Pen Parentis is running a transformative pilot program this school year (starting Fall 2017) to teach an innovative community-building creative writing workshop to the parents of middle school students in...
“The best thing an established writer said to me years ago was, ‘If you feel like a fraud, that means you’re a real writer.’ It doesn’t take publication to validateyour place at the table.”
~Alice Kaltman, author of Staggerwing (Tortoise Books)
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and other employment (if applicable).
AK: I live in Brooklyn in a great big, slightly funky brownstone. I’ve had amazing real estate karma since moving to the NYC area back in the 80’s.
I am the proud mother of an only child. I’m here to say as a parent and a parenting coach; not all only children end up spoiled and narcissistic. That’s a lie! My sweet and generous daughter Noa is 24 years old and living the millennial dream in a sprawling apartment in Crown Heights with three other fantastic young women. Their lives could be the next sitcom iteration of “Friends”.
While my daughter was young, I had three ‘careers’. One made real money, one made pocket change, one made zip. You can probably guess which was which. I was a psychotherapist developing a private practice, a dancer performing with numerous brilliant choreographers, and a wannabe author. Now my daughter is a full-fledged grown-up and my priorities, energies and income streams have shifted. I’m still a psychotherapist known as a ‘parenting expert’ (if such a title can ever be rightly delivered, or claimed), a former dancer, and a published author.
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
I reserve Fridays thru Mondays for writing and other fun stuff. Tuesdays thru Thursdays I see my psychotherapy/parent-coaching clients. Not that that’s not fun also. Sometimes. Actually often!
“Parenting is a constantly replenished source of inspiration for any creative pursuit, if you let it be.”
I’m freshest in the mornings. If I’m generating new material I try to sit and write for a couple of hours before noon. I save my editing for later in the day. As a former dancer and amateur athlete of sorts, I always try and get some kind of daily exercise; swimming, running, yoga. But if I’m in Montauk and there are waves, that trumps everything, even my writing. Generally I am not good for anything writing-related after 6 pm. That’s beer time.
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
AK: Once you have a child, you know your life has changed forever, and for the better. You know there is no greater joy than holding your child, watching your child grow and develop — seeing your child smile, laugh, play, learn, and love. Along with all the sleep deprivation, worries, and loss of time, parenting provides never-ending spontaneity and surprise. Parenting is a constantly replenished source of inspiration for any creative pursuit, if you let it be.
I was blessed as a young mother to have a supportive and equally involved partner in parenting. My husband is also an artist and fully committed to his craft. He’s also fully committed to parenthood. We juggled, and bickered, and made it work. I was also lucky to have chosen a career (psychotherapy) that provided me with a relatively flexible schedule. I could be with my daughter much of the time, yet also have time to write, dance, and hang out.
PP: What helps you achieve balance?
AK: I’m a very organized person. I love schedules. Procrastination makes me more anxious than anything. I know I am extremely lucky in this regard.
PP: What’s most rewarding about being a writing parent?
AK: Seeing my daughter become a writer herself! She’s a screenwriter. She writes better dialogue than anyone I know. She’s the ‘real’ writer in the family!
“Keep the threads weaving, even if in very tiny ways. Write one sentence. Run one block. Read one story.”
PP: What’s challenging about it?
AK: When I was a young writing mom I had some challenges keeping perspective. I had no idea what a writing life was. I’d spent my early creative years dancing, which means rehearsing and performing. Dance is a social artistic pursuit. Writing is solitary, dare I say…isolating? I wasn’t quite prepared for that reality.
I still struggle sometimes keeping perspective. Once I had a book published I thought all my needs would be satisfied. But once you’ve been around the block a few times you know; there’s always the next hurdle, disappointment, frustration. And rejection never ends. So I try to smell the roses while they’re still blooming. Tap in to my gratitude daily.
PP: What do you need?
AK: Coffee and time.
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
AK: But for a lucky few, writing has to be something you’re in for the long haul. It can take years before you feel like you’ve ‘arrived’. The best thing an established writer said to me years ago was, “If you feel like a fraud, that means you’re a real writer”. It doesn’t take publication to validate your place at the table.
If you’re submitting stories or manuscripts; for every rejection you get send out another submission. Don’t sit around and mope, just send it off and keep going.
Show your work to other writers. Develop a network. Get a babysitter and go to readings. Make writer friends. Don’t work in isolation. Don’t get too precious about your ‘work’. Don’t waste too much time on social media, but do use it to connect and find out about opportunities. Twitter in particular can be your friend. If not for Twitter, neither of my books would have been published.
Sometimes life throws us fastballs and our plans, hopes, wishes are upended. When that happens remind yourself of the saying: “Small things often.” Keep the threads weaving, even if in very tiny ways. Write one sentence. Run one block. Read one story. Call one friend.
PP: How has parenting and writing changed as your children have grown?
AK: The first thing I wrote was a picture book when my daughter was five. Next, I wrote a middle grade fantasy novel when she was ten. When she turned twelve I started work on my YA novel Wavehouse, which will be published in 2018. (Note: OVER TEN YEARS between beginning and publication!) Now I’m all about gritty fiction for grown ups. My story collection Staggerwing is all about oddballs and odd events. So, my writing life has basically grown up as she has.
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Alice Kaltman (@AliceKaltman) is the author of the story collection STAGGERWING (Tortoise Books) and the forthcoming YA novel WAVEHOUSE (Fitzroy Books, 2018). Her work also appears in numerous journals including Hobart, Whiskey Paper, Joyland, and BULL: Men’s Fiction, and in the anthologies THE PLEASURE YOU SUFFER and ON MONTAUK. Most recently her story ‘Maid Service’ was selected as a semi-finalist for Best Small Fictions of 2017. She lives, writes and surfs in Brooklyn and Montauk, New York.
The Pen Parentis Research Project is a series of interviews with parent authors in order to learn how they mange time, publish, earn a living, nurture creative community, and care for their kids. Managed by Mary Harpin, the project will culminate in a book with stories, data, and helpful information that other parent writers can apply to their own lives.