It’s funny how things work. Just as my writing career took off in a major way (as in, assignments were coming in almost daily, and I was taking on some exciting stuff with a book on the back burner), I got pregnant with my first child. I remember wondering how I’d juggle new motherhood with writing–especially since I wanted to be a hands-on mom and not send the kiddo to daycare or hire a nanny (though, the thought did cross my mind when he came into the world screaming with wild case of colic that lasted about 9 months–but that’s another story).
So, shortly after my first baby, Carson (now almost 4), was born, I was struggling–as most new moms are–to juggle writing assignments with motherhood. I’ll never forget a lunch date I had with an editor about a month after his birth. We were meeting at a chic cafe downtown–my first outing without the baby–and I squeezed my post-delivery body into a pair of pants that barely buttoned and hoped the empire waist top didn’t show the layers of baby flab that had hung on after the birth.
As I sat at the table with this editor, also a mother, I was hopeful for some advice on how to make it work. After all, she’d been there, done that, and could give me some encouragement, right? Sadly, the conversation was anything but encouraging, and not in the I-just-had-a-baby-and-I’m-weepy sort of way. No, this editor told me, point blank, that I’d have to choose between being a good mother and being a good writer. In other words, I’d either have to farm out my kid and sit at my desk all day, or ditch the writing and play goo-goo, ga-ga.
I left the lunch with such a heavy heart. Could she really be right? I thought about her words for weeks, and even though my baby (and his awful case of colic) didn’t get any easier, I kept plugging away–both at being the best mom I could and being a writer with a successful career. At times I felt like I was drowning, and I probably was, but I decided the best thing I may have done in those months was to ignore the advice from this editor and prove her wrong.
While my income did take a hit in those early months with Carson, I sprung back and ended up making the next nine months the most financially–and professionally–successful months as a writer, without a nanny (I will add, though, that I have a very helpful mother, who came over twice a week to help).
Here’s the thing: If someone tells you that you CAN’T do something or you SHOULDN’T do something, and it goes against the grain of your own life wisdom, passion and gut feelings, don’t believe ‘em. I’m so glad I kept at it in the face of adversity (sleep deprivation, colic, you name it), and as a result, my career is thriving more than ever.
I’m gearing up to have baby #3, my third boy, in early February, and while I know it will be a challenge to juggle this jam-packed career–which now includes fiction writing!–with two toddlers and an infant (eeks!), call me crazy, but I’m sort of excited for the challenge. (And, in case you’re curious, here are some little tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years about juggling writing with motherhood.)
I’d love to know–has someone every told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t do something? Did you prove them wrong? And, fellow moms, chime in about how you held down a career with kids!
Any advice that begins with, “Your mom will never know, go ahead and…” is likely to be the worst advice ever. From this I know.
I was an unruly child. My third grade teacher Sister Barbara nicknamed me “Hotseat.” I’d finish my schoolwork and boing out of my chair to straighten books on the shelf or rustle papers (that smelled of yummy mimeograph fluid) needlessly. I was a multi-tasker before anyone had coined the word. Perhaps today a doctor would try to put me on medication – but my alert, active personality served me well as a kid. Although it did land me in trouble more often than I admit (even in my book, where I have a few confessions.) I saw my share of detentions and even a suspension…. or two. Mostly because I listened to someone (often a boy) who said, “Go ahead…” You haven’t lived until your Dad has met your new boyfriend as he (the boyfriend) carries your drunk self out of the darkened woods to Dad’s waiting car a couple of hours after the school play let out. That bad advice? “One more sip won’t kill you.” My father almost killed both of us. I wasn’t quite Rizzo, but I had my Pink Lady moments.
As a grown up, I’m able to filter out the “go ahead” troublemakers and forge my own way forward. Having kids with special needs means making far more decisions than I’d ever expected, and that will continue through out my life. There will be no empty nest chez Stagliano. But sometimes I’m the troublemaker, as evidenced in the photo above of me holding not one but two beers at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden in the Fall of 2007.
Despite my advocacy position, I try not to give out too much advice to families, although I’m always available to offer friendship, a kind word, share my experiences and just listen. After all, the “Hotseat” in me isn’t entirely gone, and I’m not sure I won’t say, “Your Mom will never know. Go ahead…”
I’ve gotten – and given – some really terrible advice in my time.
But the advice doesn’t matter.
Here’s what makes bad advice really bad: taking it. After all, advice is just words. It’s taking it that makes it terrible.
I think very often people ask for advice even when they know what they should do, or what they want to do. We’re looking for confirmation and support. And when someone gives us advice that matches what we really want, what we’re feeling in what J.C. calls our “secret heart”, it feels like good advice. When we get advice that doesn’t match that, we second-guess ourselves, we doubt what we know for certain.
Many years ago I was in a bad relationship that I knew had to end. I had a conversation with someone I loved and trusted, who told me to stay. And though I knew I shouldn’t, hearing that advice (and it’s hard for me to imagine that it was well-intentioned, it must have been, because I think most advice is well-intentioned) helped me doubt what was in my secret heart.
But the advice wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I took it. I pushed down all the parts of me that were screaming, “LEAVE! LEAVE!” and I stayed. And it ended up being far worse for everyone involved. If I’d left when I was first thinking about it, it still would have be painful, but it wouldn’t have been as intense or complicated as it turned out to be. I don’t necessarily regret the decision, because like all decisions, it’s part of who I am today, but I do wonder how things might have gone differently.
I’d like to blame the advice-giver, and at times I have, but it wasn’t their fault. Do I wish they hadn’t told me to stay? Of course. But what I really wish is that I’d trusted myself enough to know that I knew what was best for me (and for the other party involved), that I hadn’t chosen to let someone else’s opinion dictate what I did with my life, to ignore what I knew was right because I doubted myself. It’s one thing to take someone else’s recommendation of what to order for dinner or which shoes go with what dress, or whether you should go on the horse or the zebra on the carousel. It’s entirely another to bend your will to someone else’s ideas about relationships, or where you should live, or what kind of job you should take, or whether you should have children or not. That should be completely between you and your secret heart.
A big part of this is that no one else is you. No one else understands the situation in exactly the way you do, nor do they have exactly your perspective on it. And no matter how much you try to explain, it’s never going to be the full picture. Even your best friends aren’t going to understand it in exactly the way you do, and therefore their two cents is going to be worth just about that.
Going back to last week’s lesson from King Neil, prophet of Neil’s Theory of Mattress Buying, my advice is that we really shouldn’t be giving advice at all. But if you get some advice, here’s my advice: don’t take it unless it’s what you want to do anyway. It may be a bad choice, but it was a choice you made, and it’ll feel much better. And if it does turn out badly, well, then you’ve got yourself a great story. Maybe even a novel.
The worst advice I ever got was never to get a puppy, and never get a dog around Christmas. This advice was from my husband. I ignored it, and on Christmas Eve nine years ago, my husband and I brought home nine-month-old Riley, our first-born. You can see him in yesterday’s News Flash.
As for bad career advice, the worst I ever got was well-meaning, but wrong. The giver was the head writer of one of the more popular Saturday morning Saved By the Bell clones. We’ll call him Benjamin. Ben was young, he was loud, he was smart, he was funny, and he had created and was running his own TV show, all of which made him very cool. He’d also hired me as his staff’s writers’ assistant, which made him even cooler. He liked my writing, and promised to give me my first staff job on his show (didn’t happen — long story).
Ben was also taking a continuing education course in Greek Mythology, and liked to spout kernels of wisdom from the gods. We started calling him Benjaminicus.
Benjaminicus – not in reality, but in spirit
I looked up to Benjaminicus. So when he said some words of sage advice for me, I listened. I was all over the place at the time. I was angling to be Benjaminicus’ newest staff writer, I was still “acting,” and my closest friend from college and I had begun Dial Us for Murder, a truly awesome mystery party business. (The site is defunct with lots of broken links, but it’s like looking at the Colosseum — you can see how cool it used to be.)
So Benjaminicus’ advice? “You do too much. You need to focus on one thing, and do that one thing well. Then you’ll succeed.”
Benjaminicus wasn’t the first person to spout this advice. I’d heard it before and since — not always directed specifically towards me — a million times. If you want to succeed, specialize.
I understand in some cases there’s merit to that — it’s probably very difficult to be both a top brain surgeon and a prima ballerina. But Benjaminicus wasn’t talking about that, he was referring to things within the same basic family. Don’t be “a writer,” be “a sitcom writer” — the best sitcom writer in the world. Shut out everything else so you can give laser-focus to the one goal in your sights, and you’ll achieve it.
For me it’s the worst advice in the universe.
I love taking on diverse projects. It has saved me in lean times (somebody had to write everything this guy said, right?), and it has opened up fun opportunities that might otherwise have passed me by. I’ve written television, internet, books, DVDs, travel guides, talking toys, educational guides, and of course the awesome mystery parties. I sometimes imagine that I know what’s going to happen next, but I’m almost never right, and I find that crazy-exciting.
What are your thoughts on this one? Do you like to play in a lot of different arenas with your writing (and/or your life in general), or do you find things flow better when you keep your focus narrower, but absolutely crystal-clear?
Check it out! Deb Elise received her cover for Populazzi! Elise sends huge kudos and thanks to everyone at Harcourt for all their hard work!
Past Deb Updates…
New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster (BITTER IS THE NEW BLACK, MY FAIR LAZY) has endorsed SKIPPING A BEAT by former Deb Sarah Pekkanen! Says Jen, “The impossible choice between true love and the trappings of success is explored in Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat. Pekkanen proves masterful at creating nuanced, complex characters deadlocked with emotional conflict, and the story culminates in an ending that will leave readers breathless. Evocative and compelling, Skipping a Beat couldn’t be more satisfying.” SKIPPING A BEAT will hit stores in February 2011.
And Sarah’s debut, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, has just gone into a 6th printing!
Friends of the Debs…
Meet Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog. Her tagline? “Literary Adventures of a Panty-Throwing, Book-Loving Wild Woman.” Now you want to click, dontcha? She’s got a great blog, with reviews and interviews with booksellers and authors, giveaways, and musings about books that are all absolutely worth reading. Plus, she’s on Twitter and has a podcast you can check out. What’s not to love?
Deb Dish — My Favorite Pet Ever Was/Is…
This is Riley — it’s his puppy picture, from when he was nine months old. His girlfriend (such a bitch) is with us this weekend, and they’ve been chewing on each other’s legs constantly. My daughter will tell you Riley is her big brother, and my husband and I are obsessed with him to the point that we full-on, mouth-to-snout make out with him on a daily basis… even after we watch him eat cat poop.
Yeah, we’re *those* people. We’re freakishly devoted to our cat, Chester. He’s fourteen and arthritic, so he has stairs to get up on the bed and the sofa. He also has a grain allergy, so for a while I made him raw food from scratch with organic meats and vegetables purchased from the natural grocery store, and supplements added lovingly by hand (FYI – chlorophyll, while good for digestion, turns chicken an unappetizing shade of green). Now he eats kibble we special-order and sprinkle with a little Dasuquin for his old bones. We sing songs about him. When we’re out, we ask each other what he might be doing. Yes, we’re losers. But isn’t he cute?
Bruno, our miniature Dachsund. He lived for 16 years and was a sweet dog. Sometimes I look at the Mighty Dog brand dog food just to remember him. Turkey and bacon was his favorite. With three kids with autism, we don’t really need a pet. Maybe someday!
Paisley! That would be my 9 year old golden retriever. Aside from our family outdoor cat (I’m allergic), Muff David, as a child, Paisley was my very first pet in adulthood, and I she changed my life in so many ways, namely, she taught me to love dogs. I grew up with a strong fear of dogs (I got nipped at by a neighbor’s dog as a child), and until Paisley, I assumed they were mostly just a smelly, slobbery lot that was prone to biting. My husband convinced me that I needed a dog, so we adopted the most rascally, adorable and high-energy golden retriever on the planet. Did the trick for me! Nine years later and I can’t imagine life without Pais (I still don’t like smelly dogs, so we wash her weekly).
You already met my current pets a couple weeks ago, and I suppose it would be wrong to pick a favorite among them. They do, after all, read this blog. In that case, I would have to say my favorite high school pet was Michael the rat.
Not the real Michael, but looks just like him.
My mom was a third grade teacher, and Micheal was the classroom pet until he developed pneumonia and had to be brought home to be nursed back to health. He never returned to the classroom, opting instead to stay in my room where he would sleep in my bed with me at night. No, I am not joking. Every morning, Michael would follow me into the bathroom and wait outside the shower so he could lick the water off my feet. Then he’d follow me back to my room wait there all day while I went to school. He was certainly one of the smartest pets I ever owned, and probably smarter than most of the boys I dated.
Beth Hoffman is the author of the New York Times bestseller Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Though she had always written for her own amusement, it wasn’t until she nearly died of septicemia that she decided to leave her career in interior design and pursue her lifelong dream of writing a novel. She lives with her husband and fur babies in a quaint historic district of Kentucky.
We’re thrilled to have Beth here at the Ball to celebrate the upcoming paperback release of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt!
Beth Hoffman Takes the Deb Interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
When I first read “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote I was spellbound, and I mean that in the truest sense. Capote was a master of nuance and imagery, and though “A Christmas Memory” is really just a short story, those 65 pages are brilliant and pack one heck of a wallop. When I finished reading, I turned to the first page and began again. Now, when I’m writing and come to a scene where I’m getting too lengthy, I immediately think of how Capote conveyed so much using so few words.
Which talent do you wish you had?
Oh, how I wish I could tap dance! When I watch the old masters like Eleanor Powell and Ann Miller, I’m mesmerized. Most times I write late into the night, and then when I know I should shut down the computer and go to bed, I’m too wired. So I relax by watching tap dance videos on You Tube. Just a few weeks ago I contemplated buying tap shoes and giving it a whirl, but I know I’d just end up on my keister. I dunno, I might buy the shoes anyway. I think they’d make unusual accessories and would look good displayed on my bookshelves.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I don’t like to talk on the telephone, and it’s gotten worse over the past few years. Why? I don’t know, but when the phone rings I cringe. I’ll frequently turn it off while I’m writing, and then forget to turn it back on. I’ve always been a bit on the introverted/eccentric side, and with the passing of each year, I’m becoming more so.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
Any picture or video of an animal doing something silly will make me laugh out loud. My own fur babies are a great source of entertainment too. My husband and I get the biggest kick out of watching them play in the back yard. They’re so delighted with the simplest things, like a feather or a leaf.
What’s your next big thing?
When Saving CeeCee Honeycutt launched, my life exploded with activity. For a while I wondered if I’d ever have time to write again. But when things finally settled down and was able to have some quiet time, a new story began taking shape. Now I’m happily writing again and hope to get several solid chapters written before I go back on author tour when the paperback is released in the autumn.
Beth toured extensively when the hardcover was released, and she will be hitting the road again with the paperback launches on October 26, 2011.
Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom
Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.
In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah’s perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie’s all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.
Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman’s sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, “packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart.” It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.
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