Raising babies and writing novels.

Raising babies and writing novels.

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.

coffee shop

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 AmericaAmerican Christian Fiction WritersHistorical Novel SocietyMystery Writers of AmericaNational Association of Memoir WritersAmerican 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:

More recently I’ve learned from:

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.

Photo Credit: mrjoro (mailbox) and Linh H. Nguyen (latte mug)

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  1. Amy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I am pinning it to re-read and to check out the resources listed later. I am in this same situation… I am raising babies, and I am writing my second novel. Some days I am discouraged. Some days I am energized. I never, never write as much in a week as I want to write. I am limited by my circumstances, but I am determined. This post was exactly what I needed. Thank you!!!

    • Amy, I’m so happy to hear this! Keep doing what you are. There is purpose, meaning, and satisfaction there.

      Remember, too, those “folding laundry moments” can be some of the best times for stories to percolate. I’m on deadline right now and am walking the dog. A lot. It’s a great time to get away from the book and let my mind refresh and wander.

  2. So I’m raising babies and writing novels and non-fiction books too, and I appreciate this post, but I’d also like to point out that there can be a different approach to writing as a career too. If you want to make a living at it, I’ve found it only works for me if I treat it as a job, and devote adequate time to it. Just as it would be hard to build a career as, say, a teacher without adequate childcare, it’s pretty hard to do as a writer as well. Sometimes I get a bit frustrated because people tell me they’d like to do what I do, and can I say how to do it in 2 hours of babysitting or while the baby naps? I agree that it is an awesome life to get paid to write about my ideas, but I do it like most other people do their jobs: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., M-F. for the most part, with flexibility, but not infinite amounts.

  3. SoCalLynn says:

    I am not a writer, so I hope you’ll forgive me for chiming in in an area I know little about. I’m currently reading A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle and while it isn’t just about her writing, she does talk a lot about her process and writing while trying to raise 4 children, running a business with her husband, and supporting his career . She talks a lot about how long it took to be published, especially all the rejection she got before A Wrinkle in Time was finally picked up, and how each time she wrote something she knew wasn’t good and that ended up in the wastebasket, it was training for the better thing she was going to write. I just wanted to suggest this book as another resource.

    • How lovely! Thank you. Just read L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art earlier this year. Must read this, too.

      As for training / practice books — my fourth novel and my sixth picture book were the ones to sell. So glad I didn’t know it would take almost 14 years to see my first book on the shelf. But I’m also so very grateful I kept going, fiercely believing each new book / agent / editor was the one.

  4. Tim says:

    On your fifth point, I agree that there should be satisfaction in the work. Yet if I find I enjoy something I’ve written then I also want other people to read it; it’s a way of enjoying something together, much like sharing freshly baked cookies.

    • Wanted to add to what I said yesterday, as I didn’t really adequately address your comment!

      So back to this very sterile / non-lovely picture of art as a transaction. Before I was published, I ached and ached for that final step of connection. All I could do was write my best and consistently submit to agents and editors. The connection was out of my hands. I found myself getting anxious, bitter, envious, all that lovely stuff. Even though I continued to feel the artistic process was incomplete without that final step, I had to make peace with how I was going to feel about my work and how it was (or wasn’t) received.

      Honestly, it’s still that way. There’s no promise while I write now will get anywhere. So I often have to lay that part of things aside and just write for myself. I am the one the work needs to connect with, ultimately. Oh yes, I want the “real” readers. Always, always. But the work is the satisfying thing, not the contract or recognition. It gets harder once people are looking in, anyway. I’ve had moments where I’ve been paralyzed worrying about how things would be received.

      So, yes! To wanting to share. I’m totally there with you. And always yes to cookies.

  5. Beth Anne says:

    Love this! I’m not at all an aspiring writer, but what you said about being in the apprentice stage resonated so much with me. I’m in the apprentice stage of creating a business. Each step, each failure, each act of working and practicing and learning gets me one step closer.

    As was said earlier, we each choose different paths. Some of us may choose full-time work while others choose to steal away moments here and there while home with their children. I’m currently in a moment-stealing phase, and I’m just loving it. When my progress comes more slowly I remind myself of all the sweet moments that my son and I shared that day. To each her own 🙂

    ~ Beth Anne

  6. I love love love this post! I’m a freelance editor who also happens to blog, and I find myself telling aspiring authors over and over again that no matter where they’re at in life, they can get published if they just keep writing and submitting. I love all my clients, but I’ve always had a soft spot for moms who make time to write while raising a family. (That goes double now that I have my own little one! She’s 5 weeks old today. I’ve never had more respect for moms!)

  7. Hannah says:

    I loved, really loved, this post. I’m right in the thick of this stage, though my children are middle schoolers. I homeschool and this means that I am still without much alone time. I am writing anyway and hoping that somehow it all pays off. I can’t not write. It’s that simple.

    • I can’t not write. It boils down to that, doesn’t it? Sometimes I avoid it because it can be downright hard. Other times I’m desperate for a break. But I am most happy (and most pleasant to be around) when I’m working on something. So glad you’re getting a bit of time to be yourself in this way.

      My guys are middle schoolers, too. 🙂

  8. Faith R says:

    This is SO good! Thank you so much for the advice. I’m at the tail end of my baby days with my youngest just a couple of years away from school, and my thoughts have been turning more and more to writing something other than my blog – this confirms so much the way forward, that it’s hard but worth it. Thanks for sharing your perspective! It’s nice to see a smiling face at the other end if the tunnel.

  9. This is wonderful. I love #1 especially. I have a hard time figuring out how much is a “reasonable” amount sometimes, but I really like the idea of thinking of extra as… extra, instead of always wanting more. Thank you, Caroline and Anne! 🙂

  10. Kaitlin says:

    Hi Caroline Starr Rose!
    I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post! It brought tears to my eyes as it put into words the dream closest to my heart. I am currently working on my second novel, and it brought rich encouragement to me! THANK YOU! God bless, and I wish you all the success in the world!

    • Hi Kaitlin,
      Just saw this. SO pleased it encouraged you. What you are doing and where you are at this moment — these are good, important things. I hope you continue to find your joy in the midst of your writing. Keep to your steady work!

  11. This post simply filled me with hope and joy! Number 2 is definitely on my list. I have not really connected with other writers. I feel kind of lost where I am. It is time to dig in. Thank you so much!

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