Psst! Hey! Homeschooling mom! Yes, you who would really like to write a book someday! I know you’re busy, so I’ll make this quick. I was asked to deliver this to you:
This certifies that you have full permission to make regular time during your week to write. Your writing time is henceforth a priority on a level with school and job. You may decline commitments that conflict with your writing time and minimize interruptions from your children. This permission comes guilt free with no penalties attached. [Signed] God.
Actually, this permission slip doesn’t apply to just writing; it’s also good for gardening, running, organizing events, counseling . . . whatever feeds your soul. Since writing is my passion, and since I’ve talked to enough people to know that many others itch to write their stories, that’s what I’m focusing on. Feel free to apply it to whatever activity you prefer.
It seems silly to need “permission” to pursue a dream to write, but the reality is that sometimes we do need to hear that. As homeschooling moms, we’re under a lot of pressure. We’re in charge of education and the household and teaching life skills and nurturing each child according to his or her gifts and talents and being a disciplinarian and being a motivator… And that doesn’t even get into meeting the expectations that come with being a wife, daughter, and friend.
So as odd as it may sound, I personally had to give myself permission to make time for my writing. And I’d like to extend that same favor to you.
Henceforth, you have permission to
Carve out a specific time during the day to write. Even if it’s just an hour in the afternoon, a regular writing time lets you focus on your ideas and on your craft. During that time, you won’t be available to talk on the phone, take a kid somewhere, or clean the living room. And that’s fine.
Treat your writing time like a job. Your writing is a priority—it doesn’t matter if you’re not making a single penny off it. Just like you wouldn’t call into a job and say, “I can’t come in today because my kitchen is a mess and my kids are bored,” you also don’t have to push aside your writing time for the same reasons. My kids got more screen time so they wouldn’t interrupt me. I also taught them how to cook scrambled eggs and pasta so they could feed themselves. They’re used to hearing, “I’m working right now, so go find something else to do.” It’s okay if you say that, too.
Write every day. If you commit to writing, say, 500 words a day, you keep your ideas flowing. I’ll be honest here: this goal will not result in a book. There’s a lot more to being an author than just spilling out words every day. However, you can write a decent blog post, journal entry, or letter in 500 words, and you’ll start to figure out what’s important enough to you to write a book about. (Note: the previous sentence brought this post’s word count to 500, so you can see what this daily goal looks like.)
Give up another task. I don’t do laundry. About five years ago, DJ offered to take the chore off my back, and he has done it ever since. (And being the better delegator, he’s got the kids doing most of the laundry now.) He also cooks most weekends and makes sure the kids do their chores (see above re: delegation). This particular arrangement may not work for you, but the permission remains the same: you can give up tasks just so you have enough time to write. Yes, you sure can.
Outsource some of the homeschooling. Whether it’s a co-op, online courses, a tutor, or splitting the labor with your husband—you don’t have to do all the schooling by yourself. In our household, DJ does the school planning and half of the teaching; we’ve also used online classes and tutors. Finding help and building a support network is a good policy for life in general, but especially if you want to write a book.
Read good books. A writer isn’t always writing; sometimes she’s thinking, and sometimes she’s reading. The better quality of writing you read, the better your writing can be. Explore genres, read nonfiction, and pick up some writing guides to help you avoid common mistakes. You definitely have permission to read!
So—you know you want to write. You might even know what you want to write about. The only reason I stopped you today was to assure you that you can make time to write. In fact, you should! Permission granted.
P.S. The following reading list is not the standard “recommended for good writing” books. It’s an eclectic collection of books that my fellow authors and I enjoy, and you might also.
Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft. Our writers’ group did several of the exercises from this book, and we always learned something about our own writing styles.
Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic is written for young authors, but it can inspire an older writer wanting to get started.
Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman, How Not to Write a Novel. This guide is both funny and instructive. However, it comes with an advisory: it’s very sarcastic, uses frank language, and doesn’t shy away from salacious topics.
Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer is helpful for someone who wants to look at fiction through a writer’s lenses.
Ruth Vaughn’s Write to Discover Yourself covers all the basics of creative writing—from the importance of journaling and keeping notebooks, to figures of speech, to various writing forms (poetry, novels, plays, etc.). And she makes it all sound thrilling and wonderful.
Books for Reading
Lloyd Alexander. Chronicles of Prydain series is an enjoyable Juvenile/Young Adult fantasy series based on Welsh stories.
Jane Austen. Even after 200 years, her characters remain true to life, and her structure and pacing are excellent. Pride & Prejudice is by far her best; I recommend reading it with annotations to understand exactly what she’s referencing.
Anne Corlett. The Space Between the Stars is a space opera with literary quality. It does come with a content advisory.
Neil Gaiman. A subtle writer with an ironic voice, he’s good at keeping his readers unsettled. He’s written novels and graphic novels, for both the Young Adult and Adult categories. Even those who don’t like his books can admire his writing.
Ursula Le Guin. She writes with a restrained style that looks deceptively easy. Her Earthsea cycle is a classic.
Gail Carson Levine. Ella Enchanted takes an overly familiar story and infuses it with life and humor. Ella is a truly active protagonist who moves her own story along.
Sarah J. Maas. She’s good at making you fall in love with characters you weren’t sure you could like, while weaving a surprisingly complex plot. Her books do warrant a content advisory.
Patrick F. McManus. As a humorist who wrote for Outdoor Life for many years, he’s very good storyteller. He writes concisely and knows how to set up a punchline.
Siri Mitchell. She writes both historical fiction and chick lit, two very different genres.
Hayao Miyazaki. The Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga series is astounding work. It straddles the general and mature audience line a bit.
Ian Mortimer. Despite the title, the Time Traveler’s Guide series is nonfiction. It’s a very readable exploration of certain times in English history. Mortimer demonstrates how even a nonfiction author needs to have a sense of structure, know which details to include, and write interesting prose.
Naomi Novak. Her Spinning Silver is an amazing capture of voice, with a literary bent and a fascinating story.
Brandon Sanderson. Learn worldbuilding from him, but don’t imitate his general writing style, because it’s sloppy.
J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, of course. His worldbuilding and characterization literally defined a genre. His writing style changes radically between The Hobbit and The Return of the King, which itself is fascinating.
Megan Whelan Turner. Some readers might not appreciate her excellent style until they’ve read two books. The stories have a slower payoff, but they are masterfully done both in turn of phrase and turn of plot. Extremely re-readable.
Connie Willis. In Doomsday Book, the story powerfully responds to deep questions through the characters and situations, avoiding clichés.
Bill Watterson. The 90’s comic strip Calvin & Hobbes seems like an odd choice for “good writing.” But Watterson packs a lot of philosophy, irony, and commentary into his strips about a little boy and his imaginary tiger. Many of us grew up on C&H and owe a lot of our style and humor to Watterson.
You. Ha ha.
What are some of your favorite books, and why do they inspire you?
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