Therese here. Today’s guest is Sarah Jio, whose debut novel, The Violets of March, releases today! The book has already gained national and international attention–it will be published in Germany and Spain, and has been chosen as a Target “Emerging Author” pick. Redbook magazine called the story “engrossing,” and Jodi Picoult said of the novel, “Mix a love story, history, and a mystery and what takes root? The Violets of March, a novel that reminds us how the past comes back to haunt us, and packs a few great surprises for the reader along the way.” Sarah, who is not only a contributor to magazines like Real Simple and Glamour, is also a busy mom. I’m thrilled she’s with us today to tell us how she juggles momhood with everything else. Enjoy!
Yes, It Is Possible to Write a Novel With Small Children Hanging On You
Today my debut novel, The Violets of March, debuts from Penguin (Plume), and I wish I could tell you that I wrote it in a quiet, organized, peaceful office with classical music playing in the background and an inspired vase of daffodils on my desk. Um, no. I pretty much wrote this book—and my next ones, more on that below—with children hanging on me. Let me paint a picture for you: 4 year old nagging for a snack at my right, a 2 year old drooling on my contract for my next novel at my left (oops—hope my agent didn’t notice the smeared type on page 4!), and a newborn on the brink of a meltdown in the bouncer seat at the base of my desk. That’s the general state of the union in my home, and I learned early on as a mom that if I couldn’t embrace the chaos and just write, I’d never get a book published.
I wrote The Violets of March when I was pregnant with my second son, and I wrote an entire first draft in the second trimester of my pregnancy. (Strangely, I get really creative in the second trimesters–which is a topic for another post!) I signed with my agent after the baby came and literally worked on revisions while my baby lay in his bouncer seat in my office. I’d bounce his little chair while I typed, and work on the draft more after he and his brother were tucked away in bed for the night. It was totally nuts for a while, and I remember getting a cramp in my foot from bouncing that little seat so much, but it worked. Baby was happy. I got writing done. Toddler played cars at my feet. Of course, I had help now and then—the occasional babysitter, a generous mother who loved spending time with her grandbabies, and a supportive husband. But I still tried to eke out a bit of writing time in my days, even when I was the only one on duty.
After my first son was born, I trained myself to write in tiny increments. All writers know this is very hard—and very annoying to do. There’s nothing worse than getting started on a good scene only to be interrupted and lose your train of thought. But here’s the thing: I knew that if I just threw in the towel and said, ‘alright, this is too hard. I will never write a book,’ then I’d never do it. So if I got 20 minutes while a baby napped, I’d use it—or, heaven forbid, a full 55 while the 3-year-old watched Sesame Street!
I also used naptimes and evenings wisely—though I didn’t always want to. Really, the last thing you want to do after chasing kids around all day is to work, but I made it my business to sit down at my desk and put on my fiction hat every night while the boys were snoozing. Sometimes I was excited for this time, eagerly saying goodnight to the kids and rushing downstairs to my desk to write a scene I’d been thinking about all day; other times it was drudgery, dragging my tired self into my office and forcing out 1,000 words. But I kept at it, and eventually I had a novel.
I just welcomed my third baby boy, Colby, in January and while managing three kids is pretty crazy, I’m determined to keep at the book stuff. I recently sold my second novel, The Bungalow, again to Penguin (to be published in April 2012) and am hard at work on my third. But, I’ll be honest: I do daydream about a little peace and quiet and the year 2016, when my kids will, um, all be in school. By then, however, I may be so used to working with screaming and yelling in the background that I’ll probably actually miss the craziness.
Gotta run. The 4-year-old just whacked the 2-year-old and the baby is fussing. You know.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Alex Barth