March 21, 2023
Note From Rochelle
I have been procrastinating cleaning my basement for years.
You got that. Not weeks. Not months. Years. Every time I go down there, I’m faced with all the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years. After writing and teaching about procrastination, I now know that I’m not scared of the work. I’m worried about how to toss all those memories!
Thanks to my work with Liesel Teversham, an expert in EFT Therapy, I know I can tap through those uncomfortable feelings. This past weekend, I tapped a little—and tossed a little. Whew!
If you’re procrastinating your writing and need help working through your feelings, come to our two-session class on Overcoming Procrastination. Liesel and I will help you overcome your emotional and intellectual blocks and write. Here’s the link to sign up: OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION.
Today I’m interviewing Kimberly Knowle-Zeller and Erin Strybis, authors of the devotional The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. You’ll learn a lot from their reflections on how to write with a partner.
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
Writers@Work: How to Write with a Partner
An Interview with Kimberly Knowle-Zeller and Erin Strybis
Tell us about your new book, The Beauty of Motherhood.
Kim: The message that I will never tire of sharing — whether through my writing and preaching and infused through my parenting — is that we’re loved. God loves us and calls us God’s children. That value above all else is what I want my kids to know and believe and feel in their bones, deep down. And it’s this love and unending grace that flows throughout our book, The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. With scripture, stories, prayers, and practices, The Beauty of Motherhood provides mothers with refreshment and the reminder that they are not alone as they mother.
Erin: Our devotional is for moms in the thick of raising young children. We know early motherhood is all-consuming, which is why Kim and I crafted short, narrative faith reflections that can be read in a moment of peace. We cover sleep deprivation, faith formation, tantrums, comparison, prayer, body image, growing pains, loss and more. The stories we share capture beauty and grace breaking through the hard, holy, messy work of motherhood.
As I note in the book’s introduction, Kim and I wrote with an awareness that our faith reflections represent a fraction of the varied expressions of motherhood. We encourage our reader to tell her unique story in community with other mothers.
I started writing this book with Kim when I was four months postpartum with my second child. There were several days during which I needed to return to our book’s core message of God’s unconditional love for us. Honestly, I still need to be reminded — daily. We pray The Beauty of Motherhood helps moms feel seen, and, importantly, we hope it helps them feel God’s loving presence.
How did this book and your writing partnership come about?
Erin: When I first became a mom, I searched for stories that would help me through the hard, messy, transformative moments I was experiencing and connect them with my faith. I needed something short, so I turned to devotionals. As a lifelong Lutheran, I wanted a devotional for moms that reflected my church’s theology, one that offered moms grace and acceptance. I wanted to read less advice and more stories that made me feel seen. I wanted to feel peaceful and refreshed and less alone after reading. And I couldn’t find exactly what I needed, so five years later, with my friend Kim, I decided to write it.
Kim: Erin and I first met through stories. She was working as an editor at Living Lutheran where I shared my writing. Over time we developed a friendship over shared Google docs, Voxer chats, and creating alongside one other in an online community (Exhale Creativity) for mother creatives. We both dreamed of writing books, but ultimately the heart of our partnership was rooted in this love of the craft. A few years ago we collaborated on an online devotional. In the midst of this writing, we dared to dream: what if we wrote a full devotional book together? And from that dream we kept putting forth the work, believing in our dreams, and writing. We brainstormed so many ideas, met with agents for feedback, kept writing, received many rejections, and finally received a yes to publish the book with Church Publishing, Inc.
What was it like to write together? Do you have any tips for writing with a partner?
Kim: Communication is key when writing with a partner. Throughout the writing of the manuscript, we had various family commitments and unexpected sickness occur and we found it invaluable to share honestly what we were capable of each week. As in the heart of our book, we learned how to offer grace to one another and to ourselves. When one of us couldn’t find the words to write, the other was there with an encouraging word. When one of us doubted our writing, the other shared the truth that what we had to offer was enough. Weekly check-ins were helpful to keep us both on task, but also remembering that we were first and foremost friends and to nurture that relationship.
Erin: Writing alongside Kim is like walking alongside an experienced, brave, encouraging hiker. She’s willing to go first, put in the work and extend a hand to help you along. At different stages of our journey, we took turns taking the lead, especially where our respective expertise shined. We made space for rest, and to celebrate our accomplishments. Much of the time we hiked side by side, cheering each other on.
To work together we used a variety of tools: Voxer, Google docs, Zoom, text messages, Microsoft Teams. The most helpful tools were (1) scheduling silent writing accountability sessions where we’d hop on the phone or Zoom and then mute ourselves and write, and (2) scheduled calls with each other, when we’d hash out ideas and divvy up duties in real time.
My advice for writing with a partner is to be proactive in communicating your capacity with your writing partner. Set and keep regular meetings. Learn when it makes sense to consult and when it’s time to delegate to each other. Expect challenges. Be very clear on your project’s tone and message and establish it early on so both writers are on the same page. Ask about communication preferences and rest/vacation time and honor your partner’s preferences. Work as a team; own the entirety of the work as your own and at the same time, support each other’s unique voices.
Obviously, you are both writing while parenting! What tips do you have for getting writing done while raising kids?
Erin: After resigning from my magazine job to stay home with my kids and focus on writing, I discovered I couldn’t work the way I had before (with daycare and several hours a day to myself). To author this book, I had to embrace the chaotic, resourceful, stunning, tender way of the writer-mother. And what I mean by that is simply weaving work into little pockets of free time in my day.
More often than not I wrote during naps and after bedtime and even while cradling a cranky baby. Sometimes I wrote lines in my head while walking the dog or loading the dishwasher. About twice a week, when I had childcare, I went to a coffee shop and wrote.
My biggest tip for parents of young children who want to write is to ask for help with childcare. I could not have written this book without it. Also, I stash notebooks everywhere in my house because I’m a paper and pen gal. I love writing first drafts and even revisions by hand. So when an idea strikes me, I can quickly scribble it down in the midst of mothering and come back to it during a quiet moment.
Most of all, I think you have to find the story you’re hungry to tell — this is what keeps me returning to the page when life’s inevitable interruptions happen.
Kim: I love this question and I love too that the answer changes depending on what season you’re in with kids and in life. I wrote this book with a 7- and 5-year-old at home. The book was primarily written in the summer where all I wanted to do was be outside. Yet, the work needed to be done. I found myself being with my kids at the pool or with friends at the park and thinking about the book. I would write sentences in my head or take notes on paper. My eyes were open to seeing God’s grace in our lives and in the everyday moments I experienced with my kids. The book was written in real time. Logistically, though, I did wake up an hour earlier than my kids to write and used any free moment to get words down. We have a grandparent in town so some days she’d watch the kids so I could have longer times to write. My biggest advice to writers is that nothing is wasted — all the stories you’re living out, the scraps of paper with notes, the books you read, the quotes you write down, the dreams you have — they all work towards living a creative life.
About the authors
Erin Strybis is a Chicago-based writer, mama of two and coauthor of The Beauty of Motherhood. Her stories have appeared in The Washington Post, Coffee + Crumbs, Mother.ly, The Everymom and elsewhere. She also writes Nourish, a monthly newsletter to help you be kinder to yourself and others. When she’s not chasing her kids or writing, Erin enjoys practicing yoga, singing at church, or curling up with a good book. Connect with her on Instagram (@erinstrybis)and at erinstrybis.com, where you can subscribe to Nourish and preorder The Beauty of Motherhood, releasing March 21.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a writer, pastor, wife, mother of two, and the co-author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years (Morehouse Publishing, March 2023). She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Missouri. When she’s not at the park with her children, walking around town, or tending to the garden, you can find her with a pen and paper. Or a good book and a cup of coffee. She believes in the power of words, unearthing the extraordinary in the ordinary, and encouraging others to follow their passions. Connect with her online at kimberlyknowlezeller.com or on Instagram (@kknowlezeller).