Kate and I went to graduate school together. Most of our fellow students hailed from the East Coast; we both came from the Midwest. If you have ever lived in the Midwest you'll understand why we gravitated toward one another immediately. During the school year, while everyone else hung out in Connecticut, we held mini writing retreats of our own... at bed & breakfasts in the middle of Iowa cornfields. Our friendship quickly grew beyond our Midwestern roots, and it outlasted grad school too.
By the time we graduated, Kate had started a family and was about to move to California. I had divorced and was about to move to Colorado. To figure out how to create writing careers in the midst of all that change, we emailed each other weekly and talked every month. At first we used our check-ins to hold each other accountable, but over time they evolved into conversations about the emotional aspects of writing: impatience, disappointment, confusion, followed by patience, determination, and eventually, celebration.
Now Kate makes her home in Kansas, where she and her husband are raising two boys and Kate is promoting her first book, Tough Love: A Wyoming Childhood. I have a feeling you'll appreciate her writing wisdom as much as I have. Please meet my friend Kate:
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I am one of those lucky ones who has always known I wanted to be a writer. My earliest memory of “writing” was a story I scribbled on a piece of scrap paper, about an elf named Gumdrop. My mom hung it on the fridge, and I had my first fan. Seriously, though, I don’t remember a time when I did not like to write. Taking the advice of the many who say, “Do what you love,” I decided I would make my love more than a hobby; I would make it my passion and my profession.
I never questioned whether it was possible to be a writer. But that’s because I knew I couldn’t not be a writer. I say with complete confidence that writing is what I was born to do. For me, there has simply never been another option.
With that, though, I have more than once questioned the “how” of it – as in, how would I become a writer – because there are so many ways to go about it. I knew that money could not be my number-one goal, especially as I was starting off. I knew that writing was hard work, because that’s what everybody says, but I didn’t realize how hard it is to be a writer until I was scraping through my own daily grind. The work can be lonely, and oftentimes the glories are few and far between. To be a writer, you have to love the craft so much that you don’t feel complete unless you are regularly doing it. If that is the case, then it’s not a question of whether being a writer is possible. Instead, the question is how you are going to make it happen.
Where do you do most of your writing? (I always like to know, what's the strangest place you've written?)
These days, I do most of my writing at my desk on my laptop. But it’s only been recently that I took to the computer over a pen and paper to write. I still love to write in a notebook or journal – there will never be anything like the feeling of the pen gliding across the page – but I find I can better keep my ideas contained and under control when I am at the computer. I write at home, usually, because I am one of those people who is easily distracted by noise.
Growing up, I loved to climb up on the roof of my house and spend an hour writing in a notebook. I have also always loved writing at night beside a campfire. Still I make sure to always carry a journal with me when we go camping. There is something romantic and almost idealistic about claiming those pieces of nature as “yours” for a time, and changing things up every now and then for me helps to open up creative vessels that otherwise might go untapped.
Your Book, Tough Love: A Wyoming Childhood, focuses on growing up in rural Wyoming and searching for your own place in that rugged landscape. Why did you choose to write that story, and what was the process of writing it like?
The book fell out of me in pieces. I had stored up all of these memories, tucked away silent admirations or wonderments about particularly strong and distinct characters whom I felt had in some way or another impacted my childhood. I started to write about these people and my relationships to them, at first just to get the words out. I wanted to share my experiences with potential readers, yes, but I wasn’t really sure why. As the writing process continued and I worked with mentors and peers to hone my essays, I started to realize what these pieces really were about: Each of them in some way grappled with the idea of “tough” and what it means to be tough. I realized that, in this rugged and isolated landscape and against these gritty, raw characters, I (an only child who had never really had to struggle for anything) never felt “tough enough.”
So the writing was, in fact, informing my sense of self and helping me better make sense of how my upbringing – how both place and people – influenced me as an adult. On a side note, I wrote a lot about my grandparents and their odd, at-times-volatile relationship. I didn’t set out to write so much about them, but as the pieces came together it was clear to me how much my grandparents and their actions and decisions really had an effect on me. Had I not written the book, I think I would deny today that my grandparents had such an impact on my life and the person I am today.
What's one of the most important lessons you've learned about the writing process?
I have learned that writing is an act of trust. And to trust something, even when you don’t know where it might lead, is scary. At times it’s terrifying. On many occasions I have set out to write something – re-live an experience, say – that is so neatly packaged in my head. But when I start to let the words out, the whole idea unravels and becomes unruly. In some ways, the writing process is about learning to let go of control and let the words and ideas direct themselves. It can be uncomfortable. You can get lost. But if you want to find the real gold, you have to mine for it. You have to wander through that wilderness. And it can get messy. But that’s okay.
As the mother of two young boys, you balance the role of writer with the role of mother and wife every day. Do you have any insight for other mothers on finding balance?
Oh my, this is perhaps one of the biggest questions of my life. Meaning, I wrestle with that balance every single day. I think the best insight I can give for other parents is to be gentle on yourself. It is so easy to fall into that mind trap of “I’m not doing enough” or “I’m not good enough.” But instead of focusing on what you aren’t doing, focus on what you are doing. For example, if you’re not writing every day, perhaps that’s because you are investing precious time with your kids every day. If you can’t spend uninterrupted afternoons on your novel like you once could, perhaps you can set aside some shorter chunks of time to devote to your craft (nap times, or during preschool hours) rather than drop it altogether.
It has helped me to view my life in the context of seasons. I know that right now I am in a season where my kids demand a lot of my attention – and because of that, I can’t write as much as I want to. I also know these are very formative years for my kids, and I want to be there for them as much as I can. Someday (in another season), they won’t need me as much – and probably won’t want me around as much! The opportunity to write will always be there. Taking an active role in my children’s upbringing won’t. Moreover, because I’m a writer, I treat each day as fodder for material. So even when words aren’t being written, experiences and dialogue are being stored away in my head (or on the “Notes” app of my iPhone) for a future essay or poem.
The beauty of being a mother, a wife and a writer is that my vocation is never black-and-white. I will never not be a mother. I will never not be a writer.
Kate aims to tell real life stories and help others tell their own stories via publishing essays, ghostwriting, editing and proofreading. Her goal is to help people leave legacies. Her work has appeared in Writer's Digest, Chicken Soup for the Soul, China Daily Newspaper and Kansas City Parent, among many other publications. Her book, Tough Love: A Wyoming Childhood, was published by Pronghorn Press last fall. Kate lives in Louisburg, KS, with her husband, two sons and Boxer dog. Follow Kate along the beautiful, messy path of a writer's life at www.katemeadows.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @MeadowsWriter.