Writing From the Rocking Chair with Jessica Kulekjian

I’m so excited to have author, teacher, and mother-of-three Jessica Kulekjian on the blog today to talk about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: finding time to write with littles.

If you scroll writer Twitter for a few minutes, you’ll no doubt see tweets like this:

How do parents of little kids find time to write?! I never have a free minute and I’m always so exhausted.

I feel you.

Many of us have been there: finger typing with a sleeping baby on our laps, jotting down ideas in notebooks and Notes apps between running errands and shuttling kids to practice, and silently wondering, Can I really do this?  

Yes! You can. (I believe in you!)

I can’t promise it will be easy (is the road to publication ever easy?!), but it is possible. Read on for Jessica’s success story.

LL: Welcome, Jessica! Okay, let’s cut right to the chase: you have a pretty incredible story about how you wrote your first manuscript—typing on your phone while rocking your baby. Tell us more about that.

JK: Hi Laura! So happy to be here. It does sound crazy to type this “out loud,” but here goes… I went from first draft to book deal, thumb-typing on my iPhone from the rocking chair. Of course, there was tons of learning in-between. And at first… I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing.

This story might be a bit of a downer (in the beginning). Five months after I became a mother, I lost my mother to breast cancer. At the time, I was juggling my work as an elementary teacher, caring for my new baby who had the worst colic, and just trying to survive sleep deprivation. To cope, I started writing on my phone while nursing in the rocking chair. By writing, I mean, I poured streams of consciousness into journal entries filled with grief, or letters to my child saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing. What makes you cry so much? I want to help, and I don’t know how.” Those were tough times.

Fast forward seven years later. It was my 35th birthday and I was rocking my third baby while journaling on my phone. Even though I had known I wanted to be a children’s author since I was a kid, I had never pursued it. I had no clue how to start or how to fit it in with “real life.” For whatever reason, it took turning 35 for my brain to make some sense of it. LOL. That day, I made a conscious decision to devote my time in the rocking chair to picture book craft. I decided I was done ignoring this dream!

Black and white photo of author Jessica Kulekjian sitting on a couch with her three children.
Jessica and her children

Soon, I discovered other nooks-and-crannies of time I could take advantage of, like writing from the sidelines of soccer practice, swim lessons, or standing in line. I basically collected a lot of the minutes I spent waiting and turned them into writing. Eventually, I thumb-typed hundreds of drafts, revisions, and critiques. I sent query letters, accepted agent offers, and my first book deal, all from my iPhone.

Now, I work full time as a teacher, supporting students that homeschool through a local public school, and I homeschool my own three kids. I still write in the nooks-and-crannies, mostly in the early morning hours, and still quite a bit on my phone. 

LL: That is an amazing story, Jessica. Personally, it resonates with me so much. My younger daughter had terrible reflux and had to be held upright for at least thirty minutes after each time she nursed. When you factor in how often young babies eat, I swear I didn’t sleep more than 30 minutes at a time for the better part of a year. I still have rambling emails I sent to myself about surviving sleep deprivation!

Let’s talk about your first book, which comes out next month. I’m so excited for it! Tell us more about the story. What inspired you to write it?

Cover of Before We Stood Tall

JK: Back in 2017, I was working on a story about a tree growing up. Since I was obsessing about trees and all they have to teach us, one of my critique partners, Kelly, sent me this Ted Talk by Suzanne Simard. I was rocking my baby to sleep as I learned about “Mother Trees” and how they are interconnected, how they cooperate, and how they pass on wisdom when they are injured or dying. In that moment I felt flooded with appreciation for my own mother and all that she passed on to me. I also felt gratitude for the opportunity to nurture the children and students in my life. I knew I needed to reimagine my tree story and highlight the community of the trees.

LL: I love that interconnectedness. Having a personal connection to a story you write makes it feel even more rewarding to see it come to life on the page.

Speaking of mothers, I know that I’m constantly seeing writers—particularly moms—commenting about how hard it is to write with young kids and asking for advice. Like you, I started writing when my oldest was a baby, but I won’t claim it was easy. What tips do you have for other parents who are struggling to find time for it all?

JK:  Here’s a few things that I have come to learn that work for me. Consider what might work for you and toss the rest.

  • Notice all the ways you create off the page. Do you make up silly songs to distract a wiggly toddler during a diaper change? Do you improvise while cooking? Do you garden, or design spreadsheets, or dance? If you embrace all the ways your creative signature is written into your whole life, you might discover that your time away from the page is just as valuable to your time on the page. It’s your unique process and it’s all connected.
  • Celebrate your efforts! All the little and big steps matter.
  • If you struggle with a negative inner critic (I did and sometimes still do), consider revising that voice to match the gentleness and care you use when speaking to the children in your life.
Interior spread from the picture book BEFORE WE STOOD TALL, showing an aerial view of children looking up at trees.
Interior spread from Before We Stood Tall

LL: This is great advice. I always seem to get my best ideas when I’m cooking or planting… or even while mopping my floors!

Let’s talk about resources. When my girls were babies, I was always hesitant to sign up for webinars and classes. Life with young littles just felt so unpredictable—I didn’t want to spend the money on a class unless I was sure I could get the bang for my buck and not wind up missing it (or nodding off in my chair due to sheer exhaustion). What low-stakes resources would you recommend for busy parents?

JK: I hear that! Once my firstborn was a toddler, his “colic” had turned into other medical concerns, and it became clear that our family required a stay-at-home parent to meet his needs. We made some drastic financial sacrifices to do this, so paying for webinars or classes was NOT my priority. I didn’t even have a working computer for a long time! I didn’t pay for a single class or conference until I earned money from my first advance.

Here’s a small list of low/no cost resources I used when I was first starting out:

LOCAL LIBRARY!

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling

Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Website

Josh Funk’s Resources for Writers

Jess Keating’s Website and Newsletter

Storystorm

Reading for Research (ReFoReMo)

Magic Lessons Podcast

The Children’s Book Podcast

Writing for Children Podcast

LL: This is a fantastic list—I wish I had these resources all in one place when I was starting out! 

It’s so critical for parents to have adequate support. I’ve personally been lucky to find many other writers who are also moms of littles, so we can swap all sorts of tips and advice. Of course, you are one of them! Any recommendations for finding your squad in the writing world?

JK: I’m convinced that the Kidlit community attracts some of the best humans on the planet. My only advice here would be to reach out and allow yourself to make new friends in any writing community you are naturally drawn to. It’s very rewarding to connect with others and grow up in this industry together.

LL: Thanks so much, Jessica! Readers, if you want to connect with Jessica and learn more about her upcoming books, you can find her here:

Website: jessicakulekjian.com

Twitter: @jesskulekjian

Instagram: @jessicakulekjian

Before We Stood Tall is now available for pre-order!
For autographed copies please order through Petunia’s Place by calling 559-438-1561 or emailing petuniasplaceorders@gmail.com

Photo of author Jessica Kulekjian.

Jessica works with homeschooling families through a local public school and writes in the early morning hours. Her passion for nature, free play, and learning inspires all her stories. Jessica’s debut, Before We Stood Tall: From Small Seed to Mighty Tree, sprouts on bookshelves September 7, 2021 with Kids Can Press followed by First Notes of Spring (Bloomsbury, 2022) and Hiders Seekers, Finders Keepers (Kids Can Press, 2022). Jessica lives with her husband and three kids in the Central Valley of California.

Hey, Reader! If you enjoy my blog and would like to connect with me (Laura Lavoie), you can find me on Twitter and Instagram: @llavoieauthor

7 thoughts on “Writing From the Rocking Chair with Jessica Kulekjian”

  1. My beautiful, talented friend, Jessica! Great post! I can’t wait to receive my copy in the mail!

  2. Jessica, I love how you shared so much, I was crying reading your story of how you got started, thank you for sharing and inspiring, And thank you Laura for this beautiful interview

  3. Hi Jessica,
    Soooo great to see this up date on your life. I am thrilled for you and think your “writitng life” will bless a lot of kids, parents and other writers. I’d love it if we could connect face to face some time. Blessings, Cindy Freeman

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