By Jennifer L. Rogala
Writer's Infusion Guest Critiquer
When my twins were small, most of my writing was done late at night. But some days, after eating a hearty lunch consisting of the crusts from my children’s grilled cheeses, I’d turn on my daughters’ favorite TV show. Fully aware of the evils of television, I’d proceed without guilt. I was entitled to a 30 minute mental outage. My toddlers got plenty of physical activity and social interaction, plus Mommy was pooped and wanted some uninterrupted writing time.
I’d plop down in front of my laptop which sat on my dining room table. Strewn around my “desk” were various to-do items: unpaid bills, unopened mail, unread writer magazines and books. Written on the back of a Kohl’s envelope was the day’s agenda. I love lists. Correction, I love crossing items off lists. Groceries, done; Sew stuffed bunny’s head back on before Jillian notices, done; Shower, yeah-right; Bathe children, done; Play at the park, done; Finish acrostic poems manuscript, not yet. Sometimes when I get a task accomplished that’s not on the day’s agenda, I add it to my list and immediately cross it off. Bonus!
Writing for children is my passion, though the IRS sees it as a hobby. I’m a late bloomer and didn’t start writing until I was 35 and pregnant with twin girls. Friends and family hand made blankets, scrapbooks, and stuffed animals for my girls. I wanted to create something, too, something that would give my children and grandchildren insight into who I am. A cat story had been purring in my head for some time. Obstetrician’s orders forbade me to do anything except sit around, elevate my legs, and keep my cervix from dilating. So I decided to transcribe the story from my head to paper. I was hooked.
After the birth of my twins, my writing was put on hold for two reasons. First, my husband and I were on the verge of lunacy from sleep deprivation. Second, any rare baby-free time we found was spent with each other, usually sleeping.
After the first year, known in twin-circles as “the blur”, we settled into our life as parents and I returned to writing. Gone were the days when I could spend all day on a story. Twins are demanding, but I was relieved we hadn’t acted on our threats to leave them on the steps of St. Catherine’s of Siena for the nuns.
Human infants are born with reflexes crucial for their survival. Place an infant in water and the diving reflex causes the throat to close so no water is swallowed. The sucking and rooting reflex ensures their ability to eat. As infants become toddlers, their reflexes mature. These instincts ensure that Mommy never eats hot meals, never has uninterrupted phone conversations, never has privacy in the bathroom, and never has more than ten minutes to write or research a story. Despite my girls’ tactics, I was able to pour enough time into my writing to self-publish four picture books, write several short stories, and complete the first draft of a middle-grade fantasy novel. It took me six years to do all of this, but, hey, when you’re doing these things in 30 minute increments, that’s not too shabby.
My girls are eleven now, and it’s been fascinating watching them experience the world. As a toddler, Jillian would kiss and hug the phone after a conversation with her grandparents. Samantha liked to pee after she pooped so her poop could have a drink. I’ve kept a notebook to jot down their antics, and to document story ideas that might seep into my head before they spill back out. My daughters can still make me laugh out loud and they remain a huge source of joy, pride and, of course, writing material. I’ve been known to write ideas on napkins, cereal boxes, and the palm of my hand. The theme of one of my picture books is figurative language, and was inspired by my children learning to walk. As they wobbled near tables, I’d say, “Watch your noodle.” Hmm, a food that means “head” - write that idea down in the dust on the end-table.
To further discipline myself and improve my writing skills, I joined a writer’s group that met (and still meets) every Tuesday night at a local bookstore. I’ve learned so much from the other writers, and it forces me to produce four pages of writing each week. I negotiated with my husband an “all about me” night every Tuesday. In return, he gets “all about him” Sunday afternoons during football season. It works for us. Almost eight years later, I’m still at the bookstore, butt in chair, most Tuesday nights. And with the help of my fellow writers, I wrote a 45,000 word middle-grade novel. On-line workshops are also great, since I can go at my own pace, and wear my pink fleece pajamas with the snowflakes on them.
I’ve gathered small amounts of time to market my work. I developed a website. (I have a degree in Computer Science and work full-time in the IT industry which the IRS does not see as a hobby.). I found mailing lists (Ah, lists!) for schools, libraries, and local bookstores. I created news releases, business cards, bookmarks, postcards, and tri-fold brochures. I even succeeded in booking author visits at local schools, libraries, and bookstores.
The combination of parenting and writing is an exercise in patience, prioritization, and time-management. Motherhood can be demanding and frustrating, yet nothing has made me happier, prouder or more fulfilled. When days pass with no time to put pen to paper and I start feeling discouraged, I remind myself; were it not for my twin daughters, I wouldn’t have picked up the pen in the first place.
To read more about Jennifer, go to www.jenniferrogala.com.