Today we have an interview with Laura Garwood, a fellow writer from my town. Somehow Laura and I never hang out despite the fact that we live in the same area, have at least one mutual friend, and have kids at the same school. I’m not completely sure that she’s real – it’s possible that I hallucinate her into being whenever I need to read a Facebook post about how to remove nail polish from a keyboard (hint: learn to live with the nail polish).
A simpler explanation might be that Laura is crazy busy. A single mom of three young children, she has a thriving career as a writer and editor. Of all the moms and dads who I’ve interviewed who juggle writing and parenting, Laura writes most prolifically about this topic, and she offered to answer some questions about time management and about how parenting has changed her work. You can find her at A Short-Winded Blog.
You wear many hats in your job – writer, editor, and advisor. Can you tell us about what you do?
My work is divided among several hats. I run my own editing business and subcontract for various colleagues. In this arena, I largely edit book manuscripts, performing everything from big-picture developmental edits down to final proofreads. I also edit various other materials, such as essays, resumes, marketing materials, query letters, and academic works. I also do a lot of technical writing and editing for a private environmental firm in Sacramento and Sacramento State University. I teach a bit too, on writing and editing. In addition, I write essays and pen Short-Winded Blog, a humor/parenting blog. My most well-known post, “So You Think You Would Like to Have Three Children,” has had well over a million reads (to my complete surprise), and my work has appeared in local and national publications like a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, the Oregonian, and UC Davis magazine.
My writing and editing have been oddly social for me, and I really enjoy collaborating with other writers. I see my editing work as a collaboration, not the scary, corrective process some writers fear it will be, and my blogging has created a bit of a community around me, between supportive and kind readers and groups such as Writers Who Wine and Sacramento Bloggers.
If you could only give one piece of advice to a new writer, what would it be?
Hmmm, maybe hang in there? Writing is darned hard work. Starting a piece is hard work. Revising is hard work. Sending out queries is certainly hard work. It is well worth it to express yourself and share your works, but sometimes I watch people grow discouraged.
On your blog, you talk about being a single mom of three children. How has motherhood changed the content of your writing?
Motherhood has radically changed my content. I never thought I would be here, but the vast majority of my writing is non-fiction/essays, even though I used to aspire to be a novelist. I have found my voice in sharing about my life, my family, my community, and my struggles. Writing essays comes more naturally to me than other kinds of writing. I still write poems and articles and I would enjoy writing some fiction, but I’m primarily a woman who writes about the stuff of daily life. Some of where I have ended up has been a fluke–I started writing again in much more earnest after my motherhood essay was accepted into the Listen to Your Mother show, and I submitted that essay after barely writing anything for myself for several years.
As an incredibly busy person, what time management tips do you have for us? What does your average day look like?
Oh, man. Welcome to the biggest struggle of my life–balancing time, energy, demands, and priorities. I am a fairly structured person, and I find it important to maintain that structure and pretty specific boundaries in my life as a businesswoman. I work working hours–and when I “cheat,” I try to avoid sending emails so that clients don’t begin to think I am on call. I learned that the hard way. I also try to stay in the present with my children and friends, and stay present in my work when my children are in school. I don’t want to waste my working time when they are gone and then have to work when they’re actually here. And I also need and deserve rest, so when I’m tempted to catch up on that deadline after bedtime, I try to resist when I don’t actually need to. I’m a single mom, and I need my energy to be a good editor, a good mom, and a happy person.
Most of us have a lot of balls in the air. What are some of the things you think people can let go of? How do you bring balance to your life, or is there such a thing?
There is no balance. There is simply prioritizing and letting things go. I try to focus on each thing in its own time, rather than cleaning when I should be working and working when I should be visiting with my relatives. I drop the balls sometimes, and it’s tempting to beat myself up when I show up at an event without realizing it was potluck or when I discover my child’s lunch in the refrigerator partway through the afternoon. As a small-business-operating single mother of three young children, I am mostly in it for survival. I need to go to the gym even if I feel guilty because it helps me manage anxiety. I don’t go as often as I’d like, however. I need to get enough sleep because I need to be functional, patient even, and I can’t catch up on rest later. I need to keep cultivating my friendships, because they are what have kept me afloat thus far. I need to take the time to focus on things that are more important than tasks, like relationships–even when it stresses me out a bit! And when my kids are available as helpers or people offer me help, by gosh, I take it because I need it. Fold the clothes wrong or put the dishes away in the wrong place? Who cares! I was able to sit down or read a story to my kid for fifteen precious minutes because my mom unloaded the dishwasher.
What do you wish writers knew about publishing?
It’s a world of possibilities, and the different routes are perfect for different goals. If you just want to share your work with friends and family, blog or self-publish and enjoy having control over your content. If you want a best-selling novel, try pitching your novel to an agent working with traditional publishers. If your work has a specialty niche, consider self-publishing or working with a small, specialized publisher. But as someone with a master’s in publishing, I hate to see people not make the most of the path they’ve chosen. Hire a professional to walk you through the self-publishing process if you are overwhelmed by choices or not very tech-savvy. Hire indie professionals to edit, format, and proofread your work, not some kind of built-in service that doesn’t really connect you with the people working on your book. Do your homework. Ask people their opinions.