Whenever I meet a mother of five, first I want to do a deep bow and say something like, “I could not walk in your moccasins.” And then I think of Nancy Pelosi saying something like, “When they don’t listen, I just use my Mother-of-Five voice.” Today’s guest, Meagan Francis, author of The Happiest Mom, is using her Mother-of-Five voice all over the place, and people are listening. Read on and find out how she is doing what–to me, at least– seems impossible.
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Theo: As a group, one of our favorite refrains is, “I don’t have enough time to write!” As a mother of five, you could definitely say “I don’t have time” and people would nod and say, “Oh, yes, clearly she doesn’t.” But yet, you blog, you write articles, you write books. We all want to know: How do you have time to write?
Meagan: I think most of us are in denial about how much time we really have at our disposal. The problem is that we tend to blow our “free time” on things that don’t really make us happier or healthier—our priorities don’t match up with our actions. We can never seem to find the time to read, or write, or go for that walk, or cook that healthy meal (though we somehow managed to watch three back-to-back episodes of Law & Order…)
And writers, especially writers with children, fall into the trap of waiting for the Time Fairy to show up and grant us eight solid, uninterrupted, kid-and-commitment-free hours in which to write. For the majority of us, it’s just not going to work that way. You have to work with what you have, and set goals.
When I got really serious about writing, it was because I had a deadline. I was pregnant with my third child and working full-time; I knew that by the time he was born, I wanted to drop my hours by ½ and replace that income with writing work. And I set the ultimate goal to work completely from home within two years. Having such a specific and concrete deadline breathing down my neck forced me to take advantage of every spare minute. I won’t lie—I didn’t do much for fun that year, beyond researching new markets, querying, and writing, writing, writing. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t go to dinner with friends. When the kids were playing or napping, I wrote. I wrote during my lunch hour. I got up early in the morning and wrote. So I definitely sacrificed a lot of free time in those early months, but the payoff was worth it, because I did manage to create a career for myself as a writer, replacing that full-time job income…and then some.
The other benefit of that hectic, goal-driven period was that it taught me how to work with the time I have available. I think the temptation is to say, “Well, I only have ten minutes until my son gets off the bus—I can’t get anything done during that time; might as well get on Facebook.” But you can do a lot with ten minutes. You can outline a chapter or article, write a query letter, sketch a character, follow up with an editor, flip through a magazine you’ve been wanting to write for to see how it’s structured, or brainstorm your next plot twist. Snippets of time count just as much as long, leisurely hours; but you have to get in the habit of taking advantage of them.
Theo: Do you have a special kid-free space for writing?
Meagan: I have an office off of my dining room, which technically should be kid-free except they always find a way to breach the perimeter. My husband (who is also self-employed) and I have also been renting office space in town, but I don’t go there to work too often—mostly because my child care is so part-time. But occasionally I’ll disappear for a day and just hole up and work. I try not to get down on myself because my schedule doesn’t fit into neat four-hour blocks right now. I have a toddler, a preschooler and three school-aged kids so right now I value flexibility over perfect balance.
One of the nice things about writing about motherhood and family is that my life is my work and my work is my life. I have to protect time with my kids, but I’m also constantly drawing inspiration from my life at home, with my children. So I usually work wherever feels right for the work I’m doing and the mood I’m in as well as the needs of my family. Sometimes that means I’m working at the dining room table, other times at my desk, or maybe on the sofa with a sick child’s head in my lap. Such is the life of a writing mother.
Meagan: How did the idea for your blog “The Happiest Mom” come about?
I’ve been hanging around the online parenting community since 1997, when my son Jacob was born and I went out in search of other moms on the old ParentsPlace message boards. I’d read parenting magazines throughout my pregnancy, but this was a whole new world—here were all these other moms giving the real scoop on parenting—the good, bad and ugly. It was pretty heady and a little addictive for a while, all that “keeping it real.” I did my fair share of griping about my husband, our pediatrician, my in-laws, my husband’s job and/or lack of a job, lack of sleep, colic, potty training, toddlers smashing things, and on and on. Somewhere along the line I thought, “Okay, enough!” It’s great to be real, but there’s also such a thing as helping to create the reality you want, and I wasn’t really able to do that through all the complaining.
A few years later when mom blogs were really taking off, there were a rash of books and memoirs decrying the “madness” of modern motherhood, painting moms as this neurotic group of women who gave up everything for their children, stayed up all night decorating cupcakes for a two-year-old’s birthday party, never had sex with their husbands, judged each other all day long and obsessed and worried over every little parenting decision. I thought to myself, ‘None of the moms I know are like this.’ It annoyed me that the stereotype of the “mad mom” just kept getting perpetuated.
That was where the seed of the idea came from, though it took a few years for me to actually start the blog. I just felt like the other side needed to be shown: that moms are, and can be happy, whole people. That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses all the time, and I know there’s a huge adjustment period for a lot of women when they become mothers. But at some point, you have to decide to move on, and take steps toward happiness. The blog was like a real-time snapshot of my thoughts as I came to some realizations about motherhood and happiness; the book grew out of that.
Theo: And, now April 2011, the book The Happiest Mom will hit bookstores. Tell us about the relationship between the blog and the book. How do they complement each other?
Meagan: They are actually pretty different. First of all, the blog is a lot wordier. I have a difficult relationship with brevity : ) and my editors helped me be a lot more concise than I usually am. Also, the book is produced in conjunction with Parenting magazine, so they had a fair amount of input about which topics and ideas should stay and which should go, and impacted the tone and style as well.
We didn’t want the book to seem overwhelming to busy moms who might just pick it up in the bookstore because they’re looking for a boost so we went for short, breezy, and fun. It’s a great gift or read for a time-strapped mom. The ideas I’d developed in my blog over the past year and a half were scaled back and turned into actionable, easily digestible steps. And there are a lot of new ideas introduced throughout the book—some stemming from Parenting’s Mood of Moms research, some suggested by my editors, and some I thought up while writing it.
Theo: Blogs are relentless. If you don’t keep posting, readers fizzle away. How did you balance keeping up the blog with writing The Happiest Mom?
You’ve got that right! I did allow myself to blog a bit less while I was neck-deep in the book, but at the same time, I found that the discipline of working on the book all the time helped me be more disciplined about the blog, too. It’s like exercise—sometimes the more you do it, the more you want to do it. I think multiple projects can feed each other—if we let them—instead sucking up all our energy as long as we don’t overbook ourselves too much. And I also found that I could draw blog fodder from the process of writing a book.
Theo: Any advice for emerging writers working on building a platform?
Meagan: It’s all about time, consistency, quality and relationships. You have to be in it for the long haul—you can’t just “push the platform button” and develop a loyal audience overnight. You have to keep showing up and putting yourself out there, looking for opportunities to promote yourself—which isn’t always easy for writers to do. You have to make sure you’re producing something worth reading, something that’s worth getting excited about. And network like crazy. It’s not always easy for us writers to promote ourselves, but we can promote one another. There is strength in numbers.
Theo: What’s your best writing tip?
Stop talking about writing. Stop worrying about writing. Stop thinking about writing. Shut up, show up, apply rear end to chair, and write.
Theo: Readers–Meagan is up for a plum writing contract and needs votes! If you want to vote and help her out, Click here.