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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

Why You Shouldn’t Get a Puppy While You’re Pregnant (And Why You Should)

We decided to get a dog long before I got pregnant with our son. Arrangements were made. We picked him up, fluffy and adorable, and carted him home. Two days later, I discovered I was pregnant.

Puppies make morning sickness so much worse

I brace my hands on my thighs and blow out a huffing breath. I glance over my shoulder at the puppy, his haunches tucked under him comically as he doodles on the grass. I start to heave. I look away. I think about how it will feel through the plastic bag, warm and soft and giving under my fingers. I heave harder.

DISGUSTING.

Puppies are gross. There’s no getting around it. There will be accidents and Smells and mystery substances, none of which mesh well with a body that wants to upchuck at the slightest provocation. And then you’re heaving over the toilet and you have a waggling, enthusiastic fluffball trying to wrestle because you are CLEARLY having fun without him.

…but on the other hand…

Babies are gross, too. And if you’re worried about how you’ll handle the diapers, the spit-up, and the Unidentified Viscous Substances, taking care of a puppy will teach you pretty quickly that it’s a lot easier than it sounds. It has to get done, and you love the little stinker. So you do it.

Puppies will disrupt your sleep

Hoping to get a few last months of solid sleep before the discomfort of third trimester and the pure chaos of a newborn? I sure was! Instead I spent several weeks hoofing it outside every night between midnight and three AM at least twice, wrapped in a bathrobe and holding a flashlight while the puppy voided himself explosively into the grass. And that was when we got lucky, and got him out of the crate before the apoocalypse hit. Then there was the separation anxiety that meant he cried unless one of us slept on the concrete floor next to his crate. And all the times we woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of Brave Pup Vs The Evil Dog Bed.

…but on the other hand…

By the time the actual kid arrived, we were really good at not sniping at each other when roused in the middle of the night. We had communication strategies in place for when we were both tired and grumpy, and systems for trading off responsibility and sharing the load. I missed the sleep, sure. But at this point I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in over two years. A few months on either end doesn’t particularly move the needle.

Puppies are sheer unadulterated chaos and disruption

LORD CHAOS REIGNS

We used to snuggle in our TV corner and watch a show most nights. The dog couldn’t handle that. He’d chew on the couch, crawl under it, fight with cords, try to escape, pee. Walking him was a nightmare (and continued to be until he mellowed at about 18 months-2 years). The bill for things he destroyed (mostly my things) was not small. Any time I got into a rhythm with writing, the dog was there with a mouthful of Kleenex or a funny story about why there’s that dripping sound in the next room to pull me out of it.

…but on the other hand…

As much as a dog can increase your blood pressure, they’re also great at relieving and redirecting anxiety. And that was a huge boon for me. The truth is, we got Vonnie in large part because I had a miscarriage. We had always wanted a dog, but we were being sensible about it. And then I lost a pregnancy, and we had this sense of… why are we waiting for what we want? We don’t know what’s going to happen in life, and we can handle what comes at us, even if it’s all at once. Getting a dog was something we could have certainty about. Having him around while I was waiting to pass the first trimester mark, and then waiting for viability, and then waiting for delivery, was an immense comfort. I never stopped being afraid that my son wouldn’t make it into the world, up until, after he was whisked away from me following a difficult and worrying delivery, a doctor called over her shoulder “He’s perfect!” And for all those months of worrying and hoping, the puppy was my frenetic, adoring, cuddly companion.

Dogs and babies don’t mix well

Or at least, not without constant supervision, careful training, and a lot of savvy. The internet is full of videos of stressed-out dogs an inch away from biting, with babies mauling them and adults laughing. If you don’t know how to read your dog’s stress cues, if you don’t know your dog’s disposition toward babies and chaos thoroughly, if you make an assumption at the wrong moment–it can lead to disaster. Your dog doesn’t even need to lash out to hurt your child.

We spent a lot of time teaching Vonnie to be gentle with the baby because he liked him so much he wanted to treat him like a puppy. When the baby was only a few days old, we all nearly died of heart attacks when the dog hurtled down the hall and launched himself blind onto the bed where the baby was being changed. Luckily, Dad was there to scoop the baby up, and no one was hurt. We had much stricter procedures after that for closing the dog gates. But it was very nearly a disaster, and we’ve never forgotten that a 60lb dog can do a lot of damage, intentional or unintentional, to a fragile baby.

…but on the other hand…

They freaking LOVE each other now. Seriously. How cute. Is this.

Answer: Really cute. Now that the little man is old enough to chase and throw toys (not very far) and scratch his ears, Vonnie is completely on board.

Walking Vonnie every day also gets me out of the house and moving. And gets me twenty minutes, twice a day, without the baby, to have my own music (sorry, Caspar Babypants and Moana, but there’s more to life than you) and my own thoughts.

Getting a puppy ramped up the difficulty of balancing baby, pets, and career. But I’d do it again.

I mean, not really, I’m never doing that again, it was bananapants. But I don’t regret it. But we’re not getting another puppy. Holy shit. Are you kidding? Of course not.

But, I mean. Look at ‘im.

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.

Writing & Pregnancy: First Trimester

Challenges: You feel like warmed-over road kill. You suddenly feel like you have an expiration date on your productivity. You might be struggling with anxiety and worry about being pregnant, or about the viability of your pregnancy.

Bonuses: You might be still riding the excitement high. If your symptoms are mild, you can keep up your normal routines fairly well. There’s no baby-prep work to take up your time yet. You have plenty of time to plan and daydream.

My most vivid memories of my first trimester involve standing outside in the early morning, trying to pick up petite doodles of puppy poo without looking at or thinking about them, lest I start gagging.

I had a fairly mild first trimester. Only threw up once, gagging on a vitamin. Queasiness was a constant companion, I was frequently tired, and I had daily headaches for which I could take nothing but the occasional Tylenol… but all in all, not that bad.

Pregnancy, I find, skews your perspective swiftly and without mercy.

For most people, the first trimester is some kind of miserable. Frequently, you haven’t told anyone why you’re puking and tired and irritable. If you have, you get the special treat of having people suck in their breaths a little and intone “Isn’t it a bit… early to be announcing?” (When interacting with pregnant people, a good rule of thumb is to assume that you are the fifth person today to say any given thing. Fifth repetition still nice/useful? Go for it. Fifth repetition likely to send pregnant human into frothing hormone-fueled rage? Keep your damn mouth shut, Janice.*)

What does any of this have to do with writing? Odds are, the first trimester is going to find some way to fuck with your productivity. I work best in the mornings. When I woke up every single morning with a splitting headache, that went a bit awry. I would love to tell you that I have a dozen fool-proof methods for staying productive while suffering the equivalent of a three-month flu, but the truth is, I don’t. You don’t know what your first trimester is going to look like until you’re in the thick of it. You don’t know how your routines are going to hold up. You’ll be better off if you have rock-solid writing rituals and practices beforehand, but there’s no guarantee they’ll survive contact with reality.

So here are my two truths of writing while pregnant:

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Be kind to yourself.

These may sound familiar, because they’re pretty much the foundational truths of writing and parenting in general.

If you are the sort who always sits down at exactly the same time to write exactly the same number of words, and that has stopped working, view it as a blessing. Now is the time to train yourself to write in your vomit-free moments; to transcribe sentences on the phone while up at night unable to sleep because of your pregnancy-induced jitters; to learn to write longhand because the screen suddenly gives you headaches. It’s a time to be realistic about what you need to get done over the next few months, and create a plan for accomplishing it. But it’s also a time to cut yourself some slack, to learn to listen to your body and hear when it tells you to let some pressure off of yourself.

Meet your deadlines, if you have them. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to finish your life’s work before d-day. I did not do this. My first trimester was a blur of panic, anxiety, and the conviction that I needed to somehow write an inventory of novels in six months that would last me until my last kid hit kindergarten.

Be flexible. Be kind. Write what you must, what you want to, and what you can, in that order. And if your production drops off? Breathe. Relax. Refocus. There are years ahead, and the only thing you’re racing is yourself.

 

*If your name is actually Janice, please feel free to insert “Denise” or “Carl” here. As long as you then keep your damn mouth shut.

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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Writing & Pregnancy

Tip #1: Get as much done during your pregnancy as you can (which may be less than you think).

Tip #2: don’t get a 9-week-old Golden Retriever puppy two days before you find out you’re pregnant.

When I saw that second line show up on the pregnancy test, I started to laugh. “Well, this should be interesting,” I called to my husband, who was chasing Vonnegut, our brand-new minion of chaos, across the living room. Vonnie had been home for a day and a half. So had I, fresh off the plane from a week-long writing retreat on the other side of the country. The retreat had been a last hurrah, as we both suspected that any month now we’d be getting ready for the ultimate vacation disruptor. I’d written forty thousand words in five days, over half of what would become I AM STILL ALIVE. I didn’t even know I was pregnant and I was already frantic to get as much writing done as I could before the kid arrived.

This was my strategy, in all its complex tactical glory: write as much as I humanly could while I was pregnant, so I could slack off for a bit after the birth (you know, like a few days, max).

It was a great strategy. You should totally try it. Just know that I completely failed at it, and everything turned out fine.

Over the next nine months, I had two books published and wrote another book and a half. Meanwhile, Vonnie’s bladder capacity slowly got better while mine slowly got worse. My borderline panic continued to mount. So did my excitement. By the time I was in my third trimester, I struggled to get anything done unless it was baby-related. Painting the entire apartment (badly)? Sure, no problem. Stringing a sentence together? Impossible. It was too hard to focus on imaginary worlds and invented lives when thinking about my future was so all-consuming.

As the “subtle” comments about age gaps between siblings start flying at family gatherings, pregnancy and writing are on my mind. I’m determined to learn from my mistakes and my successes and be a hell of a lot nicer to myself this time around, so stick around next week and I’ll start diving into what worked, what didn’t, and provide an ongoing catalogue of the things that puppy destroyed.

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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Techniques for Producing Words Despite Your Precious, Beautiful Screeching Howler Monkey, Part III

Read Part I and Part II of this series!

Part III, or: I Could Keep Doing This Forever But Three Is a Good Number. Our final two tips/techniques are…

Word Sprints and Accountability Buddies

The problem: You feel isolated while writing. Or you don’t feel much motivation with only yourself to disappoint. You have a deadline and no energy. Writing lacks thrill.

For some folks, there’s nothing like external pressure and accountability to get things done. I often find that one of the best ways to get things done is to kick in my competitive drive, which my family can tell you is… intense. (I was banned from playing Magic: The Gathering with my brother as a child, and I’m still not really allowed to play competitive board games. It’s. Um. A problem.) And similarly, I’m far more likely to get something done to avoid disappointing someone else than if it’s a purely personal goal. I love deadlines with a passion, but they aren’t always forthcoming.

So this is actually two techniques rolled into one. First, group (or paired) word sprints: Find a buddy, set a timer, and WRITE. It’s like a joint Pomodoro. You can make these as long as you want, but I always find that they don’t work if I go longer than 30 minutes at a stretch; I no longer treat it like a sprint, and devolve back into bad habits. At the end of the time, compare progress. If you’re the competitive sort (and cheerful about it) you can crown a “winner” for the sprint; otherwise, you can just cheer each other on. At the very least, this forces you to admit to another human being when you cheated and checked Facebook for fifteen minutes.

Longer term, having a writing group or critique partner waiting on your words creates external accountability and gives you deadlines that exist as more than personal goals (but are nonetheless more flexible than your editor’s). Even just talking about something publicly can ensure that you work on it, just to avoid the awkward conversations about “What ever happened to…”

Spreadsheets

Problem: You need an excuse to make a spreadsheet. You feel insufficiently motivated without a visual indicator of progress. You don’t have enough spreadsheets in your life. 

If you don’t find spreadsheets inherently intoxicating, this may not be as effective for you. But really, is there any problem a spreadsheet can’t improve? Especially a color-coded, conditionally-formatted spreadsheet?

I love spreadsheets to track my writing. Admittedly, I’m not great with daily wordcounts in spreadsheets; I usually have only a couple weeks of tending to a spreadsheet in me, tops. So I stick with them for short term goals, but if you have the diligence to check in every day with your spreadsheet, they can be a great tool.

They can give you a visual indicator of progress, and a quick visual motivator. Format your cells so that they turn prettier colors the closer you get to your goal. You want that cell to be green, don’t you? The green of the sea. The green of a verdant forest. The green of a sparkling emerald. Not that muddy yellowish color it is now! Keep going!

It’s also great for spotting patterns. You can see when you wrote more or less, and try to figure out what was different, and if you can make changes to hit more of those green days and fewer of those red and yellow days.

My machete draft spreadsheet, not yet green.

The main thing I use spreadsheets for is actually deleting words. When I do what I call a machete draft to get rid of word bloat or trim down an overlong manuscript, I always plug everything into a spreadsheet so that I can see where the words are coming from, target areas that haven’t been touched as much, and generally enjoy the numbers ticking down.

A warning: This kicks my self-competitive mode into overdrive, and it’s hard to turn off. My husband starts making sad noises, the dog paws at the door, the baby fusses, but I MUST write more words. The house may be a wreck but THAT IS THE GREENEST FUCKING CELL YOU HAVE EVER SEEN IN YOUR LIFE.

…So there you go! Six quick techniques to sample to stay productive while your child attempts to slap your keyboard because he KNOWS that’s how you make Caspar Babypants play. Not that I’m trying to restrain a wailing, dancing toddler right now. Nope. Okay, gotta go…

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.