We’re continuing a guest post series on the blog today called How She Does It (just like the book).If you’d like to submit, email me at modern mrs darcy at gmail dot com. I would especially like submissions from those in more traditional office-y jobs. Thank you!
Today’s post comes from Caroline Starr Rose. Join me in welcoming her to the blog!
In the hope of encouraging those of you now who are where I was then, I’d like to share with you my early years of motherhood, where though I was working I didn’t keep regular hours, received no recognition, and was never paid.
I was a children’s author in the making, writing manuscripts in stolen moments, gathering hundreds of rejection letters, and dreaming, always dreaming, of a chance to break in.
Here are five things that helped me find my way and others I wish I’d known earlier:
1. Aim for a reasonable amount of work and count any extra as lagniappe.
With little ones at home I aimed for three writing sessions a week. On magical days, a session might last for an hour or two. On others it might be cut short after ten minutes.
For years I hired a babysitter for two hours a week, just enough time to set up camp in a coffee shop and write feverishly for a solid hour and a half. While I didn’t always reach my weekly goal, it was doable enough that I was encouraged to try again. And on those special days when I got in bonus writing time, it was icing on the cake.
2. Find others in your tribe.
It took me six years of solitary writing before I looked for others trying to do what I was. In 2004 I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and felt like an honest-to-goodness writer for the first time. I can’t explain what meeting with fellow writers did for me, how being in their presence validated my small efforts and encouraged me to keep trying.
SCBWI has brought me critique groups; workshops and conferences where I’ve learned what editors are looking for; publications to keep me learning; and, most importantly, a group of like-minded colleagues working toward the same goal.
Not writing for children? Check out Romance Writers of America, American Christian Fiction Writers, Historical Novel Society, Mystery Writers of America, National Association of Memoir Writers, American Christian Writers, or Poetry Society of America.
3. Study your craft.
Every time I’d check out a basket of picture books for my boys, I’d enter titles and publishers in a journal, looking for patterns in the types of books each imprint released.
I re-read favorite novels and scanned the library shelves for books that were new to me. Sometimes I’d flip through the library’s review journals like Booklist or Horn Book or School Library Journal. (Now these publications are all online in some form.)
And always I would study fiction like a textbook, familiarizing myself with authors and genres and imprints, learning what I liked and what spoke most deeply to me.
I also read books on writing, things like:
- The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
- Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison
More recently I’ve learned from:
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein
- Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
- Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
- Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole
4. You are in training, and that can be hard for your family to understand.
Some writers take creative writing in college. Some even graduate with an MFA. But for many of us, the writing life is a self-taught course in trial and error, small victories and many setbacks. Growth and opportunity don’t arise overnight, and this can be bewildering for family members.
For years my husband watched me wait for the mail, only to be greeted by rejections. At one point he asked if this was really what I wanted for my life — to be told no again and again. What he didn’t understand and what I wasn’t able to fully convey was that I was in the apprentice stage.
Just as we don’t expect a student to master everything at once and find work immediately, the same is true with writing. Talk to your spouse about your dreams, the work you need to put in to learn, and the reality that it might take a long time before success comes your way. While you’re at it, decide what success will look like. Define it in ways that are both measurable and in your control.
5. Find satisfaction in the work, not in the end result.
This is a hard one. With all my being I wanted a book to make it into the world. Remember the Emily Dickinson poem that begins Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed / To comprehend a nectar / Requires sorest need ?
I understood it down to my bones. Each time I’d get a flicker of interest from an editor or agent, the pain at later being told no would increase tenfold. Sometimes I’d set the writing aside. But eventually I’d find myself curious again about my characters and their world. The work itself was satisfying and fed me in ways nothing else could.
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. As a girl she danced ballet, raced through books, composed poetry on an ancient typewriter, and put on magic shows in a homemade cape.
She’s taught both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. In her classroom she worked to instill in her students a passion for books, the freedom to experiment with words, and a curiosity about the past.
Caroline is the author of the historical verse novels, May B. (2014) and Blue Birds (2015), and the picture book, Over in the Wetlands (2015). She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and two sons.