NAME: Asha Dornfest
CLAIM TO FAME: Asha is the creator of Parent Hacks, a place for parenting tips, workarounds, and bits of wisdom. She’s also the author of Parent Hacks, Minimalist Parenting, and co-host the weekly podcast Edit Your Life about simplifying, de-cluttering and making room for the awesome in your life.
WHERE TO FIND HER: On Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and Parent Hacks.
Let’s start with the basics: What time of day do you start writing? Is it easier for you to write early in the morning? Late at night?
I write during the hours my kids are at school. But it’s up and down—some weeks I get a lot written, and others I spend offline. By far, morning hours are best for me.
Do you listen to music when you write, or do you prefer silence, or something else in the background?
I prefer silence, or the background noise of a cafe. I also share an office with my husband, who works at home. So I often write with his Skype calls and keyboard clicks in the background.
Do you have any pre-writing rituals or habits?
Not so much these days, as my writing is focused on community building and moderation. I started a grassroots civic engagement group for Portland, Oregon women, and tending to that group as well as writing for it has become a big part of my daily work (unpaid—I consider this my year of patriotic service!). I pick up on the energy of the group which tends to make the writing go quickly. But I know I would get more done, and feel less frenetic about it, if I were more ritualized about that work.
I intend to get back to more long-form essay writing and blog posting. And when I do, my pre-writing ritual always includes coffee and clearing my desk of paper. What it will NOT include is “checking” social media. I find that fractures my attention and dilutes my voice, and it never leads to better writing.
You’re the author of Parent Hacks and Minimalist Parenting, and you’ve been running your Parent Hacks blog since 2005. What’s it been like writing while also raising a family? What is your methodology for prioritizing? How do you make sure you have time to write with all the other important things (and distractions) that are vying for your attention?
The answer to this question has changed so much over the years. In 2005, I had a 6 year-old and a 1 year-old, so the rhythm of my day was completely different from now (my kids are 18 and 14!). For all these years, I have tucked my work into the spaces between family needs. Some years, those spaces were tiny (nap times, preschool, late at night), and other years the spaces were bigger. My husband, Rael, actually took time off while I wrote books so I could devote my time and attention to those projects. I am EXTREMELY lucky that both he and I have been able to change our work hours and roles based on what our family needed at the time. Let me be clear: as an experienced software engineer, Rael is incredibly employable and gets paid well. His jobs have allowed us flexibility, and the ability to save money so we could weather periods of downtime.
You know what’s odd? Having more time doesn’t necessarily lead to more productivity or output. In fact, I am often most productive when there are constraints on my time. So don’t let “not enough time” be an excuse not to write.
What was the best money you ever spent as an author?
A really big, high-resolution monitor. I plug my laptop into it when I work at home. It has saved my eyesight!
Author Steven Pressfield talks about “the resistance”—the struggle that most writers go through before they produce their work. How does that show up for you? What are your biggest fears or worries as an author?
YES. It shows up for everyone. I don’t care how confident or successful one is, every single one of us struggles with self-doubt and wonders if we can actually pull off a success. Not only that, the definition of “success” changes, doesn’t it? We never really “arrive.” My fears and worries as an author are the same as my fears and worries as a person. What if I let my readers down? I make mistakes, as we all do. I try not to dwell on those mistakes, or to turn them into self-definitions (“I screwed up” vs. “I am a screw-up.”) I acknowledge my mistakes, apologize to the people I’ve hurt or let down, listen to them if they need to talk to me about it, and then try to commit to improvement, forgive myself and move on.
Everyone says that the first step to being a good writer is to read good writer’s’ writing. What do you read? How much do you read? Do you have a favorite author, perhaps someone you try to emulate?
I used to be an avid reader of fiction, but my attention span has shortened…and it bothers me. My writing has suffered as a result. These days I read a LOT of news (newspapers, news magazines) and nonfiction. I need to vary my reading diet. That said, I will point to writers I love, all of whom have blogs, and all of whom are friends: Karen Walrond, Amanda Magee, Rebecca Woolf and Chris Guillebeau. Whenever I read their work I’m inspired to step up my own game. Writers I don’t know and absolutely love: Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit, and Mary Karr.
What’s your process for editing your own work if you have one?
It’s an organic process. Because most of my work is online, I try not to overthink, but I also do my best to avoid lazy writing. Punctuation, spelling, phrasing, over-emoting, avoiding faddish slang…it matters.
In addition to everything else you run an amazing podcast, the Edit Your Life Show. How has your podcast helped your writing? How has your writing helped your podcast? Are there lessons you’ve been able to take from both paths and apply to the other?
The podcast! I love it so much! My writing has always been an extension of a conversation I wanted to have. (Can you tell why I was so excited about discovering blogs in 2003?) The Edit Your Life podcast is in actual conversation. I co-host it with my Minimalist Parenting co-author Christine Koh, who is also my dear friend. I absolutely love doing it with her. Has it helped my writing? Not directly. Right now, I’m just focused on making the podcast better. But it’s all the stuff of ideas, you know? It can’t help but improve my writing! Sort of like how lifting weights eventually helps other physical tasks you do throughout the day. If you get stronger in one area, it generally extends to everything else, often in ways you can’t predict.
What are your favorite books on writing if you have any?
Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott. Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.
If you were thinking back to your younger literary self and give some advice, what would that be? What are common traps you see aspiring authors fall into?
JUST START WRITING, THEN KEEP WRITING. That’s the only advice any aspiring author needs. Ignore the unsure voices in your head, the negative voices of naysayers, the 10-step plans from magazines, and even the advice of “experts.” They were all exactly where you are now…and the reason they succeeded is that they started writing and kept writing. Success isn’t guaranteed, or course. But the first step toward success is always—simply—to start writing.