Have you ever wondered how you can become an author while being a parent and also working a full-time job? In this episode, Camille welcomes Mary Adkins, three-time author, and book writing coach, who helps aspiring and established writers create their own stories through her program, The Book Incubator.
Writing a book, it doesn’t have to look one way. It doesn’t have to be a laptop.
Mary shares her journey from being a lawyer to an author and how she keeps her writing aligned with her parenting. She shares her advice on how to write a book from concept to publishing and gives her tips and tricks on how you can overcome hurdles and misconceptions that you may have about writing your own book.
People think it takes hours a day and it takes years to write a book… They’re trying to do those two things at the same time. They’re trying to write and revise at the same time and they’re totally different mindsets.
If you’re interested in being an author and have a burning passion of something you want to share through your writing, listen to this episode to learn how you can get started. You can also sign up for Mary Adkin’s The Book Incubator program using the link below.
People, they sense it if they have a book in them. They’re like, ‘No, I know this is me.’ If you’re listening and that’s you, I think lean into it. You can do this.
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MARY ADKINS [0:00]
Other than keeping my little baby alive, the thing that I wanted most for him in life as a human was joy.
CAMILLE WALKER [0:15]
So you want to make an impact. You’re thinking about starting a business sharing your voice. How do women do it that handle motherhood, family, and still chase after those dreams? We’ll listen each week as we dive into the stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
Do you feel like there is an author inside of you? If you’ve ever considered writing a book, you need to listen to this episode because we have Mary Adkins who is a three-time author and also shares with people how to write a book themselves for just 45 minutes a day. And I can tell you that I have always wanted to write a book. So, when I was contacted and asked if I wanted to have her on the show, I said yes because she specifically speaks to parents who are wanting to become authors. So, let’s hear what she has to say and dive into this episode.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of Call Me CEO. And today’s episode is for all of you authors out there, people who have a burning passion of something they want to share, something you want to write a book about. And I hope for all of you listening that that is you. I think that there is a book inside each and every one of us. And today, we have Mary Adkins with us today who is a three-time author, a mother, and has recently written the program The Book Incubator, which is a 12-month program where you can write 45 minutes, 5 days a week, and write a book within a year. Thank you so much, Mary, for being with us today.
I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Yes. I think your story is fascinating because, like I said in the intro, I think everyone has a book within them, but we feel like it’s such a daunting task. So, I can’t wait to dive into that. But first, introduce yourself and tell us about where you live and your family and what made you want to become an author.
Yeah, sure. So, I live in Nashville, Tennessee with my husband who is in genetics and my son, Finn, who is 3.5 years old. He’s about to turn 4. And I have published three novels with my publisher HarperCollins and they came out in 2019, 2020, and 2021. And my son was born in 2018. So, that gives you a sense of how my writing has really overlapped with my parenting.
In fact, my second novel sold the night that I had Finn. I got the email while I was in my hospital bed that the novel had sold. It was a really exciting 24 hours, but then I had to write it. I actually sold them a proposal, but then I had to write it with a newborn at home. So, basically, I’m skipping ahead here, but I have had to really learn how to juggle parenting and career because my husband was in grad school, so I was supporting him with a full-time job and writing novels. I had to do it all at the same time.
And so, it was great. It was hard, but I learned processes for doing it and that’s what I teach now in my program. So, now I work with writers who want to write novels and memoirs, but they all have full-time jobs. Most of them have families. They get it done, but they aren’t getting it done by writing hours a day because you don’t have to. You truly don’t have to write hours a day. Sorry, what were you going to say?
No, go ahead.
To answer your question, I was going to say, I always loved writing growing up when I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I had a short detour where I went to law school. I had liked law school, but I became a lawyer and did not like actually being a lawyer. So, I quit that job pretty quickly and then after that had basically was just working odd jobs to pay my bills while I was writing. Writing has been my passion ever since then.
That’s so cool. I think that writing a book can feel so daunting. So, from concept, just going into the publishing zone, if you don’t mind for a moment, I want to know, say you have a concept or an idea, how do you go about getting a publisher and how did you decide the best route as opposed to self-publishing or going a different way?
Yeah. So, the way it works with what they call traditional publishing, which is finding a publisher to buy your book from you and sell it to other people basically is you have to write it first. For most books, you’re going to have to write it first. You don’t get to write up a proposal. And that’s true whether you’re writing a novel or a memoir. Although sometimes with memoirs, you can sell it on a proposal. But basically, you want to write the book.
I was working a novel, so I knew I needed to write the book, and then I could try to find a publisher for it. And the way to go from that point A to point C, you write and your revise, and then you pitch it and hopefully someone wants to publish it. That’s what we do in my program. So, that’s the really distinct phases.
And so, what I like to tell people is with the concept, what I think is a really good idea to start out with is what is the big human question that this book wants to tackle? And I think it’s a really helpful exercise whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction because if there’s a big question you want to tackle and you don’t have to know the answer to it. But if there’s a big question you want to tackle, it’s finding what that universal seed is of your story that other people are going to connect to. And it gives you something to write toward.
And I find that it’s really helpful to ask it for a question for that reason rather than a statement because then we, as the writer, it’s easier for us to be open minded and to really explore possible answers to it and be curious about it instead of getting closed off or preachy or here’s my answer. So, for example, how do you overcome grief or how do you learn to live with grief or when is ambition an unhealthy thing? These are all big human questions that you could really spend a whole book exploring whether you’re writing fictional characters you’ve made up or you’re writing about your own life experience. So, that’s how I like to advise that people start. It’s like with a big question that they want to answer.
I love that concept because I think whether we’re creating a product or a book, we’re always trying to solve a problem or answer a question or explore possibility that way. So, I think that’s really good advice. What was it for you? What were your questions that you started with for your book?
That’s a good question. So, my first novel was how do you make peace with an unlived life when you’re facing death? So, this character finds out she only has six months to live, but she thought her life hadn’t even started yet and she was in her early 30s. And this is fiction, but she’s in her early 30s, she wanted to start a bakery. She hasn’t done that. She wanted marry and have kids. She hasn’t done that. And she finds out what she thought was basically a warmup, that was her whole life. It’s going to be over. And so, she has to find a way to come to peace with that in just a few months and that’s what she worked on doing in the book.
And to be honest, that book is not autobiographical. It’s fiction. I didn’t have a terminal illness like the character does. I wasn’t facing death, but that was a sincere question that I was thinking about asking. How would I find peace if I found out that all this time I had was all the time I had? Because I was turning 30 and I felt like everything up to that point had been a warmup. I felt like I hadn’t started my life yet and I thought that would just be a heartbreaking thing to face and I wanted to come to terms with that for myself. So, it was just a sincere question that I was asking when I was writing that novel.
That’s really fascinating and I think it’s also intriguing that the time that your books came out was in parallel with the pandemic happening and then becoming a mother. And so, I don’t know what the next questions were of your book, but did you find that as you’re writing the book that your life does affect those questions and the creativity that you have with your circumstance?
Definitely. Yeah, definitely. It’s funny because in our meeting, in our weekly writing meeting in the program yesterday, someone asked the question, when I’m writing fiction, when I’m writing toward a big question, I’m writing fiction, but I’m writing toward a big question, that my character is facing, but I’m not ready to face it for myself in my own life, how do I write my character facing it when I can’t face it yet? And he asked that question and everyone in the chat was like, “You’re describing all of us.”
And it was so interesting to see that for so many people who are working on writing these books, again, whether they’re writing memoir which is based on their own lives or fiction, they’re trying to explore something through their writing that they themselves are working on figuring out. And it was interesting to see how many people said that because I’ve always felt that way. You’re exactly right. What I’m exploring in my novels has been something that personally I am interested in.
What do you think is the biggest misconception of becoming an author?
That it takes loads and loads of time. When I tell people that you can just write 30 minutes a day, write 45 minutes a day. Write 2 days a week for an hour and a half each day and you’ll not only finish a draft in a year, you’ll finish a draft in probably four months. Maybe five months, and then you can revise it and by the end of the year, you’ll be ready to publish it. They don’t believe me. A lot of people don’t believe me, but then they do it and it works.
And I do think it’s important. It doesn’t matter the way that you do it. I mentioned there are the phases that I think the writing phase is different from the revising phase and it’s really important to keep those separate. And the reason I think a lot of times is people think it takes hours a day and it takes years to write a book is because they’re trying to do those two things at the same time. They’re trying to write and revise at the same time. And they’re totally different mindsets.
I think writing the first draft is all about closing your ideas and going. You try to experience the story. Again, whether it’s true or not, you relive it if it’s true. You live it for the first time if you’re making it up in your head and you write down what’s going on with the movie that’s playing in your mind. You’re just transcribing it and not judging it and not thinking about, am I using the wrong verbs? Should I not be using adverbs? Do I sound smart? Those things will be going through your head, but you’re just setting them aside and focusing on experiencing the story.
And then, in revision, that’s when you can come in and think, is this interesting? You can do all the analysis. That’s the analyzing phase. But especially when you can let yourself separate those into two different phases, it’s very possible to write a first draft of a book in a few months because you’re just letting it flow out of you.
Another thing I like to tell people that I learned after my son was born is to experiment with handwriting because Finn, my son, was born on April 3rd of 2018. And after you publish your first book, a lot of times you can sell your subsequent books on a proposal. So, you just describe the book and the publisher will buy it and then you have to write it. And so, that’s what happened that night that he was born is that this novel sold on proposal. So, then, I had to write it and I was very excited.
My second book got a contract. It was great, but also, I had a newborn and I didn’t sleep. So, I found it more difficult than ever to write because I was tired. I was nursing. I would look at the computer screen and just not be able to do it. And so, I decided to experiment with writing to write by hand. I’m like let’s just see if this works. Maybe changing it up will help. And so, I got a notebook and started trying to write the story by hand and it worked. That worked for me. It liberated me from the pressure of seeing the typed words on the screen. And so, now I stuck with that. So, for my novel after that, I handwrote the first draft for that one too because it had just been such a liberating experience. So, that’s something I also try to encourage people to experiment when they’re writing a first draft is to just try writing it by hand. See how it goes.
That’s interesting. I love those two tips to work with just letting it flow the first time through, then analyze it, and work with the medium as well because I think that our brain flow, it goes in different compartments of our brain. So, that makes sense to me that if you’re writing it out, just let it come out and don’t worry about making it perfect because I think perfection is a mind block and it can also be procrastination. When I heard once that someone said perfectionism is just another word for procrastination, I’m like, that one stings.
It does. It’s got a punch.
It can get in the way. So, I love that you said that, and then also to switch up the medium because sometimes paper to pen feels more organic. I can only imagine what a prized possession that is to have your words written for your kids to see years down the road. I think that’s such a cool legacy. Tell me about transitioning from being an author before and after becoming a mom. That’s a huge adjustment and you’ve talked a little bit about that computer screen being a block for you. What other things did you have to overcome?
So, one thing that was really bizarre about it and it went away eventually, but I don’t know, I shouldn’t speak for all moms, I was going to say, remember when? But all parents are different.
You can say remember when.
Remember when you had a baby and nothing else seems like it’s important? And maybe that’s biological, but nothing else seems like it’s important. It’s just like my job was just to keep this human alive and anything else just seems like dispensable. I don’t need to worry about it. And so, I had that kind of feeling and that was weird because I had always cared so much about writing and cared so much about my books and my characters. And all of a sudden, I didn’t care about them. I was like I don’t feel invested in this story because all I’m thinking about is this little guy in the other room and what he needs and it was scary. It was like an identity crisis because I had always cared so much. I was like do I not want to be a writer anymore? Do I not want to write? And so, I did, have you ever heard of Morning Pages?
Yeah, okay. I did Morning Pages.
Explain what it is.
Yeah. So, this came out of a book by the author Julia Cameron and the book is called The Artist’s Way and it helps you get unlocked creatively if you’re feeling stuck. And she has this tool called Morning Pages where you wake up and first thing in the morning, you just handwrite stream of consciousness, you handwrite three pages and you just brain dump. It can be your grocery list or the dream you had. You’re not trying to be anything. You’re not trying to be clever. Write anything anyone is going to read.
And the idea is it helps you work through all of the baggage that you’re dealing with so that you can express yourself creatively in the way that you really want to. And so, I started doing Morning Pages to work through that and it really helped. I could write out. This is what I’m afraid of. I need to keep him alive and I’m tired. And I was writing all of those feelings down and I found that once I got them out on paper, gradually I started to become interested in writing about other characters again.
And then, another really interesting thing I found that I did not expect after being a mom was that right away, the thing that I wanted most other than keeping my little baby alive, the thing I wanted most for him in life as a human was joy. And that came to me very early on. What do I want for him? I want joy. I want to create a pathway for him to have joy. And once that occurred to me, I realized that in my writing, I had not given my characters joy and that suddenly seemed really sad to me because I was thinking of them as real people. And if they had a parent, they had a mom, she’d be like, “The one thing I want you to give this character is joy.” So, I started actually intentionally writing joyous moments for my characters after I became a parent.
That’s really cool. I have one close friend who is an author and has written many fiction books and what’s really fascinating to me is that she says that her characters will have conversations in her mind all the time where she’ll have to stop and write it down or she’ll, in her mind, be talking to them or they’ll be talking to her. Does that happen to you?
Yeah. That’s what I mean by the first draft, you’re just writing down the movie that’s playing in your mind. It’s like I’m just hearing it and I just feel like I’m the person transcribing. I’m just writing down what’s happening there, yeah.
That’s so cool.
And I think relating to them personally that way and then having that motherhood, that caring, that protectiveness of I want them to have joy, that’s really special. I think that’s really cool that you recognize that and it changed and influenced your writing forever because that’s what motherhood does. It changes you forever. So, with working with parents moving forward, you’ve given us some really good advice with ways to write a book, what would be your take this first step move if someone’s listening and they’re like, “I want to do this?” What would you say?
Yeah, okay. So, in my experience, like you said at the beginning when we started talking, people, they sense it if they have a book in them. They’re like, “No, I know this is me.” And so, if you’re listening and that’s you, I think lean into it. You can do this. You really can and you don’t need to quit your job. You don’t need to neglect your kids. Just to give you a couple of inspiring examples, I worked with someone who wrote her novel, I didn’t know this until after she finished it, but she told me she literally wrote it in the pickup line to pick up her kids from school.
I love that.
She wrote it in her van in the driver’s seat and handwriting. She said what allowed her to do that because she could take a notebook. She didn’t have to have her laptop on the steering wheel. She had a notebook and she wrote her whole novel that way. Another woman I worked with who’s a mom of two is also a doctor and wrote during the pandemic her novel on the yellow Notes app on her phone in between patients. She would let the characters do their thing.
And it’s so funny because if I look back at her emails, I see she’s like, “Is it okay if I write on my Notes app?” And I say, “Yeah.” And then, a few months later, she’s like, “I’m halfway through my novel on my notes app. Can I really keep writing this whole novel on my Notes app?” “Yeah.” And then, a few months later, she’s like, “I just finished an entire novel on my phone.” So, she wrote the whole novel on her phone. And I just love stories like that because I think it gives us permission to realize that writing a book, it doesn’t have to look one way. It doesn’t have to be a laptop, yeah.
I love that. As far as knowing the framework, and I’m sure your course helps with this, but how do you know when it’s long enough? How do you know that it’s the right length? Do you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, exactly. So, a good length for a first length for a first draft is going to be 70,000 words. That’s going to be true if you’re writing for adults or if you’re writing for young adults, even for teenagers, it’s about 70,000 words. If you’re writing for a younger audience like kids in elementary school, it can be shorter than that like 40,000. Otherwise, you want to go for 70,000.
Now, if you’re writing by hand, this is what I had to figure out when I was writing by hand because, exactly what you’re saying, how do I know when I’ve written enough? I have no idea how much I’ve written. If you fill four notebooks of about 100 pages each, that’s about 70,000 words. That’s a good guideline and we actually call it the four notebooks method in my program where you’re filling four notebooks for about 100 pages.
Front and back?
Good question. Only the fronts of pages. You need to write on 100 pages. So, only on front as long as the notebook has 100 pages. A lot of notebooks have 50, so you would need to write front and back. You need to be writing on the surface of 100 pages in the notebook basically. And if you do that for four notebooks, you’ll have about 70,000 words.
That’s really cool. I want to write a book eventually. I don’t know when or what exactly. I’ve written a few programs. So, I know there’s one in me. So, when I was contacted from your publicist to do this, I was like, yeah, I want to hear what she has to say. So, just leading up with that, for someone who does say that they take your course, they write the book, what next as far as publicist? Did you hire one right away? Was that something that came down the road after you’ve done it for a while?
Yeah, okay. So, do you mean in terms of getting the book published or you mean in terms of getting the book in front of people?
Both because they’re different.
Yeah. They are different. Now I’m at the stage where I’m just getting my books out there and getting my program out there. They already exist in the world. But before you get to that stage, you want to either find a publisher or self-publish. And what I’m expert in is finding the publisher, which is a tough road to go, but I actually think in a lot of ways, it’s easier than self-publishing because although self-publishing is easy on the front-end. You just put it out there.
A lot of times, people think it’s hard, the second thing we’re talking about like getting it in front of readers is harder because you basically have to become a small business and have a marketing department, which a lot of times, authors don’t realize. They think, I’ll self-publish and then the readers will all come. They’ll just read my book and it would be very nice if it worked that way.
For most of us, it doesn’t. So, in my program, I help people find the publisher and then that’s where it ends. And then, after that, authors are expected to help out with publicity and promotion and help find readers even if they have a publisher just as it takes a village.
Yes, it does with just about everything in life. So, this has been so enlightening. I appreciate you coming and sharing with us what you know and I’m sure there are people listening and wanting to talk to you more. So, tell our audience where they can find you.
Great, yes. So, my name is Mary Adkins with a D, not like the diet. Everyone always thinks it’s T like do you remember the diet? The Atkins? That’s so old school.
So, it’s maryadkins, with a D, writer, W-R-I-T-E-R,.com and they can learn about my books there and about the program if they’re interested in checking it out. I have a bunch of free trainings and obviously have an email list where I sent writing tips and stuff. So, that’s where they’d go to find me.
Very cool. Thank you so much for coming today. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show.
Thanks for having me. It’s been great.
This episode is brought by Station Park who believes in women-led businesses that are changing the world. If you want a place to come visit to dine, shop or connect with your loved ones, Station Park is only 20 minutes away from downtown Salt Lake City and has a gorgeous outdoor dining and shopping experience that you can walk among the shops and create memories that will last forever. If you happen to be in the middle of the square, Twigs Restaurant is right there in the middle, one of my very favorites. You’ve got to get the pesto margarita chicken and end the night with the dipping donuts. Trust me. Tell them I sent you. It will change your life.
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