writer

31 Days: Say what you want to be

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

My dears, sometimes we feel fretful. For those whose drive to create is at the heart of them it’s something we have to do, somehow, it keeps us mentally sane, we are jittery and pacing if we don’t unlease these thoughts and connections that are zooming round our brains, if we don’t release the tender and exhilarated feelings pressing on our chests.

But we have normal jobs and duties and responsibilities. We have things that other people think we should be doing, indeed things we think we should probably do, housework is one shining example in my case.

I’ve written before about how taking part in the 50,000 word November nanowrimo writing challenge ensured that I was writing everyday but also that my family got on board to help me complete the challenge. For one month I could explain that I needed extra time, space and help to complete the full quota of words. It’s easier to ask people to rally round when it’s not an ongoing thing. If you have a family or a full time job it’s not possible to use every other spare minute to pour into writing or whatever creative endeavour you are pursuing. You usually have to work around things.

However, if you ask for time, a full day every so often to dedicate to it, a quiet hour when the kids aren’t to bother you, a weekend retreat that can be organised well in advance, friends and family are often happy to step up and help out to do something to support you. You can be flexible and ask them to be flexible. People like to be helpful when asked straight out for something specific, most of the time anyway!

But the first step is saying that you want to be a writer, or a photographer or an artist or whatever it is. It might be a hobby but now you want to take it more seriously. One of my most popular posts ever was: I’m not an aspiring writer. If you write, you are not aspiring, okay, you might not be a published author, you might aspire to be one of those but if you write and love it and make stories you are not just aspiring to write, you are. If you say what you are and what you want to be then over time people will come to see you and refer to you in those terms. Yes, you might feel more confident if you win a competition, or join a writing group or do a course. These are all ways that you will feel legitimized. But if you have a desire to create, let it be known and find ways of pursuing it. Don’t scuttle around in the background trying to fit it in without imposing on anyone else.

Some people play golf for the weekend, you create. And it doesn’t even matter if you are good right now, people learn to play golf, you can learn to write or paint or whatever it is because that’s who you are, now just let everyone else know about it.

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Mother writer interviews: Humanity and the imaginative hunger

Paul's Himalayan Musk flowering in my garden

And Breathe. I’ve been delighted at the interest in my series of Mother Writer interviews and how you have found them relevant and inspirational . The mothers featured are determined, hardworking, often having a wry sense of humour. They suffer guilt and it’s not always smooth. As a mum of four kids ten and under, with several writing projects on the go, I really wanted to hear from other mums as to how they coped with the juggling of their joint passions, their children and their writing careers. There are practical tips but what has stood out for me is the attitude of the mothers, their persistence, their readjustments to the reality of life’s pressures, their generosity towards not only their families but to others in the writing community when it would have been easy to be selfish, to make their writing more important than anything or anyone else. Success often is said to require singleminded determination but what I admire is the interviewees ability to pursue their writing dream while also dedicating themselves to the welfare of their children, the difficult job of physically & psychologically preparing them for the world, the day to day caring and minding that revolutionizes the life of the child and the person they become into the future.

Which brings me on to my next interviewee Christine Mosler. This particular series of interviews was to run from March to May including today and my final interviewee for this series is to be mum of four, writer and blogger, Christine Mosler. However I elected to give her the day off and to wait until she returns from an amazing trip to Mozambique with Save the Children. As Christine explains here this trip takes her out of her comfort zone but is something that is profoundly important to her to raise awareness about the lack of vaccinations available to the children there. It is bound to be an amazing but very emotional trip and it will be fascinating to hear from her when she returns. In the meantime her wonderful blog about and for families is nominated for a MAD blog award which she richly deserves, so if you care to browse her blog and vote for it in the awards that would be wonderful.

The series of twelve interviews has been wonderful and I have been asked to crosspost them on the Irish national writing resource website Writing.ie where I have a guest blog. So if you missed any of the interviews you can catch up with them there or else here.

I will continue to run interviews on the blog but not every week as I am focussing on finishing the first draft of my next novel The Feeling of Being (about motherhood, identity and memory). There is also a family wedding coming up which I am looking forward to tremendously.

Future interviews will be from a variety of people, not only mothers (I know some writer fathers wanted to be represented!) and on a variety of topics. Since they will be more intermittent you may want to sign up to the blog to receive notification (only if you want!) .

So time to pause and breathe and refocus. Time to be present with family, with the writing, with the causes that are important, to sit in the sunshine for moments and realise that we are pointed the right way, that a calling to be a writer is a wonderful thing.

I was listening earlier to an old interview with well known Irish writer Brian McMahon at the Listowel Writer’s Festival many years ago. He talked about the ‘obsession of being a writer’. He said that there are three hungers ‘the spiritual,  physical and imaginative hunger’. These three hungers combine at a wedding he suggests, which makes the ceremony and occasion powerful (I will soon bear witness to this!). The writer has that imaginative hunger, this desire to create. As Brian McMahon said, the writer possesses ‘a wonder in the face of humanity’. As I listened to Brian McMahon, I felt at home, as if I had found my place. He says we need to keep striving to ‘perfect ourselves as the instrument’ of this telling about humanity. It is something once we know we have to do, that we cannot give up on. What the mother writer interviews show us is how to preserve and develop our own humanity and to dwell in the thick of it alongside our writing ambition.

Mother writer interview: Rebecca Emin

Rebecca and Family

REBECCA EMIN lives in Oxfordshire, England, with her husband and three small children. Her first novel for 8-12 year olds will be published later this year, and she is currently working on her second novel. Rebecca enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories and is an author for Ether Books.

Tell me about your family Rebecca

I have a daughter who is 8 and sons aged 6 and 3. I also have a 15 year old step daughter. She lives with her mum but I have known her since she was 2, so she feels like part of our family.

When did you start writing and what do you write?

I always wrote stories for fun, and dreadful teenage angst poems, but decided to try and write a novel in 2009, and that is when writing became something more serious for me. Since then I have developed an interest in writing flash fiction and short stories.

I am pretty sure that I will never go back to poetry!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

As I had my children before trying to develop my writing career, writing hasn’t had a sudden impact on an established career for me. As my children are getting older, I am very slowly finding my writing easier to fit in with our routines. The thing I find really difficult is the school holidays as I try and tell myself to put the writing on hold but sometimes my characters are not that obliging so I feel I have to write. This is hard as I find interruptions quite difficult to deal with when I am engrossed in a story.

The positive that has come from having children is that they can read my work when I write children’s stories. It is wonderful to see them reading something and then smile and say they love it.

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

If I am organized, I take my laptop with me on the school run and go straight to my favourite writing spot which is a café right near my son’s pre-school. They do have WiFi there but I have deliberately not asked for access, as I find being unable to use the internet means that I write a lot more, and also being away from my house, I can more easily ignore the chores that are all around me. I write enough to make me feel satisfied for the day and then go home to do my other tasks more cheerfully.

However, it’s being organized enough to take the laptop with me. It’s been a while… so I am often at my kitchen table instead, and I never get as many words written there.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus depending on your projects?

I readjust constantly. I tend to fit my writing into the time that my children are all occupied elsewhere, as I can’t immerse myself in my writing with constant interruption. As a result it varies day to day as my 3 year old is not at pre-school fulltime.

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

My 6 year old son is very excited about it, and always wants to read my children’s stories. My 8 year old gets a bit jealous, so I tend not to do much writing related activity when she is in the house.

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

GUILT. I feel guilty that I am not gloriously happy to “simply” be a mother and that I feel that I have to write to feel fulfilled. I feel guilty that the house is not cleaner and the laundry mountain has put down roots. But mostly I feel guilty when other people suggest that perhaps my time would be better of spent doing other things, ie that my family is “more important”. It is a difficult thing to balance.

You’ve made breakthroughs, such as your stories appearing in several anthologies, your popular short story publications through Ether books and finding a publisher for your children’s novel, why do you think these successes occured when they did?

All of my breakthroughs have happened very recently, which is very exciting and somewhat overwhelming at the same time. It’s wonderful to have stories published and my novel accepted for publication, but I can honestly say my proudest moments are when someone gets in touch with me to say they have read something of mine and enjoyed it. These are the highlights for me.

I can say without doubt that all of my writing successes have been helped along by social networking on Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogging. It is incredible how supportive and helpful people can be when they have similar interests, and I have made some great connections with people who have had a huge impact on me both as a writer and in general.

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 can only speak from my own experience, but in our house I find getting the balance difficult whereas my husband’s role is more defined. Because I am at home full time, it is naturally expected that I will do the majority of the tasks involved with running a family. The challenge for me is to fit the admin for our company and my writing into my child-free hours and still manage to keep the domestic side of things afloat. There never seem to be enough hours in the day!

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

Definitely the housework.

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

Try not to get too bogged down in worrying about the amount of time you don’t have, and instead use the time that is available wisely.

Also, accept every offer of help that you get!

Thanks for sharing your experiences here on Head above Water, Rebecca. Congratulations on your publication news so far and we wish you continued writing successes into the future!

More about Rebecca,

Here are anthologies in which her work has recently appeared, many of which are in aid of really worthwhile charities such as the UK National Autism Society and the Red Cross assistance for the people affected by floods in Pakistan.

Rebecca’s stories on Ether books (e-book stories for the Iphone and Ipod touch)

Read about Rebecca’s novel New Beginnings for children that will be published soon by Punked Books.

If you enjoyed this mother writer interview, read more here

Mother writer interview: Vanessa O’ Loughlin

Vanessa O’Loughlin lives near Dublin. She is the founder of writing.ie the new national Irish writing resource. Vanessa started writing fiction in 1999. In 2006 Vanessa established Inkwell Writers Workshops which provides writing workshops and critiquing services to authors. She is PRO and Newsletter editor for Irish Pen.

Vanessa has had several short stories published and won competitions with RTE TV, Poolbeg, RTE Radio and Mills and Boon. One of her short stories Every Second Counts was included in the best selling Mums the Word Anthology that featured 32 of Ireland’s top women writers. In 2010 she compiled The Big Book of Hope with Hazel Larkin and The Hope Foundation.

Vanessa is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown London, and writes crime as Sam Blake.

Tell us about your children Vanessa.

Sophie and Sam

Sophie is 10 years old, and an aspiring writer, Sam is 6 and full of beans!

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

In 1999, I had a full time job in Event Management but no children. My husband went sailing across the Atlantic for 8 weeks. So at that point I had a lot of free time and an idea burning so I started to write. I established a writing routine right at the very beginning, writing every day. In fact when the bug bit, I really couldn’t stop!

Later, founding Inkwell Writers grew out of my need to learn more and improve my own writing – and writing.ie has grown out of Inkwell. The only problem now is fitting the writing in!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

The children are brilliant, they definitely don’t get as much attention as they deserve because I’m juggling everything, but they’ve grown up with it, so it’s the norm for them (that’s me trying to persuade myself). At this second, the 6 year old is shouting in one ear that he wants to go to the park, and the 10yo is in the other ear looking for a stapler. It’s Easter and even on a Sunday morning I’m trying to get everything done, so we can all go out in the afternoon!

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

It’s all about scheduling and getting the most out of my time. I work when they are in school, and in the evenings (and at weekends). If my husband can do the school run in the morning I gain an hour a day which is always fabulous! I don’t have time to read the paper or watch much TV (usually have my laptop on my knee), but I do LOVE twitter.

My current goal is to write for 30 mins every morning BEFORE I do anything. If I open my email or twitter first I’m lost.

My most used phrase, is ‘I’ll be right there, give me two minutes’

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 I have to react with the circumstances, a lot of what I do is online and I try to keep my mornings clear to work or write but recently with the development of writing.ie. I’ve been having a lot of meetings that eat into my non-child time and mean I have to make that time up somewhere else. Every day is different!

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

The 6 year old does get very fed up when I’m on the computer and can be very disruptive. He also yells when I’m on the phone! I can only really write when they aren’t around as I get constantly interrupted.

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

I don’t get any me time, or nearly enough writing time at the moment, but that should settle down when I get some routines in place with writing.ie.

You’ve made a full-time career out of your own writing and also out of helping others move towards publication. How did you do it?

I believe that you create your own opportunities by being open to ideas and thinking laterally. I am someone who will always push an opportunity as far as I can go with it rather than accept defeat early on. I’m a positive thinker and don’t give up easily! I think you have to create your own momentum, and open as many options as possible.

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 have a much greater challenge because generally the child rearing bit falls to them – even if they are getting loads of help from their partners they are still the Managing Director of that end of the operation. If they have a career and are writing too, they have to do a lot of juggling. Fortunately God gave us the ability to multi task and manage our time well, although I’m not sure multi tasking is the ideal scenario (my burnt sausages are testimony to that). Mentally women have a huge amount on their plate running a household and a family as well as other activities.

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

Sleep!

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

Go for it! Writing is one of the most wonderful things in the world, it releases you mentally from the here and now and uses a whole area of your brain that doesn’t deal with housework or schoolruns, an area that’s available for exercise and needs it! The key is that you have to write because you love writing, not because you want to make money from it (which you probably won’t).

Having said that, today with changes in the publishing industry as a whole, writers have chances of publication that they never had before – through ePublishing, print on demand and the many online publications seeking work. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

Thanks to Vanessa for filling us in on her busy and diverse writing career. Her positive attitude is inspirational!

More on Vanessa and her projects:

Writing.ie is a new, comprehensive national writing resource with advice, interviews, competitions and forums for writers.

Inkwell provide critiquing, editing and manuscript assessment services and a free newsletter. They also run one day intensive fiction writers workshops facilitated by best selling authors and have directly assisted over 50 authors to get published.

Vanessa has just brought out a brilliant e-book of writing tips from her workshops called Writing to Get Published: Bringing the Dream Alive

Available through Smashwords

Kindle.com ebook

Kindle.co.uk ebook

Or as an iPhone/iPad app published by Collca (their first non history app)
Blood Red Ink is Vanessa’s crime writing blog under the pen name Sam Blake.
If you enjoyed reading this there are more mother writer interviews here

Confessions of a guilty writing mum

  • I let my children sit in front of the telly during the holidays for great swathes of time (never did me any harm – in fact it taught me about narrative, character, humour). They concentrate on educational programmes like Horrible Histories (surrealism, history) and Greatest TV blunders (media awareness) and Come Dine with Me (wishful thinking about dinner/cookery skills).
  • I tidy up by shoving everything into cupboards and closing the door very firmly by leaning on it. The estate agent who sold our last house told me a funny anecdote about everything falling out of a cupboard when the prospective buyers were taking a look. I wonder why he chose that story for me?
  • In times of crisis my children look for me, not in the kitchen, but in the study.
  • I’ve forgotton the names of my children (joke!).
  • I do all the housework for the day in one hour, including making the dinner. Before my husband comes home I do a breakneck tidy of the kitchen in 5 mins so that it won’t look so bad when he arrives.
  • My two year old makes his own Weetabix (awwwww).
  • I burn some part of the dinner or lunch on 50% of occasions but I always get my twitter friends to remind me when I’m grilling peppers.
  • My oven hasn’t been cleaned in 3 years.
  • In the holidays we have ‘clothes’ days rather than ‘pajama days’
  • I fool the younger children by giving them the ‘priviledge’ of hoovering or filling the washing machine
  • My children have forgotton my name (I wish).

What are your guilty secrets?

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