On Writing During Challenging Times: A Chat with Artemis Roehrig

We’re nine months into a global pandemic and many of us are wondering: how do I find the motivation to write?

Last December, I wrote a post about avoiding writing burnout during stressful times. Now I’m looking back at that post—through my 2020 lens—and thinking, Aw, Laura, you’re cute.

Who knew we’d be here in 2020?

Despite the challenges this year, I’m still seeing writers making moves and meeting goals. I’m also seeing writers acknowledging how HARD this has been, from managing kids learning from home, to promoting new books sans in-person signings and school visits, to frustrations over general publishing delays. Say what you will about the writing community (We’re fun? We’re attractive? We tell great jokes?)—but we’re a resilient bunch. (It probably has something to do with all the rejections, amiright?)

I’m excited to have multi-published author Artemis Roehrig on the blog today to chat about finding time to write during pandemic times. Artemis has two new books out this year: Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts (Persnickety/Cornell Lab Publishing) and The Grumpy Pirate (Scholastic). She also recently started a podcast, STEM Women in KidLit. So, without further ado, let’s chat about making all the things happen during this difficult year.

Grumpy Pirate Book Cover
The Grumpy Pirate, published by Scholastic earlier this year

LL: Welcome, Artemis! I know that you, like many of us, have kiddos at home doing virtual learning. Speaking for myself, I used to be able to carve out at least a couple hours of quiet writing time each day, but it’s pretty much been nonexistent in 2020. How has at-home learning affected your writing?

AR: Having both kids home full time has definitely been a wonderful adventure, and they have provided me with so much inspiration! However it does mean I can’t do much productive work during the day since both of them are VERY loud (even while they are in virtual classes)! Although both are fairly independent, there is still always someone interrupting me every fifteen minutes because they can’t find something or because they want me to get them a snack (even though they are fully capable of getting one on their own!).

I’ve had to get better about getting up early and making sure to get some writing in before they wake up, and also trying to stay motivated to write after bedtime, because I’m most creative when I can really get into my head and am not distracted by lots of background noise (virtual kindergarten is especially distracting since it’s so cute!). I also lucked out with a supportive boss who lets me work flexible part-time hours for my “day” job as a laboratory technician!

Basically, the pandemic has just meant I have less time for sleep or exercise. However, I always keep in mind that having too much to do is a privileged problem to have during a pandemic.

LL: Yes, I feel this so much! I also really need to get into my head when I’m writing and have a tough time focusing with background noise. And sleeping? Exercise? When I have to choose between writing and going for a run, writing nearly always wins.

It sounds like you’ve been able to meet some big goals—despite the changes in your schedule—and this year more than ever we need to celebrate every accomplishment! You launched your podcast back in October, and I’m curious, was the podcast a pre-pandemic idea, or more of a pandemic project?

The latest STEM Women in KidLit episode featured acclaimed middle grade author Karen Strong

AR: The podcast idea actually first came to me at a writing conference I was at last January. I kept meeting writers who had STEM degrees, and was fascinated that there were so many of us!

My co-host, Rajani LaRocca, was at the same conference, and the two of us talked about it and thought it would be a fun podcast. The pandemic hit soon after, so we tabled the idea, but then with all of the cancelled events and conferences it was fun to pick it back up again this summer and have the opportunity to connect with all these people!

LL: Yes, connecting with other writers has been my saving grace this year!

What are some other moments—big or small—when you’ve felt successful in 2020? Any tips or tricks for keeping all the balls in the air?

AR: Well, I got a new agent in 2020, so that was pretty amazing! In addition to having two picture books, and two novelty books come out, I also published a pandemic poem, and had a story come out in Ladybug Magazine. Oh and I taught myself how to do sound editing for my podcast, so I’m very proud of that!

Really my biggest tip for keeping all the balls in the air is having lots and lots of balls so if something doesn’t work out, you have some other project that might succeed. Also I like the analogy people often give of knowing which balls are made of foam versus glass, so you are always aware of which ones are the most important to catch.

LL: Congrats on the agent, the books, the poem, the magazine story—all of it! I also think it’s helpful to hear about setbacks, and I know we’ve all had plenty of those this year, too. What challenges have you faced being a mom/author/podcastpreneur (we’re making that a word now) during these times?

AR: It was incredibly difficult having picture books launch in April and June this year, as well as my novelty tattoo books, Super, Strong Sharks and Roaring, Rumbling Dinosaurs, in September. There were a lot of pandemic-related challenges this spring, such as warehouses not getting my books in stock, and all my editors being furloughed. I was envious of all the authors/illustrators who had the stamina to quickly shift gears to promote their books virtually, and who had time for all these virtual author visits, blog tours, etc.

Honestly, for me, unexpectedly having two kids home full time, and guiding them through their big emotions about all the sudden changes, took up nearly all my time and emotional energy, and left me with very few spoons to deal with things like book marketing. By the time my family had settled into our new schedules enough for me to be able to do any sort of work, it felt like it was too late to promote my books, since they had already been out for several months.

Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? by Artemis Roehrig (with Corinne Demas)

LL: I know so many authors have felt this way this year, which is why I’m hopeful we can all continue to support each other by buying lots of books for holiday gifts… and supporting indie bookstores while we do it!

Let’s end with a fun question: what are you most hopeful for in 2021? Any big writing-related goals you’re hoping to tackle?

AR: I have a YA novel that I have been working on for several years that I am finally in the home stretch to finish by the end of January. It’s a book close to my heart, so I will feel accomplished about completing it whether it ever sells or not. I randomly started another YA novel for NaNoWriMo this November, so finishing the first draft of that is on the list at some point. And as ever, I plan to write some more picture books—I always have more ideas than time to get them all down on paper!

LL: Thanks so much for joining me, Artemis! How can readers connect with you?

AR: You can connect with me on Instagram or Twitter, or check out my website: https://artemisroehrig.com/

Check out my podcast STEM Women In KidLit at http://stemwomenkidlit.buzzsprout.com/ or just search for it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, etc.

Artemis Roehrig

Artemis grew up in Western Massachusetts, and spent summers on Cape Cod where she worked at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. After graduating from Skidmore College, she received her master’s degree from the Organismic & Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Massachusetts, where she continues to work with invasive insects. She is the coauthor (with Corinne Demas) of five picture books, including the award-winning Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts, and Are Pirates Polite? Artemis is also the author of Storey Publishing’s Tattoos That Teach series, and the co-host of the podcast STEM Women in KidLit.

If you enjoyed this post and want to connect with me (Laura), you can follow me on Twitter to see quirky things my kids say, or on Instagram to look at pics of books, cats, and the occasional batch of cookies.