March 11, 2019

How do I write novels?

By Jolina Petersheim

Sometimes I still don’t know, and I’ve been on a learning curve for seven years.

I signed my first two-book contract when my firstborn daughter was twelve weeks old. I remember those days with fondness, though I struggled with mama guilt back then. My daughter’s favorite spot was snuggled on the nursing pillow on my lap, so I spent hours sitting on the couch, feeding her and typing—the laptop carefully positioned on the fold-out coffee table, her hair decorated with pieces of lettuce from lunch.

I struggled with mama guilt because I thought I should be doing something besides typing while she slept. I remember one afternoon watching her doing “tummy time” on the mat at my feet and thinking she looked lonely, so I scooped her up and put her back on the pillow. I had babysat for years, and there’s an eleven-year gap between me and my younger brother, but motherhood was a different story.

I was responsible for this child’s well-being, and what if what I did was not enough? So, I made sure to never put her down.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and if I could clear my tired mama eyes and put my hands on my achy twenty-six-year-old shoulders, I would tell myself it’s okay to have a creative outlet to pour myself into while also physically and emotionally pouring myself out for my child.
We lived in the middle of nowhere back then (and that’s saying something because we’re still twenty minutes “from town”), and my husband worked nine-hour days. All I had was my little girl, on the pillow, and this story about motherhood in all its beautifully challenging forms.
I thought writing was taking away from motherhood, but the truth is, writing helped me understand the beauty of maternal sacrifice while receiving a far greater reward.

That plump baby on the nursing pillow is now almost seven: the eldest of three sisters with fluffy hair and contagious giggles that transform into cat fights and then teary grins. For almost seven years, I’ve taken two hours in the afternoon to write, and in those years, I’ve learned that to be a good mama means I must take time to refill the well before I continue pouring out.

So, how do I do it? I don’t rightly know, but one day that will change. My three girls will have homes of their own, and more than likely, families of their own, and I will have all the time in the world to type. And as I write what I have learned during these beautifully challenging years, I will smile while envisioning my own daughters, sitting down on the couch or at the kitchen table, using a few hours in the afternoon to fill themselves back up before continuing to pour out.
Jolina Petersheim is the highly acclaimed author of The Divide, The Alliance, The Midwife, and The Outcast, which Library Journal called "outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational" in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller and was featured in Huffington Post's Fall Picks, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Tennessean. CBA Retailers + Resources called her second book, The Midwife, "an excellent read [that] will be hard to put down," and Booklist selected The Alliance as one of their Top 10 Inspirational Fiction Titles for 2016. The Alliance was also a finalist for the 2017 Christy Award in the Visionary category. The sequel to The Alliance, The Divide, won the 2018 INSPY Award for Speculative Fiction. Jolina's non-fiction writing has been featured in Reader's Digest, Writer's Digest, Today's Christian Woman, and Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their three young daughters. Jolina's fifth novel, How the Light Gets In, a modern retelling of Ruth set in a cranberry bog in Wisconsin, releases March 2019.

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