Guest Post: Bethany Hegedus on Writer Mama Survival Guide

By Bethany Hegedus
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

There are craft books on writing and parenting books galore, but nothing on how to be a “Writer Mama.”

I’ve watched many friends make the transition, somehow blurry-eyed making it to the page in between breast feeding and diaper changes. 
I’ve witnessed my friends with kids in elementary school put in longer hours, taking their laptops with them to doctor appointments and school pick-ups. My friends with teens write with them at coffee shops, each one blissfully zoning out but still in each other’s company.

Still, I wondered—how exactly do we do this thing: write for a living or with a passion (passion earns us a living, I promise) and mother? 

My son is almost seven months old. I am not an expert and doubt I ever will be, but this is what I have cobbled together as my own Writer Mama Survival Guide.

1. Podcasts: In the first few months of life, babies spend six to eight hours a day feeding. Your hands and breasts may be busy but your mind needs stimulation. Find a podcast you love! (Bonus if it is about writing and creativity.) 

I loved the form so much, I began The Writing Barn’s Porchlight podcast.

2. Hunt for the Time: Friend and mentor, Kathi Appelt said when her kiddos were little she’d write in 15 minute increments. This is doable. 

Also, hunt for longer time. Hire a babysitter and go to a coffee shop. Breathe deep.

The clock is ticking—but even so the first torn moments away feel so heavy. Push through the worry and guilt and do the work you love. Craft one sentence then another. 

You will start to feel yourself returning and that is both good for you and your little one.

3. Enlist Help: My husband and I made the tough decision about childcare, finding a home daycare we love. 

As we are both freelancers, it was necessary. Do what you need to do for your family, your work, and your own peace of mind.

4. Circle of Creative Friends: As an older mama, I don’t have many friends with little ones—but I do have friends. 

Creative friends. Writer friends. Yes, we do talk about the baby, but we also still talk about books, deadlines, the industry, their work, my work, our mutual and separate struggles. 
Don’t isolate. Keep up your writer’s group if you can. If really brave, take a class. Or in my case, teach a class. The communion of other creatives feeds you. Bring that energy back to mothering.

5. Don’t Do It All: I have a full co-parent in my partner and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Nor would he. But no matter what the load is on your shoulders, don’t take it all on. I may have a cluttered living room for the next 15 or so years but I will have books on the shelves—or scattered across the floor—that this writing mama wrote.

Co-writer Arun Gandhi holding Taru

6. Look for Inspiration: I am a children’s writer. You don’t have to be a parent to be one. Now or ever—but if you are, use it. Seeing the world through my son’s eyes is changing my work, just as it has changed me.

7. Change Form: I am a novelist and picture book writer. I will continue to do both but since my son’s birth I’ve been crafting more creative nonfiction than working on novels.

I am finding pleasure in finding the through lines in the lives of my chosen subjects, as I give my guy his beginning.

8. Gold Stars: This one isn’t from me—as my son’s chores consist of drooling and pooping and making me laugh and surge with love—but it is from Printz-Honor author and mother of two, Ashley Perez.

Keeping a chart for her son, nightly he asks her, “Did you write your five pages, Mama?” And he watches her put a gold star next to her name.

9. Trial and Error: Anne Lamott has a saying I love: “Scooch, scooch, stall.” Trying is trying and tiring.

I prefer to take baby steps. And rest. Lots and lots of rest.

10. Be Real; Not Realistic: Just as there is societal pressure on women, there is societal pressure on mothers.

Know the pressure is out there—and in here. Feel it and then let it go. Talk about the joys and struggles both—with your partner, your friends, and even with the page. Be real. Your writing and mothering will be all the better for it.

There is no one-sized fits all for anything in life, being or becoming a writer mama included. Write your own list—you have your own wisdom to share, with yourself and others.

Additional resources and links:

Cynsations Notes


Bethany Hegedus, mom to now 19-month-old Taru, has sold three picture book biographies, since becoming pregnant. Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, illustrated by Erin McGuire (Balzer + Bray) releases in January 2018. She hopes one day to have enough brain power to write another novel.

She is also the owner and creative director of The Writing Barn, a writing retreat workshop and event space in Austin, Texas.

Her books include the award-winning Grandfather Gandhi (Atheneum, 2014) and Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story (Atheneum, 2016), both co-written with Arun Gandhi, grandson to the Mahatma, and illustrated by Evan Turk. Her pre-motherhood novels are Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010) and Between Us Baxters (West Side Books, 2009).

She is also a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and the former editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain.

Taru now

Guest Post & Critique Giveaway: Heather Demetrios on Becoming the Designated Typist

By Heather Demetrios
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations
 
For some people, starting a new novel is like that scene in “The Sound Of Music,” where Maria’s tra-la-la-ing on a mountaintop, arms spread out, spinning in delirious joy.

If you’re like me, though, that blank white page isn’t cause for bursting into song.

Bursting into tears, yes. The endless possibilities are overwhelming, so many possible plots and characters to choose from—and what about voice, structure, tense and…and…and…

In order to banish the insanity and keep your freak-outs at bay, it can be tempting to hurry up and create a nice, tidy plot that you can stick characters into, much like those Velcro and felt landscapes in preschool classrooms. That’s certainly a way to go about it. And it just might work for some people.

However, I suspect that the difference between a great novel and a good novel may lie in how much freedom we give our characters.

All the fancy plot twists in the world won’t mean a thing if your reader doesn’t care about your protagonist. The best way to get them to care is to create a character who inhabits her world in such a way that the experiences she has (i.e. plot) are true reflections of her inner journey and her nature. This is how you avoid the pitfalls of the contrived plot, the unearned ending, the story that just won’t sing. So how do we do this?

First, we need to listen to our characters. This is impossible when we’re yammering on about what we want their story to be. Doesn’t your character have a say in what happens in her life?

Heather Demetrios

While I believe it’s necessary to have some general idea of where you’re going with a story before you begin, the key is to be willing to throw that whole plot out the window if you have to.

Focus on your character, allowing the plot to come from her.

Put her in a situation—then see what she does.

Maybe you want her to kill someone but she shows an unexpected reluctance to go through with the deed. See how that reluctance plays out. Get to know your character so that you can get in her skin.

You can do this by:

  • creating playlists,
  • interviewing her,
  • daydreaming about her life,
  • journaling in her first-person POV about other characters and events in the story,
  • writing scenes from the POV of other characters so that you can secretly watch her and see what she does.

These are just a few ways you can get out of your head and into the heart of your story. Chances are, you’ll come up with unexpected ideas that are specific to your character and her story, not the regurgitated plot lines of other YA books.

Something else might happen, too. Something magical.

You might feel as if you aren’t writing the story anymore, as if you are simply a conduit. If you’ve ever started writing and it suddenly morphed in amazing, unexpected ways, my guess is that this was a moment in which you—conscious of it or not—handed over the reigns to your character becoming, as Anne Lamott says in Bird By Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life, “the designated typist.”

When we become the designated typist, we let go of our need to control our novel and create space for organic work that radiates the kind of honesty that draws readers in and makes them fall in love with the characters and plot of your story.

So put the outline away, take a breath, and see what happens.

The result may just make you break into song: the page is alive, with the sound of…

You get it.

Cynsational Notes

When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City.

Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real (Henry Holt, 2014).

Her other novels include Exquisite Captive (Balzer + Bray, 2014), the first in the Dark Caravan Cycle fantasy series, and I’ll Meet You There (Henry Holt, 2015). She is the founder of Live Your What, an organization dedicated to fostering passion in people of all ages and creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. Find her on Twitter @HDemetrios.

Writespace Writing Center 

Heather will be teaching up to six intermediate and advanced students during six sessions from March 11 to April 15 at Writespace in Houston. Note: Writers arrange their own most convenient classroom times and meetings with instructor. About the class:

Feb. 3, 2015 release date!

“Sometimes it feels like a story isn’t working. The voice might feel off, or the plot seems contrived. Perhaps scenes are reading dull or your main character feels paper-thin. You might have a brand new idea that you can’t seem to get off the ground because every plot point you think of feels like a cliché.


“When a book isn’t working or a new project feels stunted, we’ve often lost sight of our work’s protagonist and secondary characters. Rather than listening to what our characters want and need, we have imposed a pre-conceived notion of what we think the book is supposed to be.


“Regardless of whether you tend to write from a plot or character standpoint, being able to tune into your characters in order to find the truth of your novel is a useful skill for any writer.


“In this six-week workshop, we’ll look at how to plot or revise your YA novel through exercises that will help you get out of your head and into the heart of your work. In addition to weekly writing exercises and submissions of your work for critique, we’ll consider new ways to access your character, such as through taking field trips with him or her, by creating music playlists, and other unique methods. Along the way, we’ll look at how this shift affects all elements of our work including voice, dialogue, structure, theme and—of course—plot.


“This course is designed for intermediate to advanced writers working in any genre within YA. If you’re looking for a challenging, dynamic workshop that will take your writing to the next level, this workshop is for you.


“Please be prepared to spend at least three hours a week on short reading assignments, your own writing, and online discussion. You will be asked to turn in two 10-page submissions of your novel for critique and to read two YA novels to enhance our discussion (if you’d like to get a head-start, please read the novels The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2011) and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Speak, 2011).


“Together, we’ll create a supportive community through reading one another’s work, discussing the assigned reading, and sharing insights garnered from our exercises. Expect lively discussions and lots of fun!”

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a five-to-ten page critique of your English-language young adult manuscript by Heather. Eligibility: international.

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