Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Strong Girl, Brave Girl: A Q&A with Author Kelsey Baldwin

If you caught last week's gift guide, you may remember I recommended a new book: Strong Girl, Brave Girl. As I mentioned previously, the memoir chronicles Kelsey Baldwin's journey through divorce and single motherhood, but it's about much more than that. Since Kelsey's my friend "IRL", I had the privilege of hearing her say "I think I want to write my story" and seeing her follow through — all in the process of about a year. There are so many things I admire about Kelsey including her ability to react with grace to unforeseen circumstances (which you'll read about in the book), but also her determination to set a goal, work toward it and achieve it. Strong Girl, Brave Girl is a book for any woman navigating a life that looks different than the one she'd expected, and this Q&A with the author is for any individual needing some encouragement to do the thing. 

Ana: "Thanks for grabbing coffee with me and agreeing to share a little about your year of book writing! First up, will you explain what the book is about for someone who hasn't yet read it?"
Kelsey: "Sure, it's kind of a story of my life over the last several years... being married, going through a divorce and a pregnancy at the same time, and then the aftermath of that. It's about all the changes I went through and transition, learning to live in a life that doesn’t look like what you had expected, and feeling like you’re in the middle of your story when it’s not all wrapped up in a bow in the timeline you hoped for... or at all. It deals with reconciling your expectations and reality; and it’s also not just for moms, it’s written for any woman going through any big transition."

A: "What prompted you to write it? Was it part of an overall business/career strategy or more of a personal goal?"
K: "I always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t know what I would write about. As [my pregnancy and divorce happened], I was just surviving for a lot of years. I started an Etsy and an online business, Paper + Oats, to support myself and my daughter, Poppy, while I was pregnant with her. Once I felt like I had a little breathing room and my business was steady, that seemed like the obvious thing I would write about. I worked through a lot of it while blogging in 2015, and it resonated with a lot of people and I got messages from people in similar situations, or even people who were in different situations but just appreciated the perspective. Feedback from smaller things like a blog post or an Instagram caption let me know my story was helpful to people and they wanted to hear about it. And when I was going through it all, it was helpful to hear other women’s stories or something similar. Family and friends could say things that were trying to be encouraging but they didn’t always "get it". Some people get it from experience, and if I could be that voice for another woman, it would almost be like paying it back to women who were that to me.

"So it was more of a personal goal for sure; I didn’t expect to make any money off of it, and I still don’t really count that toward income goals. It doesn’t fit into anything I do in my business — I teach design, and I wrote this book that has nothing to do with design. I think part of me could see I want to write more books, so maybe I would take my business in that direction eventually. I don’t plan very far in advance anymore," she laughs.

A: Fair! So, if it wasn't part of an income goal or related to your business, did you have a hard time prioritizing time spent on it? What did you sacrifice to make it happen in a year?
K: "I definitely had to work it into my schedule to plan writing time and think about how long it might take; I had no clue how long anything would take, so I gave myself lots of time. I had to physically add it into my calendar to make sure I was getting it in, but since it was something I've always wanted to do, I don't really feel like I 'sacrificed' too much for it. I wrote mostly at night after Poppy went to bed, so I didn’t feel like it was taking away from her. I would say it certainly took time away from my business, but since I planned my whole year [around writing it], I was OK with that.

"I’m sure that's different for me having a daughter at home since when she’s in bed, I’m stuck at the house, so it was sometimes what I looked forward to as the day ended. I’m one to watch a lot of shows in the evening, so other times I had to force myself to work on the book instead. I tried to give myself enough time where if I had it scheduled, and I was forcing it or wasn’t feeling creative then I wouldn’t make myself sit there and write. But at the same time, I’ve heard a lot of authors say the way to write a book is to sit in the chair and write the book. There has to come a point where you have to stop planning around it and know that maybe it’ll be a busy year, but it’s something I wanted to accomplish, and when I look back it’s just a year out of my whole life. It’s several months of intense work, and now it’s done. That was worth it to me."

A: "What's one thing you would recommend to someone else who wants to write a book?"
K: "First, know why you want to write it. But a more practical piece of advice might be to write down every single task you would need to do to finish it, or to get through one big part of it. There's at minimum a writing phase, editing phase, design and marketing. For me, it was overwhelming to think about all of it at the same time, but if I was just going to focus on writing I could see how quickly it would go and think I could be done with 70,000 words in 3 months or whatever. I would just focus in on one phase, break down what I needed to do and dump it on my calendar. When I got to the next phase I would reassess and dump those steps on the calendar. It’s taking it in one chunk at a time."

A: "Did you ever deal with imposter syndrome, or feeling like you couldn't do it? If so, was there anything within your control that changed how you felt about your ability to write the book?"
K: "I think my feelings changed about every other day. One day I'd feel like 'this is stupid; nobody cares', and then I would get an encouraging email or message from someone who had read one of my blog posts and that made me feel like I can write, and people care.

"I don't know that I could change the narrative within my head, but one thing that was really motivating for me was knowing that I had committed to it. So even when those feelings crept up of 'I can't' or 'I shouldn't', I had already made the decision to do it. I can think of other big projects I've done where I've posted on Instagram that I'm working on it, and the people pleaser in me wants me to keep going so I don't let anybody down. It’s motivating to have people ask how it’s going, and I think it’s helpful in terms of marketing too for others to see the origin story because they feel like they’ve been following it from the beginning."

A: "What's the biggest thing you've learned through all of this?"
K: "Through my story, I would say the biggest thing I've learned is about being content with where I am right now and not dwelling on the past or wishing for the future. That, and being OK with the fact that it might not all end up the way I think it will, because nothing ever has.

"Through writing, I've found our stories are more powerful than we give them credit for being. Even if you think you don't have anything significant that’s happened in your story, it’s powerful to share them. It’s how we connect to other humans."

Kelsey's book, Strong Girl, Brave Girl, is available on Amazon. You can keep up with by reading her blog or following her Instagram.