Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Magical Mom: Author Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott has written two volumes of the TWILIGHT OF AVALON series (Touchstone), as well as numerous short stories, despite being the mother of two very young daughters. Recently, I asked Anna how she manages to get so much writing accomplished as a stay-at-home mom. Here is what she shared.

Writing and Mothering

by Anna Elliott

I have two girls, ages 3 and 1, home with me full time, and one of my absolute most frequently asked questions is: where on earth do you find the time to write with two small children in the house? Now, let me say that really in answer to that question what I should do first of all is hold up a photo of my husband. Because there is no way I could write the books I do without his constant daily help and support both with the girls and with every other aspect of my career.

But after my husband, there are a few strategies I've worked out for finding the time to write: I set a strict daily word count goal (1000 words per day) and until I reach that goal, every minute of time I can squeeze out goes into meeting it. I get up early, and try to devote that time when the house is silent and free of distractions to getting my mind into my story for the day. That helps hugely, and allows me to keep the story simmering in the back of my mind even while I'm with the kids. I let myself daydream--well, actually I would say I insist on daydreaming. When the girls are playing quietly and I'm making lunch, I fill up my mind with my story, go over and over the words and the scenes and the chapters, work out what needs to be changed and where I should go from here.

It can be hard, sometimes. There are days when no matter how hard I try, 1000 words is simply not going to happen or when my head feels like it's going to explode with the effort of keeping track of the story and the chaos two small children can create. And then, too, I think one of the unique challenges that writing historical fiction presents is the sheer amount of research involved. And there's a part of my mind that craves a daily word count like a chocoholic craves fudge. A part of my mind that sits in a sulky huddle all day long if it does not GET a word count. But with two little ones, I can either research or I can write, I usually don't have time for both in a single day. So there are times when I have to make myself pause with the story and just immerse myself in the research for awhile.

It will get easier. That was what I used to tell myself : this will all get easier as the girls get older. And then an amazing thing happened. My three year old said to me, "Soon you won't be a mommy anymore, you know, because I'm going to be a grown up." (I assured her that she might grow up, but she was stuck with me as a mommy for life). But at the same time it struck me--she is in a way RIGHT. Soon--all too soon--I will NOT be a mommy of a 3 and a 1 year old anymore. And what do I want them to remember from these years? That their mommy was the kind of person who every day told herself, "This will all get easier someday?" Good grief, no! I want my girls to remember that their mama loved them so much it fired out her eyes like laser beams and made every day magic. SO, okay. I am a writer and I am a mama to two tiny girls. I needed to figure out a way to make those two facts not just 'hard but something that will get easier' but rather something that is AWESOME. I needed 'I am a writer and I am a mama' to be awesome NOW.

I started telling my girls stories. When they were in the bath, I would tell them about two little girls who were taking a bath and then one day--splash!--a mermaid flew out of the faucet and landed in the tub. The other day Isabella, my oldest, was playing with play-dough and gave me a lump telling me to make something. Now, I am not exactly Rodin in the sculpting department, but I can make sort of okay looking turtle. Round head, round body, five pinches for feet and a tail, right? So I gave Isabella this turtle and told her he was named Timmy Turtle and had always wanted to be a chef. I mean, his entire emotional raison d'etre since he had pecked his little turtle-y way out of his shell had been the dream of someday becoming a play-dough chef and making play-dough cookies. And (after adventures which I will spare you here) he had heard that there was a little girl named Isabella here who could finally, finally teach him how to make cookies from play-dough . . .

My girl LOVED it. She sat my little Timmy the Turtle down on the table next to her and started addressing him very seriously, "Now you see, Timmy, first you have to roll out the dough really smooth . . ." Then she asked for mommy, daddy, grandma, and grandpa turtles for Timmy, loaded the whole turtle family onto a plate and gave them all a tour of our house.

How long am I going to be able to make life magical that way for her? Before I know it, she's going to be a teenager with her own life and her own friends, and I'll say, 'Please come and spend time with me! Mama could make an amazingly badly executed turtle out of play-dough again!' And she will give me the quintessential 'you've got to be kidding me' teenage girl look.

As long as I have libraries and books and computers and a reasonably functioning mind, I will always be able to write more stories about Dark Age Britain. But the story about Timmy Turtle? That story has such an incredibly short window of opportunity. Better tell it--and love that I can tell it--now.


Wise words, indeed. All I can say is Anna's daughters are incredibly lucky to have such magical mother, just as we're lucky to have the chance to read their mother's marvelous stories!

Anna is a regular contributer to the writing website Writer Unboxed. If you enjoyed her article here, be sure to check out her column there. Her website includes articles on writing and publishing, as well as links to her short stories and background information on the TWILIGHT OF AVALON series.


Jessica Brockmole said...

I love this, Anna! Every once in a while I catch myself wishing the same thing, that I can't wait until everyone is in school and I can have that time to myself. But then my four-year-old tugs on my hand and asks if I can please help him build a train track and I lose the plot thread I was trying to unravel in my head. There will ALWAYS be time for writing, even if it's just in little pockets here and there. But my train-track-building days aren't going to last forever. :)

lucyp said...

Rats, now I want a play-dough turtle too!

Julianne Douglas said...

I can make a mean snake...

Jessica, I admire people like you and Anna who can dwell on their story while they do other things. I've never been able to do that, which is probably why I'm such and incredibly slow writer. And you know, as kids get older, it doesn't necessarily get easier to find the time to concentrate. I find myself mentally preoccupied with the older ones' problems and tasks (for example, my middle son's college search and applications are currently sapping much of my attention) as much, if not more, than I'm physically involved in playing with the youngest.

Svea Love said...

Oh my gosh, you have no idea what perfect timing this post was for me! What a blessing this was... thank you sooo much :) I have a little three year old which I am home 24/7 with and I have been feeling so many of the same things. This post has really given me the encouragement I needed and has refreshed my determination on all counts! Enjoy every moment Anna, and keep up the good work!