“I really need a deadline and accountability to be my most productive,” an interview with Heather Frese

Recently I had the chance to talk to my pal Heather Frese, author of The Baddest Girl on the Planet (Blair) about the challenges of writing while parenting and the importance of finding your “people.”

Q: What are some of your recent and current projects? What are you working on now?  

A: My debut novel, The Baddest Girl on the Planet, won the Lee Smith Novel Prize and was released in spring of 2021 (Blair). Prior to that, I’d published short stories and essays, and was shortlisted in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Essays. I’m currently working on, or trying to work on, a big revision to a novel that’s been sitting in a metaphorical drawer for a long while now. I’ve got a few essays underway and I have some ideas percolating for a new novel, but nothing has solidified yet.

Q: Recently, we formed a small writing support/workshop group. What does that do for you or your writing? 

A: I really need a deadline and accountability to be my most productive, and this group gave me that. And it was an extra bonus to have that accountability provided by some of my favorite people! 

Q: Including our workshop group and friends outside of it, why is it important to you to connect with other busy writers? 

A: I think for me, after I finished my MFA program and moved, I had a bit of an identity crisis that was compounded by my transition into the overwhelming-ness that was early motherhood. So connecting with other busy writers was a really vital way to remind myself that I was, indeed, a writer. Even when I wasn’t really writing (and I had a good chunk of years where I was intensively mothering and not really writing), that connection was so important to me in maintaining the idea of myself as a writer, and kept me holding on to a near future where I would write again.

Q: What else is competing for your time? What other priorities and obligations are you trying to write around? 

A: I’m the primary caregiver to three young kids. They’re awesome little humans. They’re sweet and smart and hilarious, and oh boy do they take up nearly everything I have, mentally and physically. I came to realize pretty early into motherhood that I couldn’t write while they were awake and/or in my near vicinity. You can catch tiny snippets of time that way, like a sentence or to jot a note, but the sustained flow of creativity and concentration to really dig in and shape something? No. And I give mad props to all those authors who wake up at 3 or 4 or 5am to write, or who stay up until 3 or 4 or 5am to write, but I can’t do it. I’m just too exhausted. This fall my youngest started preschool a few mornings a week, so I drop everyone off at school, dash to a coffee shop, and try to switch gears and slam myself into writer-mode for a few hours. And it’s working! I’ve been so much more productive in those few kid-free hours than I’ve been in years of trying to work with kids in the house.

Q: How has being a part of communities helped your projects come together in the past? 

A: Having trusted critique partners has made a huge, huge, massive, giant impact on my writing. Oftentimes when I’m stuck on something, a writing partner will be able to quickly see what needs to happen or have an idea of how to fix things. Without that help, I’d be struggling for months before figuring it out, if I ever did. It’s also so important to have moral support and to know that I have people in my corner who understand what I’m trying to accomplish and are giving feedback based on getting the project to the vision that I have in mind, you know? Feeling like I’m not alone in this often overwhelming and demoralizing process of writing, revising, and publishing is so helpful.

Q: What recommendations do you have for writers out there who want to find a community of their own? 

A: Honestly, connecting online through social media was really powerful for me when I was living far away from my in-person communities or hadn’t found local writing friends yet. I know Facebook can be problematic, but it’s been a big positive for me in staying connected with other writers. I’d also say that it’s really important to find people who connect with your work and get what you’re trying to do. You don’t even have to write in similar styles or genres, but feeling that sense of connection or gelling with where the other person is coming from helps a lot.

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