Julie Lythcott-Haims Raises the Bar

One fun thing about being a writer is getting the chance to connect with other writers you admire. Julie Lythcott-Haims wrote How to Raise an Adult and a memoir called Real American about being black and mixed race in America. Check out her website here.

I first heard of Julie Lythcott-Haims when I found How to Raise an Adult and read it from cover to cover. I recommend it to everyone who has kids, knows kids, is thinking about having kids, or once was a kid. (Current kids: you have to wait.)

The parenting book grew out of Julie’s experience as a Stanford dean watching young adults navigating their first experience away from home without the necessary skills to do their own laundry, pass their classes and make decisions. Yes, this terrifying book is non-fiction, but writing is writing so when the opportunity to talk with Julie one-on-one came up, I jumped at it.

I asked Julie about her decision to leave her job and take on a new career as a writer. Turns out she had already made a radical life change before when she left corporate law to become dean at Stanford. Julie used phrases such as “the future I wanted to create for myself” that made me realize 1) this is a person I need to listen to and 2) I need to plaster that phrase across my forehead or at least incorporate it into my vocabulary.

I learned a lot about Julie’s current rock star life that includes travel, speaking engagements, and working on her next book, which will be a sequel to How to Raise an Adult, composed as a letter to her children (now 18 and 16) about what it means to be an adult. What stayed with me long after our conversation, though, was this (paraphrased):

“Writing is not an identity anyone else can confer on you. We claim the identity of writer. Call yourself a writer. Make room for writing. Make it a habit. Speak of it, care about it. Give it the time it needs. Treat writing as essential to your wellness.”

I love this so much and am planning to print it out and post it on the wall (it won’t fit on my forehead).

This blog is one way I’m claiming myself publicly as a writer and making room for it in my life. Other ways include meeting with other writers to write (happening tomorrow), carving time out to write each day (almost), submitting to writing contests, and joining online and in-person writer communities.

Fun parenting/writing fact: Most of this post was written on my phone, in the car, parked in front of a playground while my son slept in the backseat and my daughters played on the swings. 

 

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Berry Bombs of Wisdom from Mysti Berry

Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a coffee date with Mysti Berry. Mysti is a screenwriter–novelist–short story writer and all around awesome human being. We talked writing for an hour and she gave me permission to share some details of our conversation.

I told Mysti about my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, ie, a successful mystery writer who also does other things (such as work, raise three small children, etc, etc). I know that Mysti has a full-time job that is not writing fiction, so I asked her about her personal writing routine and her writing goals.

Mysti’s routine includes early morning writing and writing with friends which she says helps her stick with the program. She also takes writing retreats where she disappears into a dark lair (or just a hotel room) for a weekend to power through some writing or editing goals. The idea of writing for a weekend kid-free sounds like heaven to me. I hope my husband is reading this post.

I asked Mysti what she does when she gets stuck. She said she first yells at herself, which she does not recommend as a strategy. Some strategies she does recommend are:

  • Look for where the plot went wrong earlier in the story. Sometimes you can eliminate a later problem that way.
  • Ask certain questions about the problem: Is it structural? Is it character? Am I taking the story in the wrong direction?
  • Talk about the problem with others
  • Make a list of ten things to try to fix the problem

I then asked Mysti about her writing goals. She has both aspirational goals, like getting her novel published, and more concrete goals, such as:

  • Finish dialogue edits by x date
  • Send to agent by x date
  • Word count goals (if working on a first draft)
  • Hourly goals (spend x amount of time writing)

She also has a writing strategy. Mysti has had her short stories published, so she intends to keep writing and submitting those. She is working on an anthology of short stories as a way to dip her toes into the self-publishing world. And she continues to work on her novel and submit it to agents.

My talk with Mysti inspired me to come up with my own list of strategies to try when I feel stuck in my writing and to work on a long-term strategic plan for my writing goals. In the meantime, I hope I get to drink more coffee with Mysti soon.

Multi-Tasking is Not Always Evil

I am a multi-tasker. Since I work from home, you’re likely to find me working on the computer while a load of laundry spins in the machine and dinner simmers away on the stove. I admit to writing emails while participating in Skype meetings (the non-video ones). I draw the line at texting and driving.

My quest to be Jessica Fletcher demands multi-tasking. I’m not a full-time writer. So I have to seize my moments to be creative, even if I’m technically involved in something else. If National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has taught me anything (it’s taught me a lot: see here and here), it’s that it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make and meet a writing goal. As long as it’s a reasonable goal.

Here’s an example: Recently, I decided to enter a writing contest. I needed to produce a short story of 2000-3000 words. I calculated if I took a week to write the story, I’d have to write 480 words a day. That felt doable. (For reference, this post is 272 words.) I took my lunch break and started writing. I ended up with 2400 words, a complete story. It took about an hour and was during the time I was technically at work and/or eating lunch. (Shh, this is secret, remember?)

The lessons here?

  1. Set a low, achievable bar.
  2. Grab writing moments when you can.
  3. It’s better to write something than nothing.

For the next week, my goal is to write fifteen minutes per weekday on either a novel or short story in progress, or a blog post. Tune in next week to find out how I did!

What is this blog about?

Blog reboot alert! This blog is now called Secretly Aspiring to be Jessica Fletcher.

Jessica Fletcher is a fictional mystery author who solves mysteries in between writing them. She was played by Angela Lansbury on the classic eighties TV show, Murder She Wrote.

Why am I aspiring (not so secretly) to be Jessica Fletcher?

Like Jessica Fletcher, I’m a mystery writer and I also do other things. Unlike Jessica, I’m a mom of three, wife of one, and hold a full-time non-mystery-writing job. And there’s the dilemma. I love to write, but taking care of my family, earning a steady paycheck, and sleeping are priorities too. My question is: how do you fit writing into your life when you’re doing other things?