The 5-Question Interview: Jen Singer

The writer talks about being funny (or being the target), platforms (no-not the kind you wear), and letting go of what doesn’t work.

Jen Singer is the mother of two boys who talk to her through the bathroom door (her words). She is the creator of MommaSaid.net, where moms can get laughs and validation while their kids find new places to leave crumbs. In June of 2007, Jen was diagnosed with stage-3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She had four chapters left to write in the first book (a parenting trilogy), You’re a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either). Her brother gave her his laptop, her publisher gave her an extension and she finished the book–at chemo. The book came out and (best news) Jen has been in remission more than a year. Jen’s second book Stop Second Guess Yourself – the Toddler Years (HCI) was released in April. The third, Stop Second Guessing Yourself – The Preschool Years (HCI) will come out in September. Jen created “Please Take My Kids To Work Day: A Holiday for At-Home Moms” (coming up: June 29, 2009), and “The Housewife Awards.” She pens the “Good Grief” blog for Good Housekeeping.

The Writer’s Journey: Does inspiration feel like something particular or specific to you?
Jen: When I’m inspired to write something, it feels like I have to do it right now, like when you have a full bladder, only the outcome is usually more enjoyable. Or so I hope. Also, it makes me happy, like when I hit a great shot in tennis or when I get the TV remote to myself. When I’m inspired to write, I can’t wait to sit down to do it.

The Writer’s Journey: Does your creative mind naturally think/do/feel/create in “funny?”
Jen: Humor has long been my defense mechanism. Also, it’s how my family communicates. Our family gatherings are like a roast: Be funny or be the target. So we all think that way. I’m just the only one making money at it.

Twitter has been a great outlet for my little bursts of funny that strike me throughout the day. For instance, after several sick days with the kids, I tweeted: “It’s like a frat house on Sunday morning around here, except the “empties” are Motrin bottles and tissue boxes.” Sometimes I turn my tweets into blogs, but sometimes I just need to get them out of my system and move on. I’m like Doritos: I’ll make more.

But sometimes I think in other terms besides funny. For example, I took my first spinning class at the gym about a year after I’d finished chemotherapy for lymphoma. When the teacher played Matchbox 20’s “How Far We’ve Come,” I burst into tears. And then I wrote about it.

The Writer’s Journey: MommaSaid.net is a great success and in many—if not all–ways, an extension of you. As it grows and grows, how do you keep that creative connection alive?
Jen: You’re right MommaSaid.net is an extension of me and of my brand. It’s not hard to keep the creative connection alive when your web site is a part of you. I like to think of MommaSaid.net as my own personal channel that’s part Comedy Central, part Lifetime, part CNN and part sitcom. It all depends on what’s happening in my life when I post that affects which part(s) gets attention.

The Writer’s Journey: How do you not hold on so tight to a piece of writing that isn’t working (that you wish would work) and let go so you can discover what will work? (I guess I should first ask: have you ever had this problem?)
Jen: When you’re a blogger and an author with deadlines looming, you don’t have time to massage and cultivate a piece that’s not working. The online deadlines are too frequent and the book deadlines are too daunting to mess with copy that doesn’t come together. Sometimes, I’ll pull out parts of these types of writing and use them elsewhere, either in blogs, essays or books. Or, I’ll kill them altogether. You have to let go of what doesn’t work. Besides, blogging is like breastfeeding: The more you do it, the more you can produce.

The Writer’s Journey: You have three (three!) books in various stages of completion. From what I understand, waiting for the right publisher to say “I do” took many years. Tom Petty has been telling us for years that, “The waiting is the hardest part.” Along that line, how did you nurture your creativity through the ups and downs of the waiting process in order to keep on trusting your voice?

Jen: Book publishing is a tough business, especially in this lousy economy. It’s a place where Joe the Plumber gets a book deal when people who can actually write get nothing. The key is not to take it personally, but rather to build your platform and hone your craft (assuming you can’t get famous by talking to presidential candidates, of course.)
I found out about my first book deal while I was taking the kids to the dentist. It wasn’t really a deal at all: I lost money on that book. But it was a part of my platform that later boosted my saleability to publishers.

My second book deal came while I was at home, blogging. My agent got an offer and we took it. My life didn’t change. I just went upstairs and had soup for lunch and got ready to write a book. But it was a step up from my first deal, money-wise and support-wise. Sourcebooks helped promote my book, booking me on a few dozen radio programs and sending out books wherever my personal publicist and I asked. Best of all, they got the book into bookstores and online where readers could find them.

My third book deal was a complete surprise, because I wasn’t shopping it around. The idea came from Allison Janse at HCI, a MommaSaid fan who had an idea for a humorous, yet helpful guide to motherhood. It soon turned into three books – branded to MommaSaid – with a huge publicity push from the publisher and a large printing. If I had stopped running MommaSaid years ago, I’d never have gotten this book deal. And then I’d have had no reason to jump up and down shouting, “I got a book deal!” while at the ice cream shop with the kids.

Next up is a cancer memoir, followed by more parenting books. They will be easier sells because my platform is bigger now, but there’s always room for growth. The key is to keep on building my platform and honing my craft so that publishers take notice. Also, to remind myself how far I’ve come since that first book deal whenever I hit the “downs” in this whole process. If I start to overanalyze rejections or wonder how come some other author got the book deal I wanted, it’ll only serve to make me very, very cranky. And nobody likes a cranky humor writer.

Jen lives in Kinnelon, NJ, with her husband Pete and their kids, Nicholas, 11, and Christopher, 10, and a skittish fish. She also lives at Momma Said, where you can visit her anytime.