Writer, with Kids: Sara Shepard

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Sara Shepard, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars series, The Lying Game series, The Visibles, and Everything We Ever Wanted

Age of kid: Kristian, 7 months

What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?

Before kids, my writing schedule was all the time, or very little, or whenever I felt like. I would write at 2 in the morning. I would write at 6 in the morning. I would spend a lot of time thinking about writing and traveling for writing and dreaming up (and executing) more writing projects. Then, after Kristian was born, I took three months off, but it honestly wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to go back to work– I missed writing–but I also didn’t feel ready. I still wanted to be with him. I hadn’t figured him out yet. I was still So. Very. Tired. I finally started to come out of the fog at more like 5-6 months, maybe when he formed more of a schedule.

And my schedule has changed greatly. I am lucky enough to have a nanny, and she starts at 9 and works until 4 on the weekdays. I trust her implicitly, which means I can go upstairs and work, but as we writers know, it’s hard to work in a given guideline of time if you just aren’t feeling inspired. I do what I need to do–write chapters, make edits–and then try to squash my inspiration/ free thinking/ mental editing into that nanny time as well. Because the other 17 hours of the day? They’re mostly consumed with baby thoughts, things I need for baby, ways to entertain baby and make baby happy, about 45 minutes of exercise/ eating, a few minutes to shower, and as much sleep as I can get.

Okay, so maybe that’s overexaggerated, but it really feels that way sometimes. The crazy thing? I don’t mind it. Not at all.

How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deeply into a current project—say in the sticky middle of a novel’s first draft?

The two YA series I work on are very carefully outlined, so even when I hit a roadblock, I’m not totally in the clouds on the off hours. It’s writing an adult novel I’m worried about. I’m on hiatus from that at the moment, but when I dive back into it, it’ll be more interesting. Luckily my son is young enough where I’m not sure he really notices when I get all introspective and contemplative on him–he’s just happy to be in the Jumperoo or hitting his head on the floor. When he’s older, though, and I’m trying to figure out character motivation when he’s naming every dinosaur that ever walked the earth? I’ll probably catch hell for it.

How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?

I think it’s changed it a lot and hasn’t changed it much at all. I’m happy to say I can still focus–I was really worried about that when I was pregnant, as though certain hormone fluctuations would make the writing abilities magically disappear. (I worry about stupid things, sometimes.) But someone told me this when I was pregnant: I just won’t be so interested in writing as many books in a year. The year I was pregnant, I think I wrote four books (three of which were when I was pregnant). Even though I’m still very driven, I think it’s made me slow down–in a good way. I can’t work on weekends anymore–and that’s probably a good thing. So now I see family. I go on random outings just so the kid can get out in the world. I’m not so stuck in my head. It was probably what I needed.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?

Well, where I live, I don’t feel like there are too many people doing what I do. I suppose that’s the benefit of living in New York– there are lots of other writer/ parents around with whom you can commiserate and share experiences. But most people I know go to work (or don’t go to work) and then come home and be with their kids. They can compartmentalize. Their work is steady, they don’t have crazy deadlines, they know how much they’re going to make in a year. So it’s sometimes hard to find common ground when it comes to that. Another challenge is figuring out a way to make it work. At first, I went through a lot of guilt over leaving my baby with someone else, going upstairs and going to work. When he started recognizing me, I felt horrible when his face fell when I waved and said I had to go up to my room. And I felt guilty about going running in the middle of the day, even though running is often when I do most of my best thinking about novels. I felt like the nanny we had when Kristian was really little was looking at me and thinking, “What a terrible person, exercising instead of choosing to be with her son!” It’s hard to retain your identity and passion while also pouring as much of yourself and your efforts into your child. But I wouldn’t be very useful to him if I didn’t work, both from a practical standpoint and an emotional one, too. I need to do this for a lot of different reasons. It makes me a better person, and it will make him a better person, too. (It also helps that he’s just downstairs, in case I miss him too much.)

Any advice for other writers with kids or who plan to have them?

Set realistic goals about what you want to accomplish before and after baby. (As I said, I wrote four novels the year I was pregnant. Not for everyone. This year, I’ll be lucky to write one. Well, two, I guess. My books come out twice a year. I don’t want to get my publisher too angry at me.) Realize that those dreams of writing with the baby snoozing in the room/ sitting on your lap probably won’t come true (my mom was like, “You’ll get lots of work done! Babies sleep a lot when they’re born!” Uh, not so much. Or when he slept, I wanted to sleep, too). Realize that your schedule will be the baby’s schedule for a long, long time, and if you don’t accommodate and adjust to that, you’re going to have some serious problems.

But most of all, enjoy it. Sounds cheesy, but seriously, it’s a wonderful thing, an experience I’d never trade. And as a bonus? I’m sure it will make my writing richer in ways I’d never imagined.

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Posted in parenting, Writer with kids
3 comments on “Writer, with Kids: Sara Shepard
  1. Lovely post. Also, it made me want to get back into running — it IS wonderful to think about the novel in progress while your feet are pounding the pavement. I always tell myself I won’t, and then I do.

  2. hey sara, i sure do remember those days so well! please be gentle with yourself – though i know no magic for finding the perfect balance, it sounds like you’re doing everything just fine. You kind of made me miss having a baby around the house. :)

  3. Anna says:

    Sara, I love the comment that you wouldn’t be useful to your son if you didn’t work. I feel the same. Financially of course, but also emotionally, so unpaid work counts. Time away is time to recharge, outside interests give you something else to focus on, it all makes for a happier mom (most of the time) and a healthier relationship.

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