When Do You Write? ANDI BUCHANAN


I met Andi Buchanan in Philadelphia when I was first starting out as a writer. I had an infant and toddler, no time, and a tiny portfolio of recently published parenting essays in magazines and newspapers with very small circulations.

What I lacked– in between the nursing, playdates, and the ten year-old desktop computer that froze every forty-five seconds– was a writing community. I had questions– lots of them. But before the era of writing blogs and message boards, I knew no one who could answer them.

A new friend tipped me off to a group of writers holding a book signing for one of their friends– a sort of old-time literary salon hosted by a local author named Andi Buchanan. “Do you want to go?” she asked me.

Desperate for a night without children, I said yes.

That night Andi, who led the discussion, introduced me to my first writing community. I continued to attend these literary salons while reading every book Andi published. (MotherShock is one of my favorite memoirs.)

When I learned we’d be relocating from from Philadelphia to Atlanta, I worried about parting ways with this warm, supportive tribe of writers. But I didn’t panic. Instead, soon after unpacking boxes at our new apartment, I ventured out to find other writers in the Atlanta area. Because Andi  taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since committing myself to writing– if you want to be a writer, make the time to create your writing community.

When does besti-selling author Andi Buchanan write?

“When do you write?” is probably the question I’m asked the most, and is definitely the most difficult one to answer, because my answer depends on when you ask me. If you asked me twenty years ago, my answer would have been: in secret, all the time, whenever I wanted, but never for anyone else to read. If you asked me ten years ago, my answer would have been: in the dead of night, after feeding the baby or waking up to put a toddler back to bed after a nightmare; or in the rare, freakish moment when the kids’ naps overlap for even a few blessed minutes; or in the park, on a scrap of paper, just a sentence or two scribbled down before I forget, while the children bicker over sidewalk chalk; or in my head, while I’m making dinner or putting away the toys or changing a diaper or supervising bath time. Today, my answer is closer to what I might have said twenty years ago, except for that pesky “whenever I want” part, which still isn’t possible; and for the fact that now not all of the writing I do is in secret. Once the kids are off to school, my days are long, comparatively. When I’m working on a project, I usually spend the mornings researching, reading, or otherwise “pre-writing,” and the early afternoons writing (or editing what I’ve already written). I try to aim for word count instead of page count, and the word count I’m shooting for depends on the kind of project it is, and whether I have a deadline that’s self-imposed or spelled out in a contract. But still my schedule depends on the schedules of those around me, and over the years I’ve gotten better at holding an idea in my head and stretching it out until I can find a moment — usually somewhere in the dark, after everyone else is asleep — to write it down and think through it in words.

Seven or eight years ago, I was on a panel with some other writers who were parents of very young children, and much of the discussion centered around the practical aspects of writing with kids. The audience was mostly women, and the panel was mostly women, except for one guy who’d written a book about being a dad. Someone in the audience asked, “How do you do it? I mean, literally, how? How do you get any writing done as a parent?” and before any of us could formulate a good answer, the lone guy on the panel jumped in and said, “It’s really, really hard. I mean, basically, I just went to a hotel every weekend, just checked into a hotel room for the weekend and worked on my book.” It was an amazing moment, because I could actually FEEL the room turning on him. The way he said it! So nonchalantly! Oh, you “just” check into a hotel! He was seriously surprised that no woman in that room found that as obvious a solution as he did to the “how to find time to write when you’re a parent” problem.

Thinking about it later though — marveling over the privilege he had to be able to absent himself from his family life for weekends at a time, the sheer indulgence of being able to buy himself personal time and space and not feel the least bit conflicted about it — I realized that, as clueless as he was to drop that into a conversation with women who could not afford to take his advice, he’d pointed to something really important. We need to be able to claim our time. At the time of that panel, could I have “just” booked myself a hotel for the weekend in order to meet my writing deadlines? No way. But could I have metaphorically “booked” myself some time? Could I have given myself permission to take an hour somewhere — even minutes somewhere! — to focus on my work without feeling guilty for not also focusing on my family? Absolutely. I’ve thought about that guy a lot over the years, especially when I feel self-indulgent for spending time in my own head puzzling out a plot point. You don’t have to literally check out of your daily life and into a hotel in order to get done what needs to be done (although of course you can if you like!) — but it’s crucial to stake a claim on the importance of your (fleeting, limited) time and not apologize for taking it.
BIO: Andrea J. Buchanan is a New York Times bestselling author whose latest book is the multimedia young adult novel GIFT. Her other work includes the internationally bestselling The Daring Book For Girls and seven other books. Before becoming a writer, Andi trained as a pianist, earning a bachelor of music degree in piano performance from the Boston Conservatory of Music and a master’s from the San Francisco Conservatory. Her last recital was at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.
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Can’t get enough of WHEN DO YOU WRITE? Check out past guest writers Soniah Kamal, Lee Gimenez, and Lee Wright!
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17 thoughts on “When Do You Write? ANDI BUCHANAN

  1. I write all times of day and night. I keep a notebook in my car so I can jot down my inspired thoughts and not lose them. I write when my four-year-old watches television. I write when she sleeps and when she’s awake. I make sure I sit myself in front of my computer every day and work on something, even if it’s editied out later. Some days my writing looks a lot like thinking. I wish I could write late at night. But so far that hasn’t worked for me. -from SheWrites

  2. Hi HR Hughes! Thanks for stopping by. I find writers with young children to be some of the most creative in terms of finding time to write. You seem very disciplined and determined! Best of luck with your writing endeavors!

  3. ha ha- I would have liked to be in the room when he made the comment about ‘checking into a hotel room’– ha ha- I’m laughing just thinking of it– those of us who have had to write at 3 am so that our kids are asleep and all our work is not there to taunt us– or write inbetween diaper changes– oh my what a privilege it would have been to ‘check into a hotel room and write all weekend’- ha ha!!

    It took me 6 years to research and write my book- not because I’m a slow writer- but because I had so many other responsibilities- children, husband, work, etc….and then of course, we take into account a pesky virus (trojan in nature) which lost my first 100 pages of hard work making me realize EVERYTHING had to be on backup and HARD COPY.

    Loved this post!!!

  4. Oh, wow Connie. I can’t imagine losing 100 pages! I don’t know if I could have recovered from that!

  5. Pingback: When Do You Write? ANDI BUCHANAN « She Started It « Writer by Writing

  6. Andi, interesting to read about your various stages. And the ‘hotel’ just about killed me:) How nice for him, and his significant other!!
    Connie!!!! How did you recover? If I even lose a scrap with one word on it I go into major panic mode:(
    Soniah

  7. I seriously have no idea how moms find time to write – it’s very inspiring. My dog gets all worked up when I pull out the laptop because that means I will be ignoring her, but at least I can stick her outside. :-)

  8. One of our upcoming posters is a mother of 4 who works full time AND writes. She’s amazing!

  9. The babies have grown but as I helped my only daughter, my youngest, into her prom dress, I was in a moment of pure exhaustion and pure gratitude for being there, for giving her the final, “yes, that’s beautiful.” I watched her, with her head held high, the confidence and composure that I wanted for her when I stopped working outside of the home way back when. I had the choice, more gratitude. She was so shy, like I had been. I thought she needed my help and I knew that I didn’t want to miss a minute. Seventeen years later, as she walked down the stairs, lifting the back of her dress as though she had done it before and knew exactly how, I saw my writing desk out of the corner of my eye and wanted to write down the fullness of love and experience that I was feeling.
    The last time I wrote something was just before last Mother’s Day. And on Mother’s Day morning, I realized that it had been published, running that day, a story, my story, on Womens’ Memoirs. And yet, I’ve written little since but have filled a notebook with thoughts and first sentences. This morning, I write on my blackboard, next to my writing desk, “All you have to do is write one true sentence.” (Hemingway)
    Happy Mother’s Day to mothers and all those that lovingly mother us.

  10. I enjoyed this post and even though I don’t have any children I still struggle with finding the time to write. I have a husband, though, and he doesn’t like to be shut out for any reason. Just last night I was enthralled with the latest episode of Private Practice (Amelia had her baby). My husband, who doesn’t even like the show was there too. He wanted to hold my hand and to sit close because he could see that I was someplace else while the show was going on. Please! Now I’m in graduate school trying to add a few more hours to my English degree and wrestling with Doubt who is always making an appearance whenever he pleases. Also, it seems like that the more I learn about writing the more mine stinks…and round and round it goes.Claiming your time from the people you love is a herculean task to be sure and some days I’m just not up to it.

  11. I enjoyed this blog and even though I don’t have any children I still struggle with finding the time to write. I have a husband, though, and he doesn’t like to be shut out for any reason. Just last night I was enthralled with the latest episode of Private Practice (Amelia had her baby). My husband, who doesn’t even like the show, was there too. He wanted to hold my hand and to sit close because he could see that I was someplace else while the show was going on. Please! Now I’m in graduate school trying to add a few more hours to my English degree and wrestling with Doubt who is always making an appearance whenever he pleases. Also, it seems like that the more I learn about writing the more mine stinks…and round and round it goes.Claiming your time from the people you love is a herculean task to be sure and some days…I don’t know.

  12. Everyone struggles to find time to write, children or not. And everyone feels as if their writing stinks, one time or another. Doubt lives in every writer. You’ll push through it! And I think going to school is an even greater competitor on writing time than having children. Best of luck to your writing goals, heartns0ul, and keep writing!

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