Sunday, April 23, 2017

Query strategy in the face of looming life changes

My latest manuscript is almost ready to query. Yay! Next to shopping for swimsuits, there's nothing I enjoy more. But...I've been accepted to law school and plan to start this fall. I have four kids still in elementary and middle school. I fret, as writers always do.

What if I am fortunate enough to find an agent who loves the manuscript as much as I do? What if he/she thinks it needs more revision than I  have time for? Will he/she wait until I do? It might be a year or more. Or should I even bother sending out queries right now when I've got this other endeavor looming on the horizon and threatening to take over my whole life?

What would you advise?

You know yourself better than I do (at least I hope you do!)
My plan would be to focus on law school right now.
You don't know how much time it's going to take to keep up with your classes and the assigned reading yet.

And your kids are going to need some attention unless they're the kind you can hang in the closet till Christmas vacation when you need them again to be cookie bakers and tasters. (My friends who are parents have horrifying tales of children who expect to eat at least three times a day! And want to talk to them! It's the stuff of nightmares.)

On the other hand maybe you're one of those people who can do three things well at the same time. Certainly there are examples of people who write novels while in some form of graduate school (medical school, law school, clown school)

As to the actual question: I put manuscripts/projects on hold for people regularly. I'm happy to wait, BUT generally it's about a year.  You're undertaking a three year law school adventure. Then you're going to study for the bar.

Even if you've got a manuscript that requires NO revision, you do need to be available through the editing and production process. Copy edits generally have a very firm two week turn around deadline.

And this doesn't begin to address the problem of promotion. Promoting a novel is a long term process but it requires regular (as in daily) effort.  Will you have the time to do that? You don't know yet.

And there's another thing you don't know about yet: your legal writing class. I have no idea if you can write a novel while also trying to master the art of writing a legal brief. And you don't either.

I suggest waiting to query until you have a better sense of what kind of time law school requires, and more important, how much of your brain space it needs.

The really good news is there are a lot of people who went to law school who ended up writing some pretty terrific books later. 


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Congrats OP! What an exciting time! But what a conundrum. To have finished a novel and starting law school. I seem to recall a post here (or more than one?) about not quitting our day job.

My fiction writing slid to the back burner after high school. Sure I wrote--short stories and starts to novels. I went to writer workshops and joined a writer group. But I also married, had a professional full-time job, had children, bought a Victorian fixer-upper home, got a divorce, single-parented and part-time worked through graduate school, became a full-time minister, and write a non-fiction book.

Now I have the time and discipline to seriously study the craft of writing a story. And that's what I needed to complete a novel and now work on revisions.

Each of us has our own path. And I imagine you'll hear about many here on the comment thread today.

Good luck, OP, on discerning your path forward.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

argh. What horrible grammar skills show up before caffeine. Sorry about that.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Because you asked the question I think you know the answer.

Within your realm of possibility and promise is your children. The good part about kids is that when you are spinning plates they are usually the ones picking up shards, handing them back and cheering you on as you spin a few more. They see by example. Your choices help mold them.
You will be living a “who’s on first” kind of life and that is very exciting.
Janet’s advice is spot-on. Only you know you.
My advice…
Live life and write around the edges.
Think of the writer you will be in three years. Think of where your kids will be then. I say learn and grow with them and you will not regret one moment spent focusing on the maelstrom that is family.

I've been there. Not in law school but I closed a very successful business because I knew it was best for me, my kids and my marriage. Not one moment did I regret stepping back to move forward.

RachelErin said...

Hi OP! I wanted to shout out as another family who was routed into law school with four kids. It can be a little lonely being older and having a big family - but in our experience students with life experience tended to work more efficiently and with less angst.

To Janet's writing career advice, I would add to really take care of yourself. There will always be more to do. Prioritize ruthlessly with classwork, events, clinics - all of these are valuable, but try to spend as much time in whatever will be most valuable to your preferred legal career.

And even if you don't find much time to write, so much of what you study can be novel fodder because people mostly need lawyers when they have fugly problems. Observing how people negotiate and/or argue (often at their worst) could be really inspiring.

If you want to talk about any of the law-student-with-kids career-change stuff, feel free to reach out. Best of luck!

Sherry Howard said...

Janet is so right. Only you know you. But, I have a little different take on it. I think I'd tell my young self to dive on in. When I had my young family I worked, continued graduate work, coached soccer, taught Sunday school, traveled, got up at 5 am to get sour dough bread baking. . . you get the drift. I, and I'm only speaking for me, had true boundless energy and enthusiasm. Now I have the enthusiasm, but the energy is no longer endless. And the kids won't grow up and get easier. They grow up and get more complicated, drag hungry friends in, and have a different kind of neediness, even when they move out. If you will be in over your head, wait. But remember that you may be at your peak productive years relative to your writing, so try to keep writing around the edges of your life. My heart really goes out to you.

Lucie Witt said...

Hey OP. Congrats on finishing a novel and getting ready to start law school.

The first year of law school was one of the hardest years of my life - and that's not uncommon. Many schools prohibit you from having a job precisely because 1L is so consuming. Both the people I sat next to at orientation dropped out. First year was even harder than second year, when I had a baby over Christmas break and was back in Evidence class 11 days later.

But you know what happened third year? I wrote my first novel.

Give yourself some grace to get your feet under you and figure out how law school works for **you**. Once you do that writing life can definitely fit into your law student-parent life. My two cents would be get through first semester of 1L year and see how you feel about balance and decide to query (or not) then.

Theresa said...

OP, it's true that you know yourself the best. Another thing to factor in is how much of a support network you'll have. Law schools have study groups, most communities have a variety of child care options, some people are fortunate to have supportive spouses. All of those things might help to facilitate your choice to be a novelist and a law school student.

Sherry's point is good. Youthful energy will pick up some of the slack. If you delay 3 years for law school, will you want to delay another 2 or 3 to get your career launched?

Good luck! This is such an exciting time for you.

MA Hudson said...

Sounds like your plate is pretty full at the moment. Maybe you could let your manuscript rest while you get on with your studies and write other stuff around the edges of your life. That way, when you finish studying, you can revise your first book and have one or two other MS in the pipeline too.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

My life is the calmest it's ever been... I now look back on the circumstance under which I wrote my first three books. Good grief! The second book was penned while I was taking care of a herd of 74 horses, completely by myself. I won't go into what that entails, but there were many, many days I was in tears.

But, so what. The real point is that we're all individuals. I'm in the Sherry Howard camp of boundless energy and enthusiasm. And I've said something along these lines before... I didn't write when it was convenient. I wrote because I had to. These days, I have the luxury of writing when it's convenient. But I still write when I have to, because I can't not.

All the best you, OP. I bet you know in your gut and in your heart what the answer is.

Kitty said...

OP, I'm still hyperventilating over the fact that you have FOUR kids and are beginning law school. Best of luck to you!

In the meantime, you might be interested in this: 10 NOVELISTS WHO STARTED THEIR CAREERS AS LAWYERS

Lucie Witt said...

Hey OP. Congrats on finishing a novel and getting ready to start law school.

The first year of law school was one of the hardest years of my life - and that's not uncommon. Many schools prohibit you from having a job precisely because 1L is so consuming. Both the people I sat next to at orientation dropped out. First year was even harder than second year, when I had a baby over Christmas break and was back in Evidence class 11 days later.

But you know what happened third year? I wrote my first novel.

Give yourself some grace to get your feet under you and figure out how law school works for **you**. Once you do that writing life can definitely fit into your law student-parent life. My two cents would be get through first semester of 1L year and see how you feel about balance and decide to query (or not) then.

Mora Green said...

Hey OP! Congrats on two great things in your life!

For what it's worth, I was in a similar situation, minus the kids. I completed one novel and started another in medical school. A huge chunk of that work was done in 3rd year, which is notoriously busy. I had to pause to study for multiple board exams, but then picked it up again. I had these exact same reservations when the first novel was ready for querying. In the end, I decided there's never a good time, so I sent it out. Some issues were pointed out to me, and I very much agreed with the comments and stopped querying until I could revise it. Except now I'm wrapped up in the second novel and want to finish it before even going back to the first.

The point is you don't know how the process will go, whether you'll find representation or need to revise, whether you'll start working on something else and need to prioritize your time, and how busy school will actually be. People's ideas of how busy professional school is are different. This isn't something that you can predict or calculate. The way I see it, query away and hope that Murphy's Law will act in your favor and you'll get offers while you're up to your neck in studies. Then you can figure it out from there.

Kitty said...

This might be a bit off topic, although it is about revisions.

REVISION AND LIFE: TAKE IT FROM THE TOP- AGAIN was written by Nora Ephron for the NY Times back in 1986 when people used typewriters and paper.

When I was in college, I revised nothing. I wrote out my papers in longhand, typed them up and turned them in. It would never have crossed my mind that what I had produced was only a first draft and that I had more work to do; the idea was to get to the end, and once you had got to the end you were finished. The same thinking, I might add, applied in life:
I went pell-mell through my four years in college without a thought about whether I ought to do anything differently; the idea was to get to the end - to get out of school and become a journalist.
Which I became, in fairly short order.

In my 30's, I began to write essays, one a month for Esquire magazine, and I am not exaggerating when I say that in the course of writing a short essay - 1,500 words, that's only six double-spaced typewritten pages - I often used 300 or 400 pieces of typing paper…

Unknown said...

Many congrats, OP, on finishing your book and getting accepted to law school! It sounds like these are both dreams come true -- bravo!

I have a particular take on this, as I was one of three kids raised by a mom who decided to go to law school while I was growing up. She graduated when I was in middle school. In a word, I didn't see much of her in those years. Don't get me wrong here -- it was important for her to pursue this dream and I'm happy she did. But she was swamped and had trouble juggling. I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with Janet and those who are advising you to postpone querying for now. My mom didn't have boundless energy and you might, but you also might not know just how demanding law school is until you start. It was already hard to see my mom so little. Given her pace and character, she never could have managed to bring a book to life while at law school and raising kids. I hope you can do it all, but for your own sake if not your family's, I would probably postpone one of the two endeavors. Maybe it's law school that can wait for half a year or until next September?

Best of luck with this! It's so nice that you have happy life changes ahead to look forward to!

Elissa M said...

Only you know you--sage advice if I ever heard it.

OP, if you're the sort of person who can focus on several disparate things at once, who has time management down to a T, and who thrives on pressure, I'd say you could go for it.

I'm more of a one-thing-at-a-time person. I can dabble in multiple projects (always have) but I can only put my full attention and energy into one. Right now I'm playing in the pit for a musical, so my writing, art, housework, animals, family, etc., are only getting the most basic of needs met. When the show closes I'll shift focus to the next priority.

If I were in your shoes, I'd have to put my energy into school first, family second, everything else third (and that's assuming there's one or more other persons who can see to most of the kids' needs). But that's me. Three or four years may seem like a terribly long time to put off a writing career, but assuming you're not in your 90's, there will be plenty of time for writing once the degree is on the wall.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Been in that situation years ago. Kids + husband + house + law school = 0 free time to do anything else. As Lucie said, 1L is the most consuming - where learning by osmosis simply won't do - only total immersion will cut it.

Janet's advice is spot on - see how you will handle law school with its time and brainspace requirements and then you will know how much time you can devote to your writing. A key factor in my handling of these competing priorities at the time was an understanding and supportive husband.

The issue really is not just whether you can do all these things at once but whether you can do all of them well. Raising non-neurotic children and keeping a marriage alive also demand time and mental focus same as law school and writing.

So yes, I second the Shark. Focus on law school at least for the first term/year and then later write within the interstices. It can be done, girl, but it ain't easy.

And it gives you the right later to yell at your adult children, "Stress? You don't know the meaning of stress. When I was your age..."

BJ Muntain said...

When I first went to university, I could hardly wait until I was done so I'd have more time to write fiction. So when I graduated and got a full time job... I then wished I could go back to university, when I'd have more time to write. Then I went back to university and... well, you get the picture.

There is never enough time. Or, if there is, then there are other things that will get in the way.

It comes down to what your priorities are. When I went back to work after my second stint at university, I realized I had to prioritize my writing. And so I did.

However, you're going to law school. No doubt you're paying a pretty penny to do that (or you'll be in debt for a pretty penny for years to come). That kind of makes it a priority. It's temporary, though.

One thing about all this: I became a better writer because of the time spent at university. So if you find you don't have time to write while going through the busy life of law school, keep in mind that this experience and knowledge will help you write better. You are doing this for your writing as well as to become a lawyer.

As for lawyers-cum-authors, two I can think of off the top of my head are James Scott Bell and Robert Dugoni. Both are doing quite well, the last I heard. (They're also both great writing teachers - if you ever have a chance to hear them, or attend a conference where they are speaking or leading sessions, I highly recommend them.) Oh, another is Jay Clarke, the premier and most public half of Mike Slade, a Canadian crime/thriller writer. (This man is an entertaining speaker, and is full of stories of working with the criminally insane.) Funny how lawyers seem to write crime and thrillers...

Good luck in your schooling and in your writing!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

We all have our varied journeys. Only you, OP, know what you can juggle. I delayed my writing until my kid was almost out of high school and it's been slow going since then. The kid grew up and hopefully my writing has as well.

My hat is off to the brilliant multi-taskers that can write, raise kids, go to school, and hold down a day job all at once. I have no idea how this is managed; only that I am awed by people who do this.

Dena Pawling said...

Here's my take: I was married and working full time when I went to law school three nights per week. My husband was a full time student working on his bachelor's degree. We never saw each other for three years. We left notes for each other on the dining room table [this was back before computers and cell phones, and we hand-wrote our exams including the bar exam].

If you think you won't be writing while you're in law school, well, think again. Won't be the same type of writing, but you'll still be writing. A LOT.

How much support and help do you have at home? Do you also work outside the home? What type of law school is this? Are you going full time or part time? Will you be doing “extra-curricular” activities like law review or internships?

You won't know how much time law school requires of you, until you're there. So it's probably best to wait until after your 1L year to query. However, as someone else mentioned, there's never enough time to do everything we want to do. Waiting might not gain you anything. Plus, I'm assuming you're going to law school because you want to be a lawyer? Sometimes people don't have that as an end goal, but most do. [It's a lot of time, energy, and money, if that's not your end goal.] And working for a firm is usually a more-than-full-time job. Don't count on much “free” time later either.

Your manuscript is “almost” ready. I'd keep working on it, send it out to beta readers, maybe a paid editor, then research agents, etc, now thru the end of 1L. Then see where you are, both in school, in life, and the ms.

Good luck at this exciting time!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

I find that there's a difference between men and women who are law-school students-cum-writers-cum-family persons. The men don't have to deal with breast-feeding, attending to children's nutritional needs, worrying about developmental milestones and the daily work of addressing the big and small issues in children's lives. At least, most men don't. Women lawyers/law school students have a tougher go of it than men, I think. But we make it work anyway. Oh, yes we do!

And I find it telling that even in BJ's example, the lawyers she cited who did well in both law and writing fields were all men. I can only think of Lisa Scottoline on the female side. I'm sure there's lots but their names don't come up as readily as John Grisham, Scott Turow, James Scott Bell, etc.

So Lucie, Megan V, Dena and yes, Opie, get cracking with those bestsellers so Lisa will have company

BJ Muntain said...

Cecilia: In my example, I only listed lawyers I knew were writers, and writers I knew were lawyers. And these are writers who have appeared at a conference I go to regularly. I've also met Kim Foster, a doctor who writes thrillers/crime. (She's also very kind to writers and offers help with questions regarding medical knowledge. She was very excited to help my friend who asked her what a three-day-dead eyeball might feel like. And by excited I mean, animated. You could tell she enjoyed talking about it.)

I don't know all writers. I know very few authors' original day jobs, if they haven't talked about it at a conference I've been to. My knowledge is limited. So don't base any conclusions on what I have to say. It's anecdotal, not statistical.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


My point was that it was easier to name male examples of those who are visibly successful at both writing and law. I was proceeding from my earlier observation that it was inherently "more doable" for male law students to successfully juggle law school, family life and writing.

Sorry for all the adverbs:)

Bryan J. Fagan said...

Mother of four, law school, novelist. It's official: I'm worthless. If you want me I'll be hiding in the corner with my favorite blankee.

Megan V said...

Hey Opie!

Congratulations on your admittance into law school! You're headed for one heck of a journey. Law school can be a bit of a vampire, it will drain you until you have nothing left to give unless you're careful enough to take bite size pieces of your life for yourself.

Law school wasn't all that long ago for me. I was not married. I did not have children. A partner and children were something I didn't have to worry about. I still don't. But many of my classmates were married or single parents, and ranged from being pregnant to having six kids at home. In fact, one of my former colleagues (who also writes novels) went into law school full time with three kids and came out with four.

Law school will cut into your family time.
Law school will cut into your time as a couple.
Law school will cut into your novel writing time.
And if you're a full time student going to an ABA accredited school, Law School will cut back your working hours. You won't be permitted to work more than 20 hours per week during your first year.

It's going to happen. That's law school. It's reading(dense reading that you've got to be outlining), it's writing, it's figuring out the Blue-book, and it's boundless nights trying to make sure you're ahead of the curve. It's that panic because your 8am exam is eight hours long and you were up until 3a.m. because your neighbors were partying all night or you were trying to get the baby to sleep etc.

Time in law school (just like your time as a lawyer) must be managed wisely.

As Dena has said you will be reading and writing A LOT in law school. On any given night in your first year you will have upwards of 90 pages per class to read. If you're taking 18 credit hours that means you could be reading upwards of 270 pages per night. The idea is that for every hour of class time it's 2 hours of reading. As a friend of mine recently put it, the reading is somewhere between never-ending and death.

This does not mean that you won't have any time to spend with your family. This does not mean you won't have any time to write or query your novels.
Again, it simply means time management is your friend. Go in with a plan and adjust that plan as you figure out how to navigate your 1L year, your 2L year, and your 3L year.

I found a way to query and revise during law school. You might not. You have a few more people to worry about than I did or do. But don't let law school hold you back from the people or things you love.

There is a reason that law students are roughly twice the risk
of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol AND have higher incidence of depression (nearly 40 percent of law students suffer from depression after their first year of law school.), anxiety, suicide and other mental health issues than the general population.

Don't join the statistic. Make time for what you need.

And in the meantime, try not to weep for your future.

Best wishes to you and, please feel free to reach out.

Donnaeve said...

Congrats OP.

Don't worry about setting the writing aside, even if only temporary. You will still find the moments to write/and/or to look at your finished ms and dream of the possibilities. That ms isn't going anywhere until you tell it to. :)

Donnaeve said...

Well hell. Then after reading Megan V's comment, "You will still find the moments to write/and/or to look at your finished ms..." uh, maybe not. BUT. The ms still isn't going anywhere.

Megan 270 pages a night??? I would never finish law school. I can hardly read 5 -10 pages a night of a book that is supposed to be entertaining.

Megan V said...

Donna Yep. There is a reason most law schools don't put their students on an 18 credit hour schedule. And that's an amount if you don't split your reading up between two nights or read between classes as I and many of my classmates were apt to do. I generally did one good thorough read with outlining and highlights etc. Some read more than once.

It is still possible to find moments to write. The bus trip was always a favorite of mine.

Colin Smith said...

Congrats on the novel and being accepted to law school, Opie! Both are a big deal. A few days ago, I wrote a comment that warned against comparing yourself with others--I think it was to do how many books you need to read to be a good writer. Well, to be consistent, the same applies here

I think we get hung up over situations like this because of the popular notion that writers must write, and any writer worth their beans will find a way to write no matter whatever else is going on in their lives.

To which I say, all power to you if that's you. But it's not everyone. Opie, there are good writers who write novels in the thirty minutes they have between parenting, school, eating, sleeping, and the bathroom. There are other good writers who figure school is for three years, but writing is for life--do school first, and writing after. Some might counter, "But you don't know what the next three years might bring! What if you never get to write/query that novel?" To which I say... oh well. Clearly something more important came up, like kids, or nomination to the Supreme Court, or death.

In short, don't sweat it. As Janet says, follow your path. Do what's best for your life, not anyone else's. If you want to wait to query, then wait. Just because you don't feel compelled to be published at the moment, that doesn't make you a bad writer. It makes you a writer with other priorities. And that's okay--there are lots of them out there.

All the best to you, whatever you choose!! :D

Steve Stubbs said...

OP's dilemma is known technically as Goal Diffusion. It is a very common problem with creative people, including one I know well (i.e., me.) They wanna do this and they wanna do that and they wanna do something else. I empathize and sympathize.

Here are some tough realities to consider: law is a very dicey market and law school is more expensive than medical school. I was listening to someone on NPR a year or so ago who works for a cut rate (low cost) law school. He said some of them promote themselves by saying 96% of their graduates are working. He said that is true, but what they don't tell you is, they are working at Starbucks pouring coffee. I think of that every time Bernie Sanders starts waving his hands and promising everybody a free college degree. What he is promising is a whole lot of people with J.D. degrees pouring coffee at Starbucks. He says a college degree is the new high school diploma and he's right. You can get a minwage job with a high school diploma and you can get a minwage job with a college degree. You can even live in a homeless shelter with a college degree. During a previous career as a counselor I had a conversation with one fellow who said, "I can't live here with all these drunks. I'm a CPA!" Just to be clear he was a client. I never have been that unfortunate. I did not know what to say. The implication was, Bernie Sanders or the Middle Class or somebody should put him up at the Hyatt. Unfortunately, this is not a monarchy and even if it were, he is not a member of the royal family.

Until Bernie takes over, graduate school is immensely enjoyable IF YOU CAN PAY FOR IT. Bernie is not going to pay for it. If it leads nowhere, can you absorb the loss and move on? If so, by all means go for it.

Law school leads to a great, albeit overworked and stressful, career (think 70 hour weeks) IF YOU WERE BORN INTO ONE OF THE RIGHT FAMILIES. If you are not an aristocrat, can you risk having a great career in a coffee shop with a J.D. degree paying off student loans? They will confiscate your social security benefit when you get old if the loan is still ballooning out of control.

Consider carefully. Hubby expects you to take care of the kids, the house, the laundry, the cooking, the dishes, the yard, the budget, and the car while he stretches out on the recliner watching the latest news about Trump's antics.

If you do go to law school, Ms. Reid is right. Put the book on the shelf. If you do not go, writing is a great, low cost and low risk alternative. Good luck to you.

Shaunna said...

Thanks, Reiders, for your insights and experiences. The question was mine, and I'm glad to hear so many different perspectives. I've heard from more than a few people that 1L is particularly challenging.

As for some of the nuances of my particular situation, I haven't done full time school and full time motherhood before. I finished my MA before I got married and had kids. But I did write my first two novels while my husband was in his residency.

The program I'll be attending is full-time. Three years. And I have a merit scholarship, so I won't have tuition to worry about, but I will have a scholarship to keep.

The thing is, I know about the glacial pace of publishing. If I wait until I'm out of law school, it will seem like wasted time since I could have queried while in school and then have school to keep me occupied during the "waiting games."

When I'm finished, I don't intend to work at a big law firm. I won't have much, if any debt, from law school, so I'd rather get some experience and hang my own shingle, work part-time, and practice law at my own pace.

I've already told my kids, especially my oldest, that if we get into this and he isn't getting what he needs from me, I'll quit. It's not worth risking my family. He said he thinks I should go for it.

If I decide not to query right now, though, I'll probably just self-publish. I don't see myself wanting to come back to the ms after a three-year hiatus. More than likely, law school will be fodder for something new and completely different.

Thanks for your thoughts. It's always great to hear others' experiences who have been places I haven't or places I'm contemplating going.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Have jumped back in and read about half the comments until I came to
Claire AB and her very realistic comment about having it all.

OP, I will tell you what I have told my ambitious and beyond well-educated daughters their entire lives - (who now have children of their own).

You CAN have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.

Megan V said...


Best wishes to you! I won't try to talk you out of law school. (presumably plenty of people have tried and failed :) ) I'll just finish my commenting off with law school bears no resemblance to the workload or responsibilities of other types of study. You will have no idea how well you're doing until your grades are posted. Having been on scholarship myself, I can tell you that trying to keep that GPA high enough to retain it can be a definite stressor because law school is competitive as h***
If you have to sacrifice writing for a bit, so be it, but don't self-publish just because you don't want to wait. Successful self-publishing requires as much (if not more effort) than trying to query and revise for trad pub.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Man oh man who knew that so many Reiders were lawyers WOW.
SHAUNNA, You have a tough road ahead and an exciting one.

You said,
"I've already told my kids, especially my oldest, that if we get into this and he isn't getting what he needs from me, I'll quit."

Quit what?
Law school?
Being a mom?
Being a wife?
Honey you don't have to quit any of it. Just back-burner writing. There ya go, future problem solved, if it becomes a problem.

I'm with Bryan Fagan...feeling a bit unworthy.

Cassandra Briggs said...

It annoyed the snot out of me when our professors drilled this message into us, but they were right -- there's a significant learning curve to the specifics of studying the law, regardless of how rigorous your other academic experiences have been. Without children, I had a little bit of free time that I could have used for creative writing, but IMHO, even without kiddos in the mix, it would be a bad idea to put yourself in a situation where you might need to turn around revisions on a novel on someone else's timeline. Querying and associated activities in years 2 and 3 is more realistic -- not only do you have significant control over your daily schedule, but you can choose (mostly) classes where you write a paper instead of taking an exam, which makes a huge difference in terms of the stress-cycle of the semester. The up-side is that a manuscript almost always benefits from some breathing room, and returning to your novel after a year of cramming (and then regurgitating) case law will be like diving into a clear, cool pond on a sweltering day.

Shaunna said...

Carolynnwith2Ns, I meant I'd quit law school. Writing is something that can simmer along on the back burner for years. That's not quitting. It's percolating. :-)

No, it's law school I'm prepared to give up if anything. Having survived a husband in medical school and residency while raising the four kids when they were little and not having my marriage fall apart or turning to alcohol, prescription drugs, or SSRIs, I'm cautiously optimistic. But I'm blessed with a husband whose job supports us all nicely. No way I'd risk my family for law school. Just hoping I can have it all...eventually. And it doesn't risk anything to try!

abnormalalien said...

OP, I'm primarily a lurker here due to time constraints. I've never studied law and have no intentions thereof. But I've been desperately tossing buckets of cold water out of the boat called full-time grad school for 5 years. I've been on academic probation for not keeping up the scholarly grades and for not giving good oral presentations on the fly. I was told upon entering, "You won't have time to have kids until after you graduate." The hubby has complained about lack of us-time. Nine times out of ten: my lawn is unkempt, my dietary habits are abominable, and I'm lucky to get a few hours of sleep a night. I can see graduation far on the horizon and it's the most beautifully terrifying thing I've laid eyes on.

I'm always writing in my head. And I keep a journal of things to get back to writing later. Early in grad school, I was querying. I did major novel revisions and a major query revision. But I'm kinda of thankful for the lack of interest because reading here I've realized how much commitment publication will require. I'm not ready for it yet, but I'm definitely not one of those energizer-bunny-people either. If you're already juggling 4 kids, you're more energetic than me! Whatever you decide, good luck and keep us in the loop.

Julie Weathers said...


Consider carefully. Hubby expects you to take care of the kids, the house, the laundry, the cooking, the dishes, the yard, the budget, and the car while he stretches out on the recliner watching the latest news about Trump's antics.

Let's not assume her husband is some low life conservative jerk who is going to sit around, swilling beer and cheering Trump on while she does everything. We have no idea what her support system is.


Dena Pawling said...

I had a 2/3 scholarship. I took out a student loan for $20k and it paid for my entire three years, including books. Yes I was able to keep the GPA sufficiently high to keep the scholarship for the entire time I was there, but that's not a given. I know quite a few classmates who lost their scholarship after the first year. Not saying that will happen to you, but most of my classmates were not able to keep their scholarship for the entire three years. I think I got lucky.

I hung a shingle after I received my license. Having my own practice was stressful. Part-time income on full-time hours! I didn't know how much I didn't know, and the income stream was iffy at best. Plus self-employment taxes. Ugh. After ten years of that, I closed my practice and joined a firm. I've been at three firms now, not biglaw thankfully, and not the 70 hour week firms either. But I definitely put in 40-45 hours each week. Oddly, not as stressful as my own practice.

Don't forget how much work self-publishing is. Probably not any less than querying, and if you really want to go traditional, then query now. Don't self-publish just to get it out there.

It sounds like you're asking the right questions to make your decision. Good luck!

Shaunna said...


It's okay. My husband is a highly supportive. And in some ways, I feel it will offer some unique benefits for my children. My older ones can cook, clean, do laundry, complete household chores, etc very well. The younger ones are learning. If my going to law school means they have to step up and be more responsible, I don't think that's a bad thing.

It's easy for me, as a mom, to do everything for my husband and kids. It was especially easy when he was in medical school. But I've made conscientious efforts to step back over the last several years. I don't do their laundry. I don't clean their rooms. I don't make breakfast and lunch for them--only dinner (although I often comment on the nutritional content of their meals and suggest the addition of fruits and vegetables).

Sometimes stepping out of our comfort zones can help us grow, even if it's uncomfortable or downright sucky for a while.

Plus, I can still read this blog, even if I'm not actively writing, revising, or querying. For all the bad stuff about social media, I believe it has also created a positive space for perfect strangers to support one another in significant ways.

Julie Weathers said...


Joseph Will probably pop in at some time. I hope he does.

Having gone through the querying, got an agent, on submission, back to no agent, query a new project, major revisions path before, I can only give you some advice from my point of view.

Publishing does move at glacial speed. However, do you need the stress of having rejections pouring in while you're trying to take care of four children, a home (even if you have great support), and trying to keep that GPA up so you keep your scholarship?

You think you're prepared. You know you're going to get some, but when they start coming in, they screw your day. What happens if you get five in one day and that day happens to be when you've got a big test or you need to be studying for one? Do you really need the added stress?

You're looking at the bright side; someone loves you and wants you to revise. Even if your writing is wonderful, an agent might look at thousands of queries a year and take on two new clients. That means every star in the universe has to line up at that precise moment. It doesn't mean all those other thousands are crappy writers.

Let's say you do get a revise and resend. Let's use my latest revision suggestion as an example. I'll need to cut the book off at about the 2/3 point. I need to add in a whole world of magic that was only touched on in the original manuscript. In other words, there's a whisper of magic. We know it's there, but it's behind the veil. He wants it blown wide open. Instead of visiting the arcane academy to investigate a mass murder, make it as real as Hogwarts. Instead of ending with a major battle, the climax is an assassination.

This is going to take some thought . . . and work. It will almost be like writing a new book. After mulling it over, I think he had some good ideas.

What if an agent wanted you to pull out two of the major characters and their arcs and write separate books for them? Would that be a little stressful on top of lawschool?

You just never know what's going to be suggested, if anything.

I think you should get through year one and see how it goes. If you can handle it, then make a decision. Family comes first. Always. Only you know how you handle things and what your real situation is.

Armchair quarterbacks can sit back and say, "I know why you're not getting published," or "You can--", but only YOU know what your situation truly is. I would, however, pay close attention to the people who have been through lawschool and Joseph who was a law professor for many years. They have some firsthand knowledge of what you're taking on.

Whatever you decide to do, know that you have all of our good wishes for success.

Panda in Chief said...

Congratulations Shaunna. Personally, I have a hard time time keeping my life on an even keel even without kids, a husband or law school, but that's just me.
Several people have mentioned that there is always going to be something that gets in the way, that you have to do, that might keep you from writing. And we haven't even thrown health issues in the mix.

Like Janet says, no one knows you better than you, so if you think you can do it, if your gut says "yes" then I say why the hell not?
What could possibly go wrong?

BJ Muntain said...

Shaunna: Nah. Don't self-publish the novel just because you don't have time to query and revise now. If you think you're going to have other, better ideas later, then let this one sit. You may come back with a new idea to make it even better.

The thing is, publishing can be slower than glaciers, or as some folks in Janet's posts lately have found, it can be faster than you expect. True, it will take a couple years for the book to actually be published, but but those two years won't have you twiddling your thumbs wondering what to do now. They'll be busy enough (even without Law).

And remember, as Janet has said several times, if you self-publish something and don't sell well, it will make it harder to sell later novels traditionally. The sales of your self-published novel will influence agents and editors.

I'm sure you will do well in law school and publishing. Don't rush either of them. It may seem like publishing will take too long if you wait, but you've got a lot of time left in your life. Publishing well is better than publishing soon.

And, as others have said, be sure to take good care of yourself, including carving out time for YOUR needs. Health is such a difficult thing to regain once you've lost it.

Anonymous said...

Shaunna, I can actually see my own daughter being in a similar position one day. And she'd kill it. In high school, she signed up to be in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program even though advisors warned what an academic burden it would be. She graduated in the top 5 of her class (not 5%, in the top 5). Same thing in undergrad, advisors cautioned against taking too many "tough" classes and a double major. She was consistently on the Dean's list. And then grad school, while working full time in her chosen field with responsibility for some pretty significant initiatives and programs, her advisor *strongly* recommended she not take a full class load, that she was setting herself up for failure. She graduated in three years, straight As, cum laude. And through it all, she'd ask me, "Why does everyone keep underestimating me?" Her determination is formidable.

I don't know where she gets it. Some people simply thrive on that kind of workload. From the things you've said here in the comments, I suspect you might be one of them. Janet has pointed out times when you'd need to give additional time/effort to publishing. If you think you could handle that along with everything else, go for it. I like that you've given consideration to what you'd give up, if needed (and I'm glad to hear family is a priority).

I hope you'll find time to keep us posted on how you're doing. I like your voice and predict awesome things in your future, whatever you choose to do.

Claire Bobrow said...

Shaunna: I'm dragging in at the finish line to wish you best of luck with law school and your writing. Sounds like you're smart, motivated, organized, and a lot of other things that will ensure success in all your pursuits. You've had a tidal wave of advice and encouragement swell up from the reef today - I hope it helps you on your way.

Please keep us posted!

Craig F said...

Shaunna: Do whatever it takes to make yourself what you want to be. I have several friends who went to law school and now have corporate jobs. If nothing else it adds depth to your resumes.

Writing is something that you, if you are a writer, will do. It is unavoidable, a compulsion, an addiction. You will write, detail plot outlines and all of those things. When you are ready to query, go for it. The more stuff you have lying around, the better. I think all agents and publishers ask, at some point, what else do you have?

So write when it strikes you and don't forget to dance on occasion too.

Female writers who once practiced law:
Linda Fairstein is very successful as a writer and was once a prosecutor.

Sam Hawke said...

>Law school leads to a great, albeit overworked and stressful, career (think 70 hour weeks) IF YOU WERE BORN INTO ONE OF THE RIGHT FAMILIES. If you are not an aristocrat, can you risk having a great career in a coffee shop with a J.D. degree paying off student loans? They will confiscate your social security benefit when you get old if the loan is still ballooning out of control.<

Geesh, Steve, way to be a downer. I'm a lawyer and I've worked part time (3 days/week) since I first had children. Crazy big corporate firms aren't the only career path for someone with a law degree.

I would add to what Julie said, which is that you can't predict what workload you will get with little or no notice in the traditional publishing world. You'll have months of waiting, sure, and then all of a sudden you're rewriting your book on a tight deadline. As someone trying to manage that with kids and a day job (even a part time one), it can be really difficult. I wouldn't want to try to do it while studying something that has a high drag on your home time (as law school does). I personally would wait to see how manageable law school is before I sought to add anything else to it - but that's me, other people I know are doing law school part time while working 80 hours a week at their own business as well, so it's not like it's impossible!


Good luck whatever you decide, and congratulations both on law school and having a book ready to query!

Joseph S. said...


I’ve been a law student, a lawyer at a firm that had law student interns during the school year, and a law professor. I could write a mini-book for you on what I’ve seen.

I doubt my advice could be better than what Lucie Witt (at 9:27) and Cassandra Briggs (at 2:31) gave you.

The first year is the hardest AND the most important. Give it your best shot. If you can keep up spending three hours on a class assignment, spend five. Once you understand the court’s analysis, change the facts to see how your reasoning would change. If the court says there are five elements but only two are at issue in the case, figure out how the other three might be issues. All before class. Do a lot of thinking.

The second and third years are easier. The material may be tougher but it’s a deeper and narrower focus, and if you did the first year right, you’ve got the reading and analytical skills under control. You’ll also have more time outside of class – for your novel, for Moot Court or Trial programs, for journal or review participation, where your life and law school experience takes you. It’s the first year that is the real challenge.

If you KNEW the query and agent signing process would stretch into next May (without further revisions) I’d say send out your queries now. That assumes you can manage revising your novel under the auspices of your agent or an editor and keeping up with law school and your family during your second year. Assume you’ll have 15 hours a week free to work on your novel in your second year (or maybe all day Friday and Saturday). Would that be enough time for you?

The safest and possibly the most sensible way is to is to hold off the query process until you‘ve mastered or at least become comfortable in the new world of law school. You’ll be amazed the transformation in your confidence and comfort level that occurs during the December-January break between semesters.

Write down my Law School email address If you reach a point where you just can’t “get it,” email me and I’ll do my best to help you out. Somehow I’ve been reasonably good at helping struggling students in the past.

Steve Stubbs said...


Well, not quite. It is a strategy known as Planning for Worst Case. If you can design your strategy to handle the worst case, you can handle any more pleasant outcome.

From the point of view of an investor, this is an investment and calls for a risk assessment. If you can pay for it, it's a fabulous experience. Immensely enjoyable and a great personal growth experience. Absolutely go for it. (I have three degrees and zero student debt and no regrets.)

If you cannot pay for it, and especially if you have to get into the predatory system of indentured debt servitude the right wing has created, as an investment it is extremely risky. Still immensely enjoyable and a great self-enrichment experience. But proceed with great caution. I know numerous people who got buried in student debt and these are good people. It makes me angry what the right wing has created. With each election we go further and further to the right, so things are unlikely to change. OP is evidently a more mature person than the right wing's intended victims, so I think she will show much better judgement than they do.

I hope it works out well for you, OP. Good luck to you.

Julie Weathers said...


This is a writing blog. You never miss an opportunity to get some political rant in and I'm choosing not to participate further. There was absolutely zero indication in the OP's post that her husband is some Trump supporter who is going to sit on his butt in the recliner doing nothing while she does everything, but that's what you put out there because you have to get your little jab in, yet again.

I'm done. If you want to keep up pretending this is "writing advice" have at it.

LynnRodz said...

Jeez, OP, you're putting me to shame. I don't have kids, I'm not going to school, and I'm definitely not shopping for a swimsuit, thank God! Why is it the more time I have, the less time I find to do things?

Terri Lynn Coop said...

During an interview about my legal thriller I was asked why so many lawyers write. My reply was that we are "bright, literate, and bored."

Here is the law school maxim that held fairly true for me:

1L - they scare you to death
2L - they work you to death
3L - they bore you to death

Here's the trick, take your novel writing skills into your legal writing class. Clean prose, straightforward sentences, and the damn serial comma every single, last, damn time and you'll do fine.