How Having Kids Can Help You Become a Successful Author

This is a subject close to my heart. I want moms and dads to keep writing even through the tough baby years. I want everyone to hold those dreams close. You won’t be hurting your kids. You’ll be inspiring them. Here’s a guest blog post I did on the Reading Angel blog. I hope it will inspire you to keep going!

And yes, even when they start leaving their toys on your keyboard . . .

Can You Keep a Secret? If You Can, It’ll Help Your Writing.

Last year, a friend was getting a divorce and I knew about it for quite a while before it became public. It was a hard secret to keep because our other friends wondered why her behavior was changing and why she wasn’t showing up for things. I watched how she was changing and I watched her children, who were oblivious to what was happening, but clearly acting out due to the stress that surrounded them. It was awful and fascinating, and I really wanted to tell people, and yet, I kept the secret.

In one of his books on writing, I can’t remember which, John Gardner wrote that all writers are gossips and I’ve thought of that often because since I’ve become a fiction writer, I’m usually a great secret keeper despite that urge. Why? It’s not that I don’t feel the burn. I still feel that eager desire to share a real, juicy story because I know it will create some kind of extraordinary reaction. At my core, I’m a storyteller. You get an adrenalin rush when you share something awful. I have to admit that I do feel that burn, still, after so much time of secret keeping. But I’ve come to realize that this burn is part of the creative process; in fact, it’s essential to the creative process.

When I get a new idea for a book or a character, I feel that same burn. I want to tell someone right away. Oh glorious day, I have an idea! It’s a beautiful, perfect idea. However, I hold it inside because it is exactly this burn that makes me want to write and gives me that passion and makes my fingers fly across the keyboard.

Other people’s secrets may show up in my fiction, but they are heavily disguised, and really, what shows up is the knowledge I’ve gained about the human experience by keeping that secret inside. Once you’re privy to a secret, you have a new insight into people around you and you can watch the human interactions with a whole new level of knowledge. Also, once you become known as a secret keeper, more people share their secrets with you and this both unburdens them and also makes you a more trustworthy and graceful person.

Go ahead. Try it. Hold secrets inside and use that energy in your fiction or non-fiction. You’ll be shocked how well it works. Your writing will resonate more with others and you’ll write faster than you’ve ever written before.


Research Every Setting

Research your setting, even if you think you know it. That’s a big lesson I just learned.

I wrote a scene in a cop car and I wrote it all wrong. I can’t remember the last time I saw the back of a police car. I’ve never actually ridden in a police car in my entire life, but I definitely had a picture in my head of what the back of a police car looks like. Maybe it was just from movies. So, when I was writing the scene in my current book, I used that “memory” to write a scene in which my character is in the back of a police car. But it wasn’t all that detailed and it wasn’t unique, so I knew it had to be flawed or off in some way. Real life is unique. It’s rarely what you expect or what you see in the movies. So, today I went up to a cop and asked if I could take a look in the back of his police car.

For many people, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but I have a fair amount of fear about cops. Two events in the last year have decreased this fear. The first event happened when we were broken into in the middle of the night while we were sleeping in Park Slope, and the Brooklyn cops came and they were so kind and gentle and compassionate, exactly what was needed in the situation. The other “event” isn’t really an event, but more of a situation. Until we moved to this small town north of NYC, I wouldn’t have gone up to a random cop on the street, but there’s a cop dad whose kid is in my daughter’s preschool class. He seems pretty cool, just a regular guy really, and seeing him every day has removed a bit of the fear I had about cops. I won’t go into this cop fear of mine, except to say it has something to do with growing up in a small town with too many eager cops with not enough to do.

So, today, after I asked this random cop on the street, I really worried he’d say he couldn’t do it and stare at me with his cold cop stare. But he got out of the car, all friendly and smiling, and said sure, go ahead. I looked and I got another lesson as a writer. It was totally different from what I imagined. Unlike what you see in movies, the back seats aren’t cushioned anymore. They’re plastic seats with a drain so that if someone pukes or bleeds, they can wash it out. This really affected how I wrote the scene because the girl sat differently and couldn’t lean her head back against the soft headrest. Also, there’s no cage between the back and the front. It’s a bullet-proof glass window, which they can open or shut. The cop told me they usually open it to talk to the person in the back, unless the person seems dangerous and might have a gun. He told me people used to spit at the cops through the cages so they put in the glass. Can you imagine? It gave me a lot more sympathy for what cops go through. There were two lemon air fresheners in the back, one still covered with plastic, probably to cover up the puke smell. On the ground, I saw an empty plastic cup and a reflective vest.

Now I couldn’t make up these details. I needed them. All of them. This is why you’ve got to research the location of every scene, even if you think you know.