In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.
Writing tips from Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Marcia Moody
How to write while caring for young children
I should start with some context: I am a writer. I write novels and poetry, and occasionally I get published. Sometimes people give me awards, too, and I think about going out and celebrating, but then I remember that I have a 1 year old, a 3 year old, a 5 year old, and a 7 year old, and so I make do with inviting my brood to make chocolate cake which invariably gets plastered all over our cream sofa. The question I get asked most is also the question I most want to ask other women who write and also happen to have small people in their care: HOW DO YOU DO IT? Here are a few of my ideas.
One. Get used to writing anywhere, anytime, regardless of what is happening around you.
Two. Unless you suspend all paperwork from the ceiling, you will open your copy-edits one morning to find a beautiful scene of daisies and fairies drawn over many of the pages in yellow and pink felt-tip.
Three. Your daughter will do exactly what you used to do and rise every morning from the age of 7 years old to write. She will ask you when your publisher is going to publish her book, and pinch all your notebooks. And your laptop.
Four. You will find a strange link between doing the dishes and resolving plot issues.
Five. Ironing, too, will somehow become the means by which your characters are coaxed into being.
Six. You will accomplish far more in a single hour than you ever thought possible. What the child-free -you believed took weeks or months to write now takes you – pah! – a day.
Seven. You are more patient with your characters. You find the tendencies you had in the past – to force your characters to acquiesce to the plot you had in mind – fall away. You listen to them. You think about the way they were as toddlers, as young children, what made them who they are.
Eight. You are a ruthless reader. You don’t have time to read as much as you’d like, so if that book hasn’t seized you by the throat by page 10 – pfft. This in turn makes you much more critical of your own work – and mostly in a good way.
Nine. The best of it? You are too busy to have writer’s block. You will always experience periods of doubt, which cripples you and makes writing almost impossible. But for the most part, the words you find yourself saying to your little ones begin to sink in for you too: just a little bit more. Inch it forward. You can do it. Keep going. Don’t stop. I believe in you.
Ten. Don’t stress about the writing. It’s only writing. There are children to be loved and cared for. That’s the big stuff.
Three steps to making it as a writer
When it comes to wise men, French hens and new episodes of Sherlock, three is indeed the magic number. Perhaps less well-known though, is this trio of tips about making it as a writer…
One. The most intimidating thing in the world is a blank screen, but you can start out by choosing to write on something a bit less scary. Carry a notebook with you so when you have a flash of inspiration you can jot down thoughts about characters or ideas. Napkins and old envelopes work too – but not the back of the hand of the stranger sat next to you.
Two. Take a writing course. Talent and knowledge is a powerful combination, so if you already have the flair for writing, then guidance on structure, self-editing and pitching can make you damn-near irresistible.
Three. Just live your life. A poem I wrote when I was 14 makes me cringe – not just because it includes the line, ‘Rain streaked from your eyes, as tears fell from above us’ – but because I had no idea what I was talking about. It’s important to have lived a little (or a lot) in order for what you’re writing about to connect with the reader. You don’t have to be surfing on tigers or playing Russian roulette with ill-prepared blowfish – it’s more about listening to people, experiencing emotions and noticing what’s going on around you, because what you’re living now could be what you’re writing about this time next year.