dining table, in a straight backed chair, fully dressed, blusher and mascara on. Editing is business-like and often cruel. As you will have gathered I don’t have a room of my own; I would love a writing shed, or office. Twitter is my favourite new online habit and I have tweeted about this, demonstrating severe shed envy. I live in hope.

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?

The nature of children and family life requires a degree of flexibility, so, yes, I do readjust my focus periodically. The ease with which I achieve this depends on the stage I’m at with any given piece of work. Long haul projects like novels require momentum, especially when creating a first draft, and breaking the rhythm makes picking it up again difficult. I speak from experience here. Usually, editing comes with deadlines. Writing is a craft, and requires regular practice, so while we all have to adjust to life stuff that comes our way, my motto is to write as often as possible. That said, when the boys are sick, or need extra emotional input, it’s difficult to write and I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t during times like this.

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

My eldest is proud, I think. He will ask about the story I’m writing, often presenting some penetrating and challenging questions, and he’s pretty excited about my first novel coming out. My youngest hasn’t shown too much interest. He knows Mummy reads and writes ‘all the time’ (I bloody wish), and often picks up whatever I’m currently reading and flicks through the pages and asks if my books are as long. When I reply that they are, he sighs, shrugs and wanders off. I suspect he thinks I’m fibbing. Perhaps once my debut is out, he’ll believe me!

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

Practically, it’s time. There’s never enough of it. I wish my sleeping habits were like those of Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership she claimed to sleep for only three hours a night. Unfortunately, I need seven or eight to function. And there’s the need to make money. A private income would remove the need for paid work, and then I could spend everyday writing. Bliss.

Emotionally, I suffer Guilt, with a capital ‘g’. For not playing with the boys more, for daydreaming when we’re together, for not baking beautiful cakes, and so on. But most mothers I know, writers or not, feel guilty. On the plus side, my boys are very good at entertaining themselves. Having a dreamy, distracted mother has made them resourceful and independent.

You’ve had success with having Bloodmining accepted for publication, why do you think your breakthrough happened when it did?

The first short story I wrote won a (minor) competition and was published. My youngest was three. This gave me a misguided opinion of how hard it was going to be. Years later I realized just how lucky I’d been. I began my first novel when my youngest was four and my eldest nine. It took two years and several drafts to complete. Proper authors – people who had masters’ degrees in creative writing and even had books of their own published – were encouraging, and so I entered some debut novel competitions. While I was waiting for the results, a period of around eight months from entry to final announcement, I wrote a second novel.

To my surprise I was shortlisted in two novel competitions, one of which I went on to win. Back in November, when I received the call from Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry – we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Williams that won, not you,’ call. It never came and, slowly, I’ve come round to the idea that it’s going to happen.

The children were settled at school and content during this period. In September last year they both changed schools and it’s not been an easy time, emotionally, especially for my eldest who started senior school. During this period I completed another two drafts of my second novel, though I’ve not been as productive as I’d have liked. Things have settled down now so I’ve started a third novel, as well as getting a submission package together for novel #2 and working with my editor on BloodMining.

In all honesty, I have no idea why it happened when it did, and I guess you could say that it happened because I was persistent. A writer needs to be tenacious.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance?

I’d love to able to say that the pressure facing both sexes is equal but I can’t. It’s a fact that women still do more than their fair share of childcare and housekeeping. But we can’t blame it all on the fellas. We take on too much. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, many of us (I include myself here) are reluctant to let go of these responsibilities, to trust that men can do them as well as we can. It’s a rare relationship where the split is even. Perhaps gay women manage it. I’ll ask a friend about this.

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

Housework. I was never much cop at the domestic: cleaning, home decoration/making beautiful, cooking. But no one died of a grubby house or the odd take-out, did they?

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

Write. Forget ironing. Don’t give up the day job (at least until you’ve the three book deal with the six figure sum) , your kids won’t thank you if there’s no food on the table.

Thanks so much to Laura for telling us about her experience of being a writer mother. We wish her tremendous success with her new novel Bloodmining and look forward to it coming out in the Autumn. For more news on her novel and other projects visit Laura at her blog Sting in the Tale or follow Laura on Twitter. We’ll be sure to catch up with her again here when her novel is launched.

If you enjoyed this peek into the life of a writing mother, please check out the other interviews in the series.

Mother writer interviews: Sally Clements


Sally Clements

Sally Clements is a mystery and romance writer who lives in Celbridge, Kildare, Ireland. Her novel Catch me a Catch is published by Wild Rose Press. The novel is up for the Romantic Novelists Association’s, Joan Hessayon Award. Sally’s novel Bound to Love was also recently published by Salt publishing’s romance e-publishing imprint Embrace. Her children range in age between almost eighteen and ten. When not writing she is usually to be found driving Mum’s Taxi!

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

I always loved writing, and did it for my own pleasure and satisfaction until about four years ago, when I decided to be brave, really write, and show it to other people. Terrifying, but satisfying!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Well, my children were past the toddler stage by the time I started. Before then, I found it impossible to devote the time to it.

How do you organise your writing time and space, Sally, do you have a routine?

I have a desk, and an office. I retreat there every morning when the children are in school, and write until school pick-up time. If the children are busy doing homework etc, I usually manage to fit an hour or two in the afternoons between school runs!

Is it possible to maintain a balance between writing and family/home commitments on a daily basis?

I’ve claimed the mornings as writing time. I maybe shove in a load of washing before I start, but leave the housework to the afternoons, when I’m out of the office and buzzing around. If I didn’t, there’d be no time for writing at all. Half terms, school holidays etc are difficult!

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

They’re sort of resigned to it. I think now since I’ve been published, they realize that I’m not just avoiding them, but actually doing something.

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

I should do more housework. More cooking. And I always feel guilty that I’m not with the kids every hour. But I think it’s a good message to send your children, that you’re interested and involved with something apart from the family.

What have been your proudest achievements?

I think my proudest moment was when I first finished a novel in 30 days in national novel writing month. Up till then, I didn’t know that I could write 50,000 words, and the sense of achievement for me was really exhilarating. I also felt fabulous when I received a glowing email from Curtis Brown, saying they loved my writing. Unfortunately not enough to take me on, but it was a watershed moment for me, after a raft of polite refusals.

My first novel, Catch Me A Catch was sold to The Wild Rose Press last year, and came out in July. Seeing my cover and realizing that the dream was coming to life was great! This book is a contender for the Romantic Novelists Association’s Joan Hessayon Award, and I’ll be traveling to London in May for the prizegiving. I’m nervous, but so glad to be there, whatever the outcome!

Last week I received the first paperback with my name on the cover. Bound to Love was published on Valentine’s day by new e-publisher, Embrace Books.

How do you think you managed to create the momentum to make these breakthroughs?

I’m always learning. Constantly taking courses, and reading books on craft. I write all the time, and I think that this has built up a head of steam which keeps me going forward.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

I think men and women face it in equal measure.

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

I think I’ve realized that if you want it, you have to pursue it. You have to put in the time for your writing, and balance the feelings of guilt. My children and my family are the most important elements of my life. They always come first. But making time to write comes a very close second, because it gives me such joy to write and really fulfills me. It’s not so much about being published, as it is about writing a better book every time. And feeling pride in myself for doing that. Oops, I haven’t answered that question, have I? The thing that had to give is housework, and gardening. I need to do more – always need to do more!

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

However much time you can winkle do! There’s always an hour or two available and if you can earmark that as your time to write, do it. Also, it’s really useful to get together (I do it online) with like minded writers. You’ll spur each other on, share information, and challenge each other. I have a crit group called the Minxes of Romance, and together we all help each other. We have a blog: http://www.minxesofromance.blogspot.com

Thanks so much to Sally for sharing her writing endeavours and achievements with us and we wish her alll the best for the Joan Hessayon awards in May.

Further information and links to books.

You can find out more about Sally on her blog Love and Chocolate.

Sally’s Publications

Catch Me A Catch, an e-book available from Amazon.co.uk , Amazon.com or the The Wild Rose Press.

Bound to Love, e-book and paperback available from Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com and Salt Publishing and paperback to order in all good bookshops.

New Beginnings: a collection of 3 romantic short stories, available from Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com ,Smashwords, and all e-retailers.