Writing a Book with a Toddler at Home

I mentioned my friend Sarah Kovac to you last week in my post How Hustle Can Get You a Book Deal. Here’s the promised guest post from her about how she managed to get that book written while taking care of her son. Sarah’s second baby is due around the same time as her book releases, so I hope she’ll write another post in the future about how to handle a book launch with a preschooler and a newborn!

I’ve never been the ambitious type. Growing up with a severe physical disability (called Arthrogryposis), I learned quickly to accept my lot in life and be happy with what I had–most days, anyway.

This laid-back philosophy, combined with my aversion to schedules, caused me to feel right at home in the college journalism department. I’d been writing for fun all my life, but my desk as Opinions Editor was where I learned to be creative on demand, write poorly/revise later, and meet a deadline. I dropped out just before my senior year to focus on being a new mom, but writing was in my blood. I couldn’t stop. During 3 a.m. nursing sessions, I sat on the floor, babe in my arms, laptop at my toes. (Yes, I type with my toes.)

I typed everything and nothing. Every obscure memory that made my life unique; every hurtful look and awkward conversation and victorious moment. Everything. Fragments, half-thoughts, ramblings, all laid out in a hurry before my newborn started to fuss or drift back to sleep. I wrote about 7,000 words… and then I ran out of steam, in typical Sarah fashion.

I gave up on my little file of thoughts, and a year of baby wipes and giggles and sleep-deprivation passed. Then suddenly my world began to spin faster. I uploaded a video of how I change diapers with my feet, and two days later, my story was headline news on CNN.com.

Organizations started inviting me to share my story as a guest speaker, and I won a blogging contest that sent me to North Carolina for a speakers/writers conference called She Speaks. I mistakenly signed up for the chance to pitch my book proposal (which didn’t exist) to a for-real literary agent. When I realized my mistake, the conference was just two weeks away. I had never seen a book proposal in my life. Of the three suggested sample chapters I needed to present, I had exactly zero.

My first instinct was to back out of the meeting, but my husband pointed out that, considering all the coincidences leading me to that moment, maybe this accident was really no accident at all. I kept my meeting and remembered an ebook none other than Becky Castle Miller had recommended a while back: Michael Hyatt’s Writing a Winning Book Proposal. I bought it and followed it to the letter. I stayed up late nights after my son and husband had gone to bed, furiously typing two chapters of my book. Two was the best I could do, and I finished it in the wee hours of the morning my plane would depart for the conference.

I met with the agent, acted like I had a clue, and apparently I fooled her, because a month later she signed on to represent me. Six months after that, I had my pick of two different publishers, and I chose Abingdon Press.

Signing the publishing contract with Abingdon Press

I asked for six months to complete my manuscript; they gave me four. I calculated how many words per day I’d have to write in order to meet the deadline and allowed myself some cushion for revision time. Five hundred words a day would do the trick, and I set to work with such dedication that I didn’t recognize myself.

My son would wake around seven every morning, but by then I’d have already been sitting at my laptop for two hours, sipping coffee and attempting to write something intelligible. Five a.m. almost every day for four months. On days that I overslept or the kid woke early, I used his nap time to work undisturbed. I found, however, that at five in the morning, I am much more creative and accomplished than later in the day.

These are some of the ideas I discovered that allowed me to achieve without burning out:

1. The human brain is at peak creativity when drunk or tired. If you’re a parent, you’ve got this in the bag (the tired part, at least). The drowsy brain thinks more freely; it willingly chases rabbit trails and connects thoughts that would otherwise be dismissed as illogical. Sometimes the illogical leads you to the brilliant. So stay up late or get up early to have a quiet house and fuzzy mind if you want a boost in creativity.

2. Don’t expect yourself to suddenly be someone you’re not. I’ve never been good at punctuality, schedules, structure… Just because I had a big project to tackle didn’t mean I would do great with structured work time. So, I didn’t expect myself to behave in ways that I’d never been able to conjure up previously. Identify your weaknesses. Work with/around them.

3. Make small enough goals that they didn’t intimidate you. My 500-word-per-day goal is probably an insult to authors everywhere. I mean, that’s like two paragraphs. But, two good paragraphs seemed doable to me. After all, a book is written one word, one paragraph, one page at a time. Many small goals accomplished is much preferable to even one big goal I fail to accomplish.

4. Give yourself grace; be the best boss you’ve ever had. Even as I set my measly little goal, I acknowledged that there would be days I failed to meet it. I would need sick days, vacation, time off for family illness… This inspired me to exceed my goal on days I had the energy. I created a grace cushion to allow for my humanity and my other more important professions: being a wife and mother.

5. Be sloppy; fix it later. Don’t wait until the moment is perfect. Do something, even if the result of your work is awful. A first draft doesn’t have to be perfect; it has to be done. Give yourself something to revise later.

But perhaps the real reason that I, for once, completed a major project, was that I wanted this thing. I imagined flipping through a book with my name on the cover. I often visualized it on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble. I started calling myself an author (that still makes my stomach flip-flop). My dream became more real to me than my character flaws.

If you’re going to accomplish something, it’s going to be YOU accomplishing it. You, including your weaknesses. You, with your doubts and your one hundred reasons why not. Don’t wait for those parts of you to go away before you believe something big… it will be a long wait. You have incredible things to offer. Maybe someday you’ll wish you’d started on an imperfect day like today.


Sarah Kovac is a speaker, blogger, and author of the book In Capable Arms: Living a Life Embraced by Grace. She lives with husband, Adam, and son, Ethan, in St. Joseph, Missouri. You can read more from Sarah at her blog sarahkovac.com and connect with Sarah on Facebook. You can preorder Sarah’s book on Amazon.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ericstephenvorm Eric Stephen Vorm

    Inspiring, to say the least. Makes me consider the 102,000 words I have sitting around waiting to be finished…

    Thanks, and congratulations!

    • http://www.sarahkovac.com Sarah Kovac

      Thanks, Eric! Baby steps… :)

  • Peri Zahnd

    well, I’M impressed, Sarah. I like the part about giving yourself grace, oh, we all need so much of that! And I read this translation of Proverbs 19:2 today: “To act without knowing how you function is not good; and if you rush ahead, you will miss your goal.” (CJB) It goes along really well with the Enneagram.

    (Hi Becky! You’re in the Netherlands? How cool is that!!)

    • http://www.sarahkovac.com Sarah Kovac

      Thanks, Peri! I love that verse. It’s so easy to get excited about something and push ourselves too hard.

  • http://UntanglingTales.com/ Amy Jane Helmericks

    I read this a week ago, but forgot to comment.

    #1 made me cry.
    It connected so many dots for me, and I was ready to hug you from there.

    • http://www.sarahkovac.com Sarah Kovac

      *Hugs* So glad this was meaningful for you!!