Friday, September 18, 2015

Guest Post by Nina Schuyler: A Writing Life and Motherhood

Please join me in welcoming author Nina Schuyler, author of The Translator, here today as part of her blog tour through WOW! Women on Writing.

Note from Renee: How timely this guest post is, as I lately I've been chauffeuring the kids (ages 9 and 12) around much more than I've been writing! I started out writing as a way to make extra money while staying home with my children, but over time it required me to get quite creative in terms of pitching articles, interviewing sources on the phone during nap times, going on assignment while they attended preschool, etc. Nina Schuyler has some great tips for keeping our writing souls refreshed. Enjoy!


A writing mother. It sounds like an oxymoron. Like jumbo shrimp. Or airline food.

Mothering requires an attention turned outward, to your children, who, especially when they are small, need help with just about everything. While writing requires an attention turned inward, to listen to the characters and the emerging story.

I reject that it’s an either/or proposition—mothering versus writing; children versus art. It’s not impossible for the two aspects of yourself to find a certain coexistence, even if, at times, it’s a tension-filled existence. I have two sons, and from the very early days, I’ve found a way to write. Not because I had a deadline or anyone was expecting anything from me, but because writing has always been a source of delight. I figured I’d be a better mother, a better wife, a better person, if I made time for that source of delight.

I’ve found that mothering has increased the complexity of my work, intensified my commitment to both writing and mothering. With children, the world matters even more. What will they inherit? Will there be this bird with a splash of hot red on its face? Or this bright eggshell blue frog? Through my four-year-old’s eyes, the world is new, fresh, astonishing. The mundane is made extraordinary. He makes me see anew.

Here are some things that might help you manage this oxymoronic state:

1. Stop Before You Are Done: I still use this technique because it allows me to easily move from making breakfast and packing lunches to writing. So even though I know how the scene might end, I leave it for the next day. Ernest Hemingway offered this advice to a young writer: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.”

2. Fiddling with Words: Another way I move from the world of mothering—from dinner and baths and bedtime stories—is to print out the half-finished scene and read it over at night, when the house is quiet. Invariably I cross out a word, find a better one, or come up with more specific details, or a more interesting way to describe a gesture, an object. I the morning, my scribbled page is my entrance back into the story.

3. Keep a Notebook Nearby: I always have a notebook near me. Nothing fancy, I use a sketchbook, so I’m not forking out lots of money each month. Though I might not be physically at my desk writing, some part of me is mulling over the story. Sometimes a thought comes to me—or a line of dialogue, a description, a sense of my character—and the notebook is ready to receive. It’s interesting, too, when you are deep at work on a story, the world seems to hand you little gifts that fit perfectly into the story. They come via the radio, a snippet of conversation at the drug store or preschool. Those fragments make it into my notebook, and, the next day, into the story.

4. A Baking Timer: In the early days, when my son woke every three hours, I was, of course, exhausted. Yet I still wanted to experience some writing delight. When he’d nap, I’d go to my desk, set the timer for ten minutes and write. Not judging, censoring, editing, just write. When the timer rang, I’d get up, walk around. Then, if I could, I’d set it again. I needed the timer to keep myself sitting there, doing the work, otherwise the exhaustion would have won every time.

5. Writers Group:
I run a bi-weekly writer’s group. All of the members are mothers who write. I come with writing prompts and for two hours, we write together. We know what it takes to get to this gathering—kids dressed, fed, teeth brushed—and the things that await us after the meeting ends—doctors’ appointments, soccer, swimming, ballet lessons. But here, in this quiet space, we’ve carved out a time to commune with story and words and the imagination and each other.

6. Be Kind to Yourself: Goals are good. Goals are great, but don’t set them so high that they cause frustration or, worse, inhibit you. I remember roiling with envy when one young man, single, childless, said he wrote 35,000 in five days. But, I reminded myself, I’ve made choices and those choices have led to a peopled life—children, whom I love, a husband, whom I love. So my goal is simply to write something every day. The fragments, the 100 to 200 words, do add up. It’s how I wrote The Translator, and it’s how I’m writing my next novel.

7. An Inspirational Quote: I’ve taped this quote from Carl Jung on my wall: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parents.”

About Nina:

Nina Schuyler's first novel, The Painting, (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004), was a finalist for
the Northern California Book Awards. It was also selected by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the Best Books of 2004, and dubbed a “fearless debut” by MSNBC and a “great debut” by the Rocky Mountain News. It’s been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, and Serbian.

Her short story, “The Bob Society,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poems, short stories and essays have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Santa Clara Review, Fugue, The Meadowland Review, The Battered Suitcase, and other literary journals. She reviews fiction for The Rumpus and The Children’s Book Review. She’s fiction editor at Able Muse.

She attended Stanford University for her undergraduate degree, earned a law degree at Hastings College of the Law and an MFA in fiction with an emphasis on poetry at San Francisco State University. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco.

Find out more about the author by visiting her online:
Twitter: @Nina_Schuyler

About The Translator:

When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, she suffers an unusual condition― the loss of her native language. Speaking only Japanese, a language she learned later in life, she leaves for Japan. There, to Hanne’s shock, the Japanese novelist whose work she recently translated confronts her publicly for sabotaging his work.

Reeling, Hanne seeks out the inspiration for the author’s novel ― a tortured, chimerical actor, once a master in the art of Noh Theater. Through their passionate, volatile relationship, Hanne is forced to reexamine how she has lived her life, including her estranged relationship with her daughter. In elegant prose, Nina Schuyler offers a deeply moving and mesmerizing story about language, love, and the transcendence of family.

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