The ‘View: The Exclusive, Inside Scoop on Writer Mama

Writer MamaAn Interview with Christina Katz
Author of Writer Mama, How To Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids
By Sage Cohen

If you have a full-time job as a mom and think you can’t also have a writing career, think again! There’s a new book in town, penned by our very own editor and publisher, teaching mamas how to become professional writers––in addition to everything else they already do. Christina Katz’s Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids inspires and equips mamas to make the most of their limited time, navigate the publishing world, and take their writing careers forward.

As managing editor of this publication, it wasn’t too difficult for me to convince Christina to give me an interview about Writer Mama (and if you ask her, I’m sure she’ll be happy to give you one, too). Read on for the exclusive, inside scoop on the forthcoming Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids.

In your career as a freelance writer, you’ve written about diverse topics for a wide range of audiences. Why did you want to write a book specifically for writer mamas?

Writer Mama was a natural book for me to write because I had a sincere desire to help moms overcome the challenges of writing for publication. Over the past six years teaching writing workshops, I’ve noticed that moms seem to have the most difficulties completing the coursework. As a freelance writer for seven years (and a mother for the past five years), I have had plenty of challenges of my own to learn from. And I have had terrific mentors who are working writer mamas, like Kelly James-Enger and Wendy Burt, who have taught me a lot over the years.

In Writer Mama, you bring together two parallel paths (motherhood and a freelance writing career) and make it seem so POSSIBLE to navigate both successfully. How did you accomplish this in your own life?

I made a ton of, what I would today call, “misjudgments” during the early days of my freelancing career. In Writer Mama I have a chapter in which I use the game CHUTES AND LADDERS as a metaphor for poor career choices and attitudes vs. better ones that can lead to more positive results sooner—just like in the game I loved as a child.

Many of the misjudgments illustrated in the book are ones I made along the way as a freelancer. And many of the positive outcomes are ones I was rewarded with when I started to accept and respond to the way things typically work in the publishing business. Writing success came to me very gradually, but anyone can certainly experience more success sooner if she has a flexible and practical attitude (which is coincidentally the attitude most mothers try to maintain). Motherhood makes us better writers and this book makes that clear without overdoing the message. I think moms will appreciate a little less error for their trials.

How did you make the leap from freelance writer to non-fiction author? Is this a trajectory you’d recommend for others?

An important premise in Writer Mama is that every writer, no matter what particular genre is her favorite, has a non-fiction book (or two or three!) inside of her. Look around at your favorite authors. Chances are very good, unless their books live on the “NYT Bestseller List,” that they have a smattering of books written across several genres or at least in their preferred genre and non-fiction. Since that’s the case, why not go ahead and break into print with non-fiction? Non-fiction pays better, faster, and helps you establish a recognizable platform that leads to more readers for your future books! It just makes good sense and moms are open to writing non-fiction because we simply cannot afford to be “starving artists.” We’ve got mouths to feed.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying, don’t write in other genres. Do! But get established in non-fiction, if you haven’t already, and start bringing in some money and racking up some publishing credits. You can always switch over to another genre down the road or work on more than one genre at the same time.

Let’s say I’m a new mom and a beginning writer. I want to take on my first assignment. I’m sleep deprived. I get maybe five minutes to myself per day, and that’s in the bathroom. The new frontier of writing feels completely overwhelming, as does the rest of my life. Talk me down from the ledge, Christina!

So let’s start at the beginning. New moms are in a very vulnerable place, especially if they are on some kind of maternity leave that will inevitably run out. So don’t delay. Start taking some “baby steps” in the direction of a writing career if that is what you truly want.

Start with the basics—the physical organization you’ll need to write. Get a basket or tote bag or laptop tray organizer and start gathering the materials you are going to need to grab quickly to get work accomplished in the nooks and crannies of time you have. So you need my book or another good how-to-start-a-writing-career book (I list good ones in the back of Writer Mama.). You need lots of pens, pads of paper, possibly glasses, and that’s enough to get started. Work with a book, tackling one assignment at a time. That’s how Writer Mama is set up and that’s how I work with my students in workshops. That’s the best way to find your writing rhythm, by applying what you learn as you go.

What’s the most common mistake writer mamas make that can slow down their progress as freelance writers, and what should they do about it?

This one isn’t spoken about much, so I’ll talk about it. If you want to succeed as a professional writer, you’re going to have to get used to stretching beyond your comfort zone, possibly on a daily basis. That means doing things you’ve never done before and may feel unprepared or unqualified to do, like querying or negotiating a contract. Any task could be the one that strikes terror in your heart, but you really don’t have a choice. The industry is not going to change to appease your needs (although the landscape does shift constantly), so you are going to have to learn how to notice your fears and then act despite them. Hope Clark has said that in Writer Mama I turn stay-at-home moms into dragon-slayers and I think that was well said. I would simply add, dragon-slayers of their own fears because that’s where the dragons live—inside of us.

For many writers, not just moms, the process of writing for publication is not comfortable. It’s supposed to be that way. If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably not stretching yourself enough. Just ask me. I do new things every single day. That’s what it takes to become an author. That is one constant for growing writers, in my experience—frequent fear and the resolve to overcome it.

Look for Writer Mama in bookstores near you starting March 1, 2007.
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Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at www.sagesaidso.com.

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  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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