Would We Lie To You? When Life Eclipses Your Nonfiction Book

[Another entry in the ongoing blog "Would We Lie To You?: News from the Non-Fiction Career Lab"]

by  Deborah L. Blicher 

Nearly six years ago, my husband and I adopted two preschoolers from Russia. We studied up on Russian language and culture, adoption law, adoptive parenting, attachment, and school issues. I’ve kept a blog about our experiences and have started to write about adoption for pay. Adoption would be a great subject for my first nonfiction book. So what am I writing about? Traveling in the Amazon jungle.

Nobody thinks this is stupider than I do. But here’s what happened: I fell in love with a sweet, intelligent man who happened to be a doctor who traveled annually to Brazil with a medical brigade. I went with him once, decided to write a book, and went two more times. Somewhere in there, my new husband convinced me that we ought to adopt. We became parents six months earlier than we expected, two weeks after I finished my book proposal. I shoved the proposal in a drawer and became a mother.

Now it’s six years later, and my life has stabilized. Last spring, I had the amazing luck to be accepted into Grub Street’s Nonfiction Career Lab. Since then, I’ve actually been writing the Amazon book. Yes, it’s hard to do creative work while managing a household, recall a place I can’t physically revisit, and show up to class when I’ve been up with a sick child. Nonetheless, my work and I are flourishing. I hope you never make the mistake of choosing a book subject as badly at odds with your life as I did, but if you do, maybe some of the more sensible things I did can help you.

  • I kept thinking about my subject. During my six “absent” years, I looked at my Amazon material whenever I had time. If I felt unable to write, I read and rearranged the pieces. In this way I kept a small part of my mind reserved for the project. Trust me: that small part is priceless.

  • I kept up my working environment. I always made sure I had software to write with, space on a hard drive, and a reliable backup, even when my husband and I shared an old, cranky laptop. Sure, I didn’t always use it for the book, but I kept my files safe, which helped me believe I’d get back to them. The lesson: maintaining your space helps maintain your mind.

  • I kept reading. I didn’t and still don’t have much time to read with my eyes, but I do have time to listen--say, while driving, cooking, or folding laundry. Audiobooks have kept me current on the latest in my genre. Therefore, when I started The Lab, I had very little to catch up on. Nothing bolsters a writer’s confidence like being well-read.

  • I kept my contacts….even though all I could do sometimes was send holiday cards. My contacts have sent me updates, photos, and other inspiring material about my subject. So can yours. Their presence, however distant, helps us engage with our work.

  • I kept hanging out with writers. This was difficult when my kids were small and my husband’s schedule was even worse than it is now. However, I found that even emailing critiques kept me thinking like a writer. Doubt you’ll find writers? You’re reading this blog, aren’t you? We’re closer than you think.

I’m writing this entry by the observation window for my kids’ taekwondo class. Is parenting eclipsing my writing? Not today. Tomorrow it might. But, on balance, I’d say my writing life is good right now. 

Deborah L. Blicher is a former speech scientist. After earning her MFA from Emerson College, she decided to pursue a career in software, of all things. She has since settled down in Metrowest Boston with her husband and children. When she can, she teaches writing and tutors English as a foreign language. She is the founder of the blog Two Adopt Two and contributes to Boston Mamas.

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