Tag Archives: writer

GUEST POST: How to be a Writer and a Stay-at-home Parent

mom pic (Katie)Congratulations! You are pregnant, or your partner is pregnant, or the long wait for adoption or fostering has finally come through and someday soon you, yes you, will have the dreamy, exhausting, and joyful job of being the stay-at-home parent to the new love of your life.

But… writing? Is this the death of writing? This modern life is full of depictions of parents who are 100% career go-getters or 100% nurturing mamas, but the middle ground? Does it even exist?

Well, here I am three years later with two kids and a daily writing practice. In the last three years I’ve gotten an agent (hi awesome Linda!), been nominated for a Nebula Award, published a bunch of short stories, polished two novel manuscripts, and written a third book. How does this wonder woman do it? Uh, well, poorly and with lots of missteps, but here’s some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Before the kid even comes, figure out what you are going to do badly. If you want to write and have kids, something has to give. Me? My house is tragically, annoyingly, and terribly messy. It bugs me constantly and makes me feel like a loser. When people come over I clean up a tiny bit but mostly they have to hang out in my dirty house and pretend it’s not gross. But whatevs, I’m writing books, baby.

2. Give up the idea that you have to write a certain way. Once upon a time when you were first learning to write you found out how to trick your brain into writing and now it feels like “This is How I Must Always Write.” But trust me, you can learn different ways. I used to have a solid four hour chunk to write where I would listen to spacey Pandora stations and sip perfect cups of Turkish coffee. Now I carry around a little notebook to jot words in, type one-handed, and outline so I can do micro-chunks here and there. I’m learning dictation software and will get wetware brain implants to write the books for me as soon as they are available. (Why yes, I am a scifi writer. How did you guess?)

3. Parenting always comes first. You have a chapter you are itching to write and your kid gets sick? You have a brilliant idea you have to write down or you will forget and your son is teetering toward some stairs? The kid comes first. Find your Zen with this and don’t beat yourself up about it.

4. That said, when you really need to write, wake up at 4 a.m., or stay up to 4 a.m., and zombie through your week with caffeine. Your friends and family will wax poetic about self-care and making poor life-decisions but you know what? You’ve got to feed your writer soul sometimes.

5. Pick your projects carefully. Some manuscripts have four interwoven plotlines, twelve protagonists, and is the first book in a five book epic fantasy saga. Other books are picture books. Choose wisely.

6. Realize our culture is ridiculous and dumb about always being productive all the time forever and ZOMG, I just lost five seconds reading this sentence. Life is long. Writing is a marathon not a sprint. Sometimes unproductive times (like the three weeks you just lost to a collicky baby) are the well that you can draw on for ideas and brilliance later on.

7. Do your first drafts suck way more than they used to? Mine too. Sleeplessness and the endless work of parenting does not make for a brilliant and focused mind. Repeat after me: I can revise. I will make this shiny. Anything done poorly can be hacked at until it’s pretty, or at least beautifully ugly.

8. Kids are little for only a moment. My wonderful grandma, who had three kids and then went on to become a prominent Swiss psychoanalyst, says you have to focus and love your little ones because when you are ninety-six, like her, you will look back and remember what a short, bright blip having babies and toddlers was. So don’t have your head so much in the clouds and the stories that you miss this wild and amazing piece of life. That said, I’m going to go play with mine.

Some caveats on the things that make my current life possible:

I have the ginormous financial privilege of getting to be a stay-at-home parent.

My babies are easy. Some fantastic babies and kids have temperament, disability, illness, etcetera that make them a lot more work.

I have a partner I get to co-parent with. Lots of folks go it alone and I have no idea how this is done, but I am in awe of them.

I also have supportive family in the town where I live.

I don’t have any physical or mental illnesses or disabilities (knock on wood).

Headshot KatieKatherine Sparrow is a young adult science fiction writer and mom. She is also a consumer of ice cream, an urban hiker, and a robot made out of steel and love. She’s working on a book about monsters and the kids who love them a little too much. Her website is: katherinesparrow.net

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Anatomy of a Full Manuscript Request

I’d like to share why I requested a full manuscript from someone whose query and first 20 pages I read. It kind of went like this…

imgresThe query was addressed to me correctly (i.e. Dear Ms. Epstein). I’m happy to be addressed informally, too, just as Linda. Either way is fine.

There were three short paragraphs telling me what the story was about. Actually it was only 9 sentences, which is great (although, to be honest, some of them were run-ons). The third paragraph was kind of snarky, which clued me in that I would probably hear some of that voice in the manuscript. And I like that.

The next paragraph gave me important info: TITLE OF THE MANUSCRIPT, word count, genre, and two comparisons. What I appreciated about the comparisons were that the author said her novel would appeal to readers who like the quirky sense of humor of a particular author and the strong girl characters of another author. She didn’t suggest that her manuscript was like theirs, that she was the next best selling author of these kind of books, or that her manuscript was even better than the ones she just mentioned.

imgres-1But she showed me that she’s thought about who might read her book. So I know she knows the market. Also, the two qualities she was talking about were things that I care about. So it seems to me that this author has done her homework to see what kind of stories I’m interested in. She didn’t spit back my words to me, like cutting and pasting from my agency’s website into her query.

Then she told me that she included the materials (i.e. the 20 pages) that I request in my submission guidelines; she thanked me for my time; and signed the email. So I’m already happy now, because she’s done almost everything correctly. She didn’t write anything about herself, and I do like to know something about the authors with whom I may potentially work. But it’s not a deal breaker for me that she left this out. So, I went ahead and read the first 20 pages, because not only had she written a good query, but it sounded interesting to me. It’s YA fantasy, with a twist on a usual fantasy plot. And it’s got feminist undertones (or at least non-sexist ones), and I really like that, too.

urlThe 20 pages zipped by. I saw a couple of problems, but nothing that’s not fixable. And when I got to the end of the first 20 I was left with the best question: What happens next?! So I requested the full. And I asked the author to include a short bio when she sends the full.

And that’s what it looked like when I requested a full manuscript this week!

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An Agent’s Lament: My Interrogative Pronoun Rant

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1. Who is going to be the lucky editor who makes me my next offer? Who will win that particular prize? Because I’ve got some really kick ass manuscripts out on submission right now, and someone’s going to be snatching them up. Who is it going to be? Who are you?!

2. What is the deal with “New Adult” literature? I mean, is it just YA with more graphic sex? What do we really need another category of books for? Are bookstores going to make another section for it? What for? WTF?

3. Where are the writers who are writing the manuscripts that I wish were coming into my inbox? Where should I look? Writer’s conferences? Contests? Twitter? Yoo hoo! Where are you?

4. When will I ever have time to just sit and read a book for pleasure? Like, not because I’m staying current with the market or because it’s new and I need to keep my finger on the pulse? When will I ever have time to read something that was published a long time ago, just because I never read it, or want to re-read it? When will that happen?

5. Why do some editors never answer their phone? I mean, whenever I call I get voicemail. First thing in the morning. Lunch time. Mid afternoon. Right before 5. Even after 5. I know editors are busy. I mean, I really do know that. But there are some editors who never, ever answer their fricken’ phone. Why is that?

6. How am I really supposed to reject queries so people don’t lose hope and/or think I’m just another idiot agent sending a form rejection? I mean, honestly, I can’t give feedback on every rejection. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to do my job. How could I possibly do that? How can folks expect it?

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