All Posts By

Erin Evans

See you next year!

Book vs. Baby is taking a break until January, when we will return with more tips, more stories, and more authors. In the meantime, Happy Holidays to you and yours, keep to your schedules (or not), and make the most of your time confetti!

Best,
Erin & Kate

Sleep Regressions: A Horror Story

I’ve written already about the advice people gave me when I was pregnant—the ever-present warning that I would shit while in labor—and the ways I came to realize the place that advice comes from. We want to help. We want to turn back the clock and fix things for our past selves. We want to form a bond. We want to forget that we are humans and humans sometimes make dumb choices, like toddlers who need to do everything themselves despite not understanding things like ketchup or windows all that well.

Here is the warning no one gave me that I pass on to all parents-to-be: Beware the four month sleep regression! Beware!

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How to Write With a Baby: Seven Experiments

Hi all, Erin here. This is a repost from my other blog, slushlush.com, from around Tiny Mr. I was born. Being elbows deep in a draft, I haven’t got a whole lot of new thoughts beyond, “Stop interrupting me, children!” I’ll be back with something new next week.

 

Experiment #1: Writing while enormously pregnant
PROS: Baby is contained. No schedule to disrupt. Kicks seldom impact keyboard.
CONS: Brain is riding high on cocktail of hormones that may cause you to think either everything you’ve written is nonsense or that writing a blue kangaroo wizard who’s trying to lasso the sun is a bitching idea, depending on the day. Baby creates a much more pressing deadline that any publisher. Naps are more attractive than addressing pacing issues, due to kangaroo’s soliloquies.
VERDICT: Unsustainable

Experiment #2: Writing while breastfeeding newborn
PROS: Multi-tasking! Bonding with baby while being productive. Many, many, many opportunities for practice.
CONS: Must type one-handed (preferably no-handed), and half the time that hand will be the non-dominant one, which will create more typos than you ever thought possible (That had handles half the normal typing. Why does it type as if it’s drunk when the dominant hand is out of commission?). Very, very slow.
VERDICT: Unsustainable

Experiment #3: Writing while breastfeeding with soft carrier (Moby wrap)
PROS: Hands can be devoted to typing as baby is held in place. Multi-tasking. Using Moby wrap your friend gave you for baby shower.
CONS: Baby strapped across your chest is enormous. Must sit farther from computer. Must endure jokes about how it looks like you have ginormous boobs, ha ha. Cannot punch jokesters, because baby is in the way. Then baby finishes eating, mad you have strapped his head down against your chest. Pries himself loose.
Verdict: Hilarious. Really.

Experiment #3: Holding baby in lap while typing
PROS: Cuddly baby who seems interested in your work, even though he’s mostly interested in the screen’s light
CONS: lkejfajlsadodas;jdfs;kndsfSDjoewqebjLDSVjSg[oerpihsd
Verdict: *sigh*
Experiment #4: Putting baby on activity gym/jumper/quilt nearby
PROS: Nobody else is touching keyboard. Visual contact with baby, so he doesn’t assume you’ve abandoned him to be raised by the stuffed forest animals hanging overhead.
CONS: Baby is too cute not to look at. (Alternately, Baby demands you watch him chew on the jingly owl. Makes brain-scratching whine if you do not.)
VERDICT: Unsustainable

Experiment #5: Writing while baby naps
PROS: This is almost like pre-baby. You have time to write without worr
CONS: Lasts about 20 minutes.
Verdict : Depressing

Experiment #6: Wait until baby sleeps. Write while pumping.
PROS: No baby, no distractions, writing time!
CONS: See “baby strapped to chest” cons. Add noise like a dying motor and sense you have become a farm animal. Add Husband quoting that scene from Black Books, “Bernard, Bernard Look. I’m a prostitute robot from the future.” Ha ha.
Verdict: Maybe a little hilarious.

Experiment #7: Handing baby to Grandmama. Running away to coffee shop.
PROS: At least two hours of productive writing time. Sometimes three. You can finish the book this way. People at coffee shop know you and your drink order. Baby is cared for. Visiting time with one grandmother is taken care of. Also, sometimes she folds your laundry and makes your bed.
CONS: Miss baby like crazy.
Verdict: This is hard.

Conventional Wisdom

Somehow, today is Wednesday. I will forgive it, at some point, and I hope you forgive me, too. Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin for Gamehole Con, an excellent gaming convention where I got to run my first D&D game for non-children and also talk about writing some. That also means I got a little scrambled in the coming back home process, what with late planes and missed connections and the creeping specter of “con crud.”

This is my fourth or fifth convention since I had kids. Not only have I had a decent amount of practice, I’ve also seen how it changes as they get older. Conventions and conferences aren’t a required part of your writing career, but they can be important. So here’s some tips and observations you might find useful.

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Momma, What You Even Do?

When my older son was around 2 or 3, he realized those hours of the day where we weren’t playing with him weren’t due to our not understanding that he wanted to play, but because we had jobs. 

“What you even do?” he demanded. Daddy, it was decided “fixed computers.” And Momma wrote books. Which books? These books–these novels we have piles of copies of with the horned lady on the cover, Farideh. My series, the Brimstone Angels Saga, was onto its third title by then, and would finish out last year with number six.

Tiny Mr. I, enthralled by books, was delighted to hear all of this. “Let’s weed Fweeda!”

Ooh. Let’s not. Grown-up books. You can read them when you’re older (Except maybe don’t read them when you’re older. That feels weird….We’ll cross that bridge later.)

That did not satisfy him. Of course it did not satisfy him. Did I mention he was 2 or 3? He pestered and pestered and pestered me. I mean, by this point he was entranced by Farideh. He’d find her at the book store. He’d attempt to potty train my copy of The Adversary along with his stuffed octopus. He’d insist on adding her to songs listing people we knew–the Farideh on the bus goes zap, zap, zap! And always, always “Momma, what is this? What you even do?”

It’s an innocent enough question, really, and while I was never going to read my pretty violent, sometimes sexy, entirely complex and inappropriate for a toddler fantasy series to my son…I was willing to give him a Cliff Notes versions. The not-scary, not-sexy, avoid-all-the-nightmare-fuel-because-I-want-you-to-sleep-omg versions.

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Ages, Stages, & Pages, Chapter Two: Infants (3-6 months)

Congratulations! You survived the “fourth trimester”!

Your baby is now getting the hang of the basics. You don’t have to set alarms through the night to feed them, they’ve probably got that breathing thing down, and you are starting to get a sense for your new normal. Which is to say you are getting used to everything changing every week or so. That means cool stuff—Intentional smiles! Rolling over! Wordlike sounds! Solid foods! And less cool stuff—Four-month sleep regression! Solid food poops! The realization that you will be comparing your kid to everyone else’s forever and ever! Why do we have to baby-proof already!?

 

Bright Side: New levels of cute

However adorable your baby was when they were a newborn, this stage increases that cuteness by an order of magnitude. Here’s where they start to notice you. Here’s where those smiles get deliberate. Here’s where they start to realize how interesting the world is. Here’s where you can feed them a lemon and watch what happens! Everything that was cute about your little one is cuter because they’re interacting in all kinds of new ways.

 

Dangers to Productivity: Google

We’ve all fallen prey to a Wikipedia hole—you start out hunting for resources about ancient underwear or how fast you die if you get shot in the lung or the name of that thing that ancient Romans carried around with the ear pick in it, and four hours later, you remember you’re supposed to be writing a book (but you probably have ideas for six more).

This tendency is dangerous when coupled with the fast arrival of needing to think about “milestones.” When should they roll over? When should they sit up? When should they start babbling and is my child going to Harvard because she definitely signed “more” two weeks before she’s supposed to and if so how do I save for that? Should I take my baby to the hospital because he can’t stand up, but the baby in the library storytime, the one who has the same birthday, is walking? I get it, it’s soothing to read, to gain all the information, but it takes on a whole new level of madness when it’s your kid you’re googling about. Corral it. Avoid it. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned, but remind yourself that your baby is going to do all of these things eventually.

 

Mantra: THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

Good or bad, all of this is temporary even though it will feel like there’s no chance of that happening.  But they aren’t going to be waking you up in the middle of the night to be fed when they’re twenty. They won’t go off to their first job in diapers. They won’t insist on eating soup with their bare hands at their wedding. You also won’t get baby snuggles forever, and the days of fleecy footie pajamas are short. If your schedule gets derailed or your focus isn’t what it needs to be, don’t despair. Savor the good stuff and remind yourself the bad stuff goes quick, especially at this age.

(Don’t think about teenagers yet.)

 

Perfect Project: Start Small

If you don’t have anything going already, this can be a good time to take on something relatively self-contained. Your kiddo is changing rapidly, so it’s hard to count on your writing time not changing, but since you’re likely starting to feel a little more yourself (although, if not, don’t beat yourself up! This takes time!), you might have an easier time rolling with it. Start working out what your new normal can reliably look like, and work on some short stories or essays or poems, or maybe a novella, if your sleep regression goes fast. It will feel good to finish something, and start setting goals in this new chapter of your life.

Taping Together Time Confetti

Before I had kids, I had a day job in an office. I wrote when I got home, then ate a late dinner, and then wrote a whole lot more.  I spent my down time at work daydreaming about what I was working on, rehearsing in a sense, so when I sat down, I seldom had trouble getting the words out. I’d do minimum 1000 words a day, and my absolute peak was 7000. This was the right pace for me.

When I had my first son, Tiny Mr. I, my daydreaming time got co-opted by planning out feedings and milestones, laundry (oh my god, the laundry) and doctor’s appointments. I could think about my book, but much like my sleep quality, my daydream quality went down. Plans to do things like, “Write while I’m nursing” did not survive first contact. I cannot type one handed, as it happens. My first “writing zone” time became “make dinner” time, because Tiny Mr. I cannot wait to eat until 8 or so, and my second became hampered by the fact that Tiny Mr. I wakes up at 7 on the dot, so staying up writing until 1 or 2 was out. Hell, staying up until midnight was only an occasional thing–I was tired.

I ran into the phrase “time confetti” around this point, from the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte.  I would love to recommend it to you, but as I have no time, it still lives on my to-read stack. Maybe we should start a book club, you guys? With wine? Skype wine? Is that a thing?

Anyway, I can recommend this concept from it: time confetti refers to the little scraps of time you end up with between all the stuff you have to do, which is a term that spoke to me post-children. Where were my six-hour writing stretches? When did I get to “answer the muse”?

In the time confetti, basically.

But don’t lose hope: there are plenty of ways to extend those moments, plenty of ways to tape your time confetti together. Here are some tools that have served me well.

Ritual

For many of you, the idea of a writing ritual is familiar. You start at this time, in this place, maybe with this drink or that music. You build in sensory cues that remind your brain and your body it’s time to write, and so you find you work better in a particular coffee shop or with a particular soundtrack. Maybe you do it intentionally, and maybe it just happens as you build up a habit.

Anything you can do that tells your brain it’s writing time is on the table, but the best options will be things you can do anywhere and things that you won’t regret doing every day, sometimes multiple times a day (There’s such a thing as too much coffee, trust me, and if you don’t want to hit a point where you dread the taste, leave this one be).

My trick right now is a scented lotion. I keep a little bottle in my purse and a bigger bottle on my desk. When I sit down to write, I put a little on my incredibly dry hands, and inhale. The smell gets associated with writing, and voila! I cut out the dawdling.

Smartphone writing app

Itsy Mr. E was not down with pretending to grab my phone, because I wanted him to grab my phone. So he went for my hair.

Itsy Mr. E, Erin, and phone

I can’t type on my computer one-handed, and while I intentionally chose a laptop that can fit in a diaper bag, it’s not always feasible to haul it around. But if you have a smartphone, you can work on that pretty much anywhere. It’s easier to type one handed. It’s easier to yank out of grabby baby reach. It’s not as pleasant as using a computer, but it’s a good backup.

There are plenty of writing apps and finding the best one for you is likely to be a matter of trial and error–I’ve gone through about five, but finally settled on Scrivener’s iOS app. It integrates with Dropbox and Scrivener on your computer, so anything you add to your manuscript or notes gets pulled into the main file. Also, it auto-saves.

 

Baby carrier

This is the face of a woman trying to decide which character dies.

Tiny Mr. I, Erin, a Beco Butterfly, and 30,000 words to go.

This tool only works for small babies, but while they’re teeny, you can drop them in the front pack and multitask working and cuddling, plus getting them to sleep. Again, there are a lot of different styles of front packs and a lot of opinions. I liked the wrap-style Moby at some points, and the Beco for others (these are great to borrow from other parents, by the way). Make sure whatever you get supports your back, and lets you sit comfortably if that’s how you need to write.

 

 

“Quiet Time”

Naps are a great time to get work done. Two, sometimes three, hours of uninterrupted quiet? Hallelujah! Let’s get stuff done.

Assuming your child naps. When they get older, they all stop napping anyway, so what then? With Tiny Mr. I, we instituted “quiet time,” and that wasn’t only for my sake. Tiny Mr. I is a very outgoing child, but on some deep, fundamental level, he is also the introverted child of two introverts. He likes people; they’re still exhausting. When he first stopped napping, he would go a day or two and then be an absolute terror. His well was dry. His spoons were gone. He needed some alone time, some quiet.

So for an hour a day, he would go to his room. He listened to podcasts or audiobooks and plays with quiet toys. He did puzzles, built Legos, colored–and then he’d come bounding out, happy and ready to go! And I got an hour of work done–win-win!

The additional benefit of this is that now he understands when he needs some down time. He’s in school now, so there’s no enforced quiet time, but often he comes home and tells us he’ll be in his room for some quiet.

“Play Alone Toys”

Quiet time is great, but it cannot be deployed on the fly. You’ve got a deadline. You’ve got an idea you need to get down. You’ve got an interview you need to do. There are kids out there–I hear, anyway–who can be told, “Go play for a bit” and entertain themselves. As I said, Tiny Mr. I loves people

That’s when we pull down the “play alone toys.” These are special. These are rare. They only come down when Momma needs to have her space, and so they are kind of exciting, even if it means you’re not getting attention.

Play alone toys can be anything that piques your kiddos interest, but a few requirements:

  • They only come out when needed.
  • They can only be played with by kids.
  • They need to be toys that your kids don’t require help with. It defeats the purpose if you have to stop to open containers and connect pieces (looking at you, Hot Wheels).

Our last rotation of play alone toys included some Junior Legos, a puzzle book, and a Play-Doh fun factory.

Write Or Die

I mentioned I use Scrivener, and I know people can get evangelical about how it changed their lives. But I’m here today to ask if you’ve heard the good word of Write or Die, and to ask you to let Kamikaze mode into your heart.

One of my problems with making the time work for me is starting. Left to my own devices, I want to get comfortable and noodle and ponder and circle the problem a few times before I attack it, but by then the baby’s awake and my writing time for the morning is done. Write or Die 2 takes that away. You set a word count goal and a time limit. Then you look inside your soul and decide if you’re a carrot person or a stick person: you can be rewarded for reaching your goal, or receive consequences for slipping.

I am a stick-person. I find the most motivating way to use Write or Die 2 is to set it to “Kamikaze mode.” Then I start writing and if I stop, the screen starts to turn red. If I don’t get to typing, then an alarm sounds and a scary picture appears (like a big-ass spider). If that doesn’t get me going, Write or Die starts eating the words I wrote. Chomp-chomp-chomp. 

I have fifteen minutes before an appointment and a great idea for that scene? I can get the beginnings out without my noodly, daydreamer tendencies getting in my way. I don’t actually lose those tendencies, mind, I just periodically shelve them in favor of getting things down faster. And recall when I said my pre-baby speed was 1000 an hour? It’s doubled with Write or Die.

There’s a web-based app you can try, or a paid download with more features. You can turn off the spiders and give yourselves kittens, or turn off the backspace and really rough draft it!

***

Now it’s your turn: what are your tricks for getting writing done in the time confetti?

Ages, Stages, & Pages, Chapter One: Newborns

Congratulations! You now have a baby!

Newborns are a paradox. They possess a really low difficulty rating—they haven’t discovered things like existential crises, the charm of your smart phone, or backtalk yet—but also incredibly high—they need you just about every second of every day to do everything for them or they might die. They are pretty weird looking—jaundiced and peeling, wrinkly and hairy in weird places with pointy little butts–except yours is literally the most glorious child that was ever born. No question. You feel bad for other people, having their subpar kids. It’s tragic. Newborns are boring—the “potato stage”—and they are terrifying. Did you know that after you’re born you have to learn how to breathe properly? You do now.

Bright side: Portable

Newborns have one job: grow. To do this, they basically eat a lot and sleep a lot, so if you want to do things during this chapter of your baby, it’s not impossible. Pop them in a bassinet and presto! It’s practically just like before–sleep deprivation and possible trauma to your body, notwithstanding. Once they’ve gotten a semblance of an immune system, take them to the movies or fancy dinner or a coffee shop—they’ll sleep through it all, only waking up for a little milk now and then.

Dangers to Productivity: You.

First, babies have the evolutionary skill of mesmerizing you. You can waste a lot of time staring at them. It can be really hard to walk away and let someone else take care of them for an hour or so, even if that someone is their other parent, who would also like some time to stare at them. Third, you are tired. Fourth, you are learning uncountable new skills. Fifth, you are rebuilding your whole life and—dare I say it—sense of self to include this new person.

Plus, if you are the one that carried that baby, you are riding out a hormone shift that would make puberty blush, while recovering from either the equivalent of a hundred marathons (…pretty sure) if you also ran marathons on your crotch, or major abdominal surgery that may have come with a side of alchemically intense stress-terror. Or if you’re like one unlucky mom friend of mine, both! And if you did not carry your child, you may be helping someone who did recover–making sure they eat, hydrate, sleep, ice, take some pain meds, stop getting up–which is a critical and demanding role. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Suffice it to say, this is not your time to shine. This is your time to be gentle on yourself and to focus on that recovery and those new skills and, oh right! The baby. Celebrate what you do get done. Avoid hard, immovable deadlines, if you can.

Perfect Pages: Wild, Arty Passion Projects

You know that one project? The one you always shift to the backburner? The one where you want to use three different tenses to convey the shifting alliances of the point-of-view characters? The one where you kill the protagonist at the midpoint and reveal that the story you’ve been following was not the one in the foreground? The one that’s written entirely in trochaic tetrameter, because Dies Irae, that’s why? The one where you know it’s probably not commercially viable, yet in the small hours, when your other projects are boring, you still think of how cool that would be?

Man, do that. What’s in your way? You can’t count on getting something solid done, so get something fun done.

Are you sleep-deprived? Of course you are! And with sleep-deprivation comes a wandering brain and weird logical leaps–stuff that might get in the way of crafting something solid and traditional, but might uncover amazing creative insights on something you need to stop being too critical about. The critical part of your brain is probably busy anyway, keeping track of when the baby last ate, how many diapers she’s gone through, and whose eyes does he have exactly? So unleash the wild creative part and do something you don’t need it for.

 

 

Unspeakable Things

When I first got pregnant, everyone warned me that I would shit on the delivery table. They all told me this in hushed tones, as if the penalties for revealing this indignity were unspeakable. No one warned them, they all said, but they were warning me.

While I started out appreciating the spirit of this warning, it started to irritate me. Is shitting that bad? Isn’t it obvious you’re going to shit? A skull is coming through the next lane, everything’s gotta pull over. It’s not like the nurses and doctors and midwives aren’t ready for it. And if pooping in front of my husband was going to destroy our intimacy, well, I would think I married the wrong dude. I started telling these people I was having a water birth* because it made their eyes bug out.

We offer warnings because we don’t want others to experience the same trauma or embarrassment. We tell our stories, in the hopes other people gain something from them and do better than we did. We tell them because they’re funny and they make us memorable, but we also tell them because the truth is important.

The truth is that writing with a baby is a lot harder than you probably appreciate before you try it. The truth is that it’s also a lot easier than you imagine before you start. The truth is if you’re having a baby, you’ll probably shit on the delivery table and if you’re becoming a parent, you’ll probably have to relearn how to be yourself. The truth is you can.

We don’t always listen to warnings because we don’t know we need them. We haven’t stood in that spot and we don’t know what we need to hear. When I had my first son, everyone also said “Having a baby changes everything,” to which I (mentally) replied, “Yeah, yeah, yeah: Hallmark stuff.” It’s amazing! It’s wonderful! It changes everything! I didn’t understand the warning therein.

What I wish people had told me was that having a baby forces you to remake yourself from the ground up. You can do it fast. You can do it slow. You can do it painstakingly, or slap yourself together and figure out the mistakes down the road, but everything changes and I think we should all be clearer that’s serious up front. After I had a child, everything was different because when something that big comes along you have to figure out how to adapt to it. You realize what’s precious to you, and what you’ve only held onto out of habit. What must be done, what you’d like to be done, and what you need to be done so that you can keep being you. It’s hard to say, until you have done it, what’s going to be difficult or traumatic or funny.

The truth is you don’t know how you’re going to feel about shitting on the table until it’s already happening. You don’t know how much you have to rebuild yourself until everything changes and you have to add “somebody’s parent” to your identity.  The truth is I’m not you and you’re not me, but I’m warning you all the same, because I know the path’s not easy and you can’t avoid it, and once you’re through to the other side, you’ll look around and know how it’s done.

 

*The answer, I am told, is “aquarium net.”