Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama (Writer’s Digest Books, 2007) and Get Known Before the Book Deal (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008), balances writing with motherhood in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. She has written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is editor and publisher of the online zine Writers on the Rise and the Writer Mama Blog.
Born and raised in New England, Christina now resides in the Pacific Northwest (and has also lived in the Southwest and the Midwest). She is a graduate of Dartmouth College (BA, English) and Columbia College, Chicago (MFA, Fiction). She teaches and speaks at writing conferences.
What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?
Stop waiting for big success and aim for a series of small successes instead. Many writers are waiting to hit the mother lode, so to speak, of writing success. But success lies in taking aim at targets you are likely to actually hit and then hitting them one after the other. That’s how experience is gained in an otherwise complex and mysterious profession.
I initially resisted this advice from friend and writing mentor Wendy Burt because I thought small successes were “beneath me.” I had a ton of education that was actually something of a stumbling block. What I learned, after I took the advice and put it into practice, is that small successes have a cumulative impact that creates genuine momentum. And that’s what every writer needs: to feel their own professional momentum.
What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?
Get to work!
One of my peeves is aspiring writers who ask me if they have “what it takes to make it” as a writer. I used to get sucked into this ruse, but now I just shrug and say, “That depends. How hard and long are you willing to work?” It’s effort and perseverance that create writing success in both the short and long runs.
My advice is: don’t look to anyone else to proclaim you capable. Befriend your inner taskmaster. You’re going to need her (or him).
What’s the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?
Lately I see many genuinely capable writers getting sidetracked by Internet peer pressure and I think this is such a shame.
Be choosy about who you emulate. Strive to hang out both online and off with those who have what you want. Be certain your mentors have the kind of success you aspire to have. Have a variety of mentors and know why you value each one’s input.
I’m not saying that peers aren’t important. Of course, they are. But make sure you develop quality relationships, not just a friend-o-rama. Otherwise you could spend years online only to end up with an addiction, not a writing career.
And be wary of promises that sound too good to be true. There are an increasing number of scammers lurking out there in the ethers. Remember that establishing a writing career isn’t about how many short cuts you can find. No one else can do your work for you. Insincere promises don’t help you build genuine skills.
Professionalism is easy to find when that’s what you are seeking. Don’t settle for anything less.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your writing life?
Surprisingly enough, after years of hearing that writers need to get out of isolation, and saying so myself, and knowing that this is true for writers who keep themselves in too much isolation, I increasingly find that what takes me to the next professional level in my career are cycles of containment. That means, me … alone … in a room … writing … until the work reaches publishable quality.
I’m a slow writer. Writing happens in drafts. There just isn’t any way around it. Then, after spending a lot of time necessarily alone, I genuinely enjoy hanging out with fellow writers either through our statewide writing association or at conferences, events or appearances.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Both my husband and I have full, project-oriented schedules, so I have learned to be more careful about timing. For example, a book deadline when he was opening a show recently proved really challenging. Therefore I try to pay attention to both the big and the little picture for the whole family. A typical day Monday – Friday looks something like this:
4:00 – 6:00 a.m.
Get up. Pour coffee. Go straight to the computer. Possibly remember to eat. Usually not.
7:30 – 8:00 a.m.
Alternate between working on the computer and getting my daughter out the door for school.
8:00 – 11:00 a.m.
While Samantha is at school, I get the lion’s share of my writing done. Sometimes I remember to eat.
11:00 – 12:00 p.m.
Pick Samantha up from school. Have lunch together. Let her play or watch a video to recharge from school.
12:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Get back to work (with more interruptions now, unless S. has a playdate or babysitter, which changes on an ongoing basis).
4:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Dinner, errands, laundry, working out, family time, R&R, etc. (Thankfully, my husband mostly takes care of our two dogs.) I squeeze in an hour or so of working online on my sites or blog or e-mail in the evenings. (My husband reads books to our daughter, so I can usually start then.)
Make a list for the next day. I’m currently striving to take weekends completely off with minimal Internet time.
Glamorous, huh? And don’t forget to factor in life’s little inconveniences: illnesses, appointments, and the unexpected. I find the writing time is the reward for lots and lots of juggling.
If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?
I would have just as many publishers, because I think the variety is key, but I would have each publisher put out fewer books each year. I’d make the number of books published by each publisher however many they could stand to actually promote alongside their authors. The result, one can only hope, is that more books would succeed and less books (and therefore authors) would fail. The currently method, which is pretty much the spaghetti method, is great for the top authors, but pretty crummy for new and unknown authors. And that’s a shame because all authors work extremely hard.
In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?
I have spent increasing amounts of time online but I have also spent increasing amounts of time attending professional writing events like conferences and my own events and appearances both near and far. I think the two (time online and time with other writers) need to balance each other out and enhance, not eclipse writing time.
In addition to balancing those three work-related things, I have a lot of other personal priorities to juggle like birthday parties, family travel and home projects. Everything constantly ebbs and flows as my writing career expands. None of it is easy. But all of it is worthwhile. And most importantly, I enjoy the ride.