Guest Author! Cynthia Swanson on Writing With Young Kids


Brand new this week is the debut novel from Cynthia Swanson, author, mom, designer. THE BOOKSELLER sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to read it. It’s pulling in rave reviews and was also selected as an Indie Next Pick for March.


Reminiscent of the film Sliding Doors, THE BOOKSELLER ponders the tantalizing question, “what if,” following a woman in early-1960’s Denver who must reconcile her reality with the alternate world of her vivid dreams. The deeper we get into the story, the more difficult it becomes to decipher which world is the real one and which the dream–that of single, carefree, indie bookstore owner Kitty in 1962; or that of Kathryn–a happily married mother of 3 with an active suburban social life in 1963.

Cynthia is here today to share some advice on writing with young kids at home. As a writer-mom, I know how crazy trying to create a story is with Barney in the background and piles of unfolded laundry all around your desk. Cynthia gives some great tips for time management and patience. Read her advice below and be sure to check out THE BOOKSELLER.

Swanson pic credit, Glenda Cebrian Photography

CYNTHIA: I often get asked how I managed to write a novel when I had young kids at home. It’s an almost universal dilemma: who doesn’t have a creative dream? Most of us have creativity inside us, just dying to come out and express who we really are. And yet we’re busy people – we have jobs, kids, homes. Who has time to be creative?

I understand this. When my kids were very young, I didn’t write a thing. The desire was there, but the inclination wasn’t. Then, after many “dry” years, a new idea for a novel came to me. I started a first draft in 2010, when my older kids were in kindergarten and my youngest was in preschool a couple mornings a week. Several years and many drafts later, I had the manuscript refined. I found an agent and a publisher in 2013; The Bookseller will be in stores on March 3, 2015.

So how did I get that first draft written? First, let me tell you how I didn’t do it. Perhaps you’ve heard the radio commercial for the insurance company that promises to protect your dream – you just have to go get it. And one woman’s dream is to write her novel in the evenings, “after the kids are in bed.”

I’m not that woman. If that woman exists, she has way more energy than I do. Because once the kids were in bed – especially when they were small – there were only two things I wanted to do: 1) collapse, and 2) goof around on social media and online shopping sites – even if I didn’t have money to buy a thing. Writing was usually out of the question.

So when did I write?

When I first came up with the idea for The Bookseller, the answer was, “Not very often.” I’d get going – but then other stuff got in the way. I did freelance editing and a little design work when I could get it. And I had the usual “mom” responsibilities: school dropoff and pickup, volunteering, homework help. We were remodeling our house, too, so there was constant noise and inquiries from contractors.

It was frustrating. Then one day I ran across an article by the wonderful Gretchen Rubin, who writes about habits, happiness – and managing your priorities. Rubin had a plan to exercise every day for 15 minutes. No days off, no excuses. If she got in more than 15 minutes, great. If not – well, at least she got in the 15 minutes.

I was already pretty good about carving out time for exercise, but I found that Rubin’s advice could be applied to writing, too. And often where there were 15 minutes, there actually were 30, if I managed my time. Sometimes 45. Sometimes – oh, great joy! – a full hour.

Preschool days were my “big writing days” where I got a few hours to catch up. My daughter also had a standing therapy appointment during this period. At first, I would read magazines in the waiting room while she was in her session. But then I started bringing my laptop. I’d work in the lobby, where I was less likely to be disturbed. I got in a good 45 minutes that way. She also took a swim class once a week. Where was I? Hidden in a tiny room in the Y, where nobody could find me, laptop at hand. Again, 45 minutes – all to myself and my book.

Little by little, that first draft got written. The excuses went off the table. Social media and email were shut down during those precious times – saved for the evening, when the kids were in bed and that busy-bee mom from the insurance company ad was, presumably, hard at work on her book.

I didn’t have to write in the evening, when my energy was low, because I found that when I looked for them – really made them a priority – I had the daylight hours available.

Turns out I didn’t need the insurance company to protect my dream. If I wanted it to happen, I had to protect it myself.


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