Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Writer Mama by Christina Katz

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club I'm discussing Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz.

My sister sent me this book for my birthday last fall, and I was appropriately grateful.  Such a cool-sounding book.  And such a thoughtful gift!  In fact, it's exactly the kind of book I want to have but never get around to reading.

Indeed, this was the case.  For four months, the book gathered dust on my bedside table.  It was on top, right near the front, impossible to miss.  I reached over it to select a new novel from the stack behind.

Then I decided to take the plunge.  I'll review it!  I thought.  I have a deadline!  Now I have to read it, and fast.

In this, too, I failed.  I could not read the book quickly.  But that's because I'm learning so much on every page.  I've always wanted to be a writer.  I've struggled to build a professional identity in the in-between spaces I can scrounge together with very young children at home.  I've wanted to do so much more.  But I didn't know what exactly, and I didn't know how.  Until now.

I was concerned at the beginning of the book, when the author explained how to use a search engine to find things on the internet.  But the pace immediately picked up and soon I knew the difference between "fillers" and "articles," when to query with an idea and when to submit a completed piece, how to take manageable little steps right now to meet long term goals later.

And the truth is that basic stuff is important.  Sure, most people know how to use Google.  And I already know how to read and follow submission guidelines.  But it wasn't so long ago that I didn't know anything about submission guidelines (that they existed, where to find them, what certain code phrases indicate).  Writer Mama makes the industry accessible to a newbie without spending too much time on the basics for the more experienced writer.

The author does a good job addressing moms of kids of all ages, not just napping infants or older, independent players.  And her advice is realistic.  She doesn't recommend plopping kids in front of the TV all morning, but she does acknowledge that a video can be a special treat for a child when her work-at-home mama faces a tight deadline.  She acknowledges - and suggests coping strategies for - the inevitability that some people won't see a writing mama's job as being a "real" job requiring disicpline, professionalism, and regular hours.  And she points out that we're often hardest on ourselves in this regard.

I had a hard time starting this book.  I had a hard time reading as quickly as I wanted to read.  And I had a hard time finishing in time.  (I like to finish a book a few days before I review it to allow time for the sediment to settle in my brain.)  In fact, I didn't finish at all.  But I'm almost done; I'll finish tomorrow.  With this book, I can't skim quickly over the surface of the text; I'm learning something new on almost every page.  I'm highlighting; I'm making notes.

And it's taking a lot of will power to keep reading and learning at a steady pace.  Writer Mama is broken up into 23 chapters, each of which ends with an "Exercise."  Every time I come to an Exercise, I want to stop and do it immediately.  Not yet!  I remind myself, sticking a flag on the page and pushing on, knowing that the minute I read the last page I'll be starting over at the beginning with the first exercise.

And once I've completed the exercises - each of which seems totally manageable, non-overwhelming, fun and exciting, actually - I'll have several pieces written and queries sent off to editors.  I'll be well on my way from wanting to be a professional writer to actually being a professional writer.

This book is teaching me how to do something I've always wanted to do, but never knew if I could do, let alone how to get started, how to build a business, how to make it work.

Motivational.  Educational.  Interesting.  Useful.  And, did I mention, motivational?

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grace said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review- I've seen it around Amazon and just never took the plunge.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love books about writing. Will look for this one.

Sarahlynn said...

Grace, thank you!!!

Amy, I found it worthwhile. And not at all political, FWIW.

Pattinase, the advice is wonderfully practical for making a living as a writer (selling articles, essays, interviews, etc.) and applicable for those with young children at home AND those without.

It's less about craft and more about business. I have a lot of craft books, so this one really hit the spot for me!

Sarah Laurence said...

Now that title resonates with me! At the beginning I was lucky to find 10 hours to work a week with little ones at home. It’s hard to think of writing without factoring family into the equation. It sounds like a helpful resource.

Sarah Laurence said...

Now that title resonates with me! At the beginning I was lucky to find 10 hours to work a week with little ones at home. It’s hard to think of writing without factoring family into the equation. It sounds like a helpful resource.

HiddenChicken said...

This book looks great - I'll have to find it and read it. It's been so hard motivating myself to start writing again.

Sarahlynn said...

Sarah, it's definitely more about selling articles to magazines than novels to publishers, but making a little money at writing is always welcome, right?

HiddenChicken, with what time?! Surely you get a free pass until the newborn starts sleeping through the night and napping on a schedule . . .

Barrie said...

Okay. I'm dying to know about the exercises! Also, does the author address guilt? the guilt you feel when you're writing and thinking you should be with the kids? Great review!

Sarahlynn said...

The exercises include activities like taking apart a magazine to determine which sections are written by staffers and which by freelancers, practicing query letters, determining your "specialty areas" for writing articles, that sort of thing.

And she does address guilt. The moral of the story seems to be: remind yourself - and your family - that you are a professional and this is your job. I think this is especially hard for fiction writers, particularly those of us not making much (or any) money from our "jobs." I feel more like I'm saying that I'd rather spend time at my "hobby" than doing a puzzle with my preschooler.

Anonymous said...

How about the guilt of spending time with your kid when you should be working?

And that seems the unspoken truth of all parenting: almost anything is better than doing another puzzle with a preschooler. That's why normal people without kids don't seek out preschoolers for exciting activities and informed conversation.

Feh on humans.

Sarahlynn said...

1) Yeah, that's more how my husband feels about his work v. home tug of war. So why should it be any different for a writer?

2) Also true! But we're not allowed to say so, of course. The moment a work-at-home mama makes the slightest suggestion that she needs more time to work or would appreciate a break from her kids, the work-away-from-home mamas jump in to chastise her and remind her how very lucky she is.