Sunday, August 20, 2006

How I Got Here—Writing Life

Part of the reason my first book took so long to complete was because I can only do one intensely creative thing at a time: Write a book, or build a baby. Once my first was born, I wrote like gangbusters, writing while she was in a swing or on the floor next to me in the late hours, during which my husband was working as a public accountant during tax season. I even devised a highly effective method of typing while nursing. She rested on my forearms while I had my fingers on the keyboard. That worked both at my day job, where she was with me until nine months old, and in the evening. I wrote when she napped and when she ate and when she was just happy to hang around, which wasn’t that often. I took her to my first meeting of Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers, and like I said before, she inspired my first published book. There’s a lot of her in Montana.

Side note: I was completely shocked when my friend Marilyn said, “I love the baby’s name. Montana Winter.” Shocked and horrified. I named the baby Montana because my daughter was Dakota. The heroine was Nikki Winter, the name I’d used in that ill-fated first chapter. I NEVER EVER put the two together. What a cheesy, stupid name! Marilyn was sweet to say she liked it.

With my second child, the creativity issue hit around the fifth month. I knew I was going to go into labor the day I wrote 8 pages, after four months of not writing anything. The footage of Columbine was on the TV in the labor room. I have no idea why I didn't ask to have it changed or turned off. The sights and sounds remain vivid to me, until the moment she was placed on my chest, surprising me by looking very different from her sister, yet far too much the same (someday I'll post same-age photos—we can't tell who's who without looking at the rug to see where the picture was taken).

Lots of things have derailed my writing, temporarily, over the years. My day job turned into a day-into-night job, and I had no time to write. I had horrible evening sickness with the second pregnancy, so Jim took care of the toddler in the evenings after I picked her up from day care and I napped on the couch, trying not to be sick. Moving, twice, meant packing (and unpacking) instead of writing.

For a long time, rejection and despair made writing difficult. I credit my husband’s support and my membership in CPRW with keeping me from quitting. Counting now, as Immediate Past President, and subtracting six months around the time #2 was born, I was on CPRW’s board in some capacity for nine and a half years. That commitment kept me going. I couldn’t let them down by reneging on promises I’d made, and if I was a member of the chapter and by requirement, RWA, I might as well keep writing. CPRW is also known as the Hobnail Boot Squad, inspired by Ginny Aiken, a former member who threatened to use her hobnail boots on us if we didn’t stop whining and produce.

Incidentally, my need to be in a position of control (the charitable would call it leadership) and my propensity for saying “sure!” when asked to volunteer at chapter, regional, and national levels also kept me from writing at times. Educating myself by immersing myself in the World of Romance Writing (aka the Internet) has always been a time-sucker. There have been plenty of periods when I had to struggle to find balance.

Promotion, too, gets in the way. It’s easy to spend money for someone to create an ad, and then to spend money to place that ad, but money is hard to come by at this level of publication. Time is a better promotional currency. But time spent promoting is time not spent writing. Again, balance is difficult. When my first book was being prepared for publication, I spent six months working on promotion and marketing and not writing a single thing.

Over the last few years, as my kids got older and went to bed without waking again, my husband discovered City of Heroes and no longer had a need for my company, and the day job required only day work, I found balance. I took a year to avoid all volunteer opportunities. I wrote consistently, and brought my speed to excellent levels, which maximized my time. I developed procedures for making sure attention was paid to everything in my life, without anything getting neglected for too long. And it was working very well for a long time.

But it wasn’t enough.

Tomorrow…How I Got Here—The Big Books


Andrew said...

Montana Winter -- I've had "first reader club" members point out similar things to me. It is amazing what can float below the radar because we are so close to our own work, isn't it?
To Love, Honor and Dismay

Natalie Damschroder said...

It is...and it's even more amazing that my critique partners and editor never noticed it, either!

I hope that's the silliest thing I miss. :)

MaryF said...

Balance is my Big Thing, too, but I never tried to write when my son was little. I was way too scattered! (Yeah, like THAT'S changed!)

Natalie Damschroder said...

HAH! Mary, you don't seem scattered to me in the least.