Developing a writing habit is difficult, especially when your world is full of distractions. Of all the distractions writers face, there is one to rule them all: children.
If you’re a parent, you may wonder if it’s possible to be a writer and a parent simultaneously. You may struggle to balance your writing and your God-given responsibility to raise your beautiful children. You might even see other moms with successful writing careers while homeschooling 17 children and wonder, How do they do it?
How do busy moms find time to write and be a mom at the same time?
I interviewed Asheritah Ciuciu to find out. She is a bestselling author; national speaker; host of the international Prayers of REST; and the mother of three spunky kids, ages eight, five-and-a-half, and three.
When did you start writing?
Thomas Umstattd Jr.: Where did you get your drive to write? Which came first, the children or the writing?
Asheritah Ciuciu: I always wanted to be a writer. My parents have an incredible story. When I was growing up, people would say that someone should write their story. People assumed I would grow up and write their story. It’s always been my dream, but I have not yet written that story. It is on my long list of projects.
From a young age, I wanted to be a writer. I thought I would write fiction, but that’s not where I started.
My family endured a difficult season right after I was out of college, so I set aside those dreams. I got a job in telemarketing and focused on healing, growing, and doing the next right thing.
Then in 2012, multiple people told me the same thing; and it felt like maybe God was telling me that he had given me a gift and I had buried it. It was time to unbury that talent and put it into his service. It was as if he said, “It’s time for you to start writing.”
I’m a researcher at heart and love learning how to do things. For a few months, I researched how to become a writer and how to get published. I learned that blogging was the way to start because I needed to build an audience.
I made my master plan for building an audience, and it just so happened that I got pregnant at the same. When I realized that pregnancy comes with maternity leave, I thought, “Wow! What a perfect time for me to start my blog because I’ll be home with nothing to do!”
Thomas: Ah, the optimism of being a first-time mother. How hard could a newborn be?
Asheritah: I was naïve. I had my firstborn, Carissa, in September; and on October 1, I started my blog, OneThingAlone.com.
It was hard. Looking back, I can see God’s grace and strength carrying me through those first few months of brain fog while I showed up to write consistently. I wanted to encourage moms to make time for Jesus and make him our “one thing alone,” even during busy seasons.
Thomas: In the business world, companies that perform best are often the ones that start during a recession because if you can make your company work during bad economic times, the good times just make it better.
Whereas if you start your company in good economic times, the first recession you face is a challenge because you don’t know what it’s like to operate a business when it’s not easy.
It’s the same thing with writing. If you can develop the discipline of writing with a newborn, you’ll know you can write under difficult circumstances. If life gets easier, the writing may be easier as well.
Asheritah: I have pictures of myself with each of my children as newborns, resting on my chest while I’m at my computer writing.
Thomas: Sometimes babies just want to be held. They don’t need you to be mentally present. They just need you to be there physically. You only get a limited amount of time to hold a newborn.
Before this interview, my children begged me to read books to them. One book turned into two books, and two turned into three; but I finally came to my office for this interview.
As kids age, they need you to be physically and mentally present.
How do you navigate the mental shift from writing to caring for your kids?
Thomas: How do you navigate the transition from working on a blog post to being there mentally with your kids?
Asheritah: I struggled with that for a long time. No matter what I did, I felt guilty for not doing the other thing.
If I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending time with my children. If I was with my children, reading books or maybe, making three meals a day for them, I felt guilty that I wasn’t working on my writing.
It felt like a lose-lose proposition.
I’m a huge believer in the importance of community and having people who can speak truth into your life. I reached out to a mentor mom from my local church and asked her, “What am I doing wrong here? How do I make this work? If God is calling me to put down my writing for a season, I will do it in a heartbeat.”
I was more than willing to set it aside for a season because I didn’t want to sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry. I have seen that happen in my own family, and it caused deep wounds in my life.
I didn’t want to hurt my children by ignoring them. This older mom friend looked at me and said, “If God is calling you to lay it down, he will make that clear to you. But if he is calling you to both, then wherever you are, be all there. If you are with your children, be present with them. Focus on them. Soak in the glory and beauty of being a mom and having children. When you sit down to write, ignore the guilt and be all there at your computer. Be faithful to the work that God has called you to do. When you step away from the computer, leave your work behind. Be present where your feet are.”
I haven’t implemented her advice perfectly, but it has helped.
Be present where your feet are.
Thomas: Be present where your feet are. I love that. You can’t do a good job writing if you feel guilty. Your conscience will sabotage your work.
How did you overcome the guilty feelings surrounding writing?
Thomas: How were you able to sit at your computer without your children and not feel guilty working on your writing?
Asheritah: I’ve tried to hold loosely to my calling of being a writer. I surrender it to God and trust that he will tell me if or when his calling on my life changes.
My husband and I have also viewed writing as my job. It’s not just a hobby for me. Even when I worked only a few hours each week, I still treated it as my job.
We told our kids, “Just like daddy has to go to work, mommy’s going to work right now. When mommy’s done, she’ll come back.”
My husband’s support was huge; but the other part was trusting that if God wanted me to do something differently, he would make that abundantly clear.
My husband and I have the conversation at the beginning of each year. We sit down to prayerfully plan the year and answer the questions:
- What will we say yes to this year?
- How many hours am I committing to work this year?
It’s been different in different seasons. When I was writing, publishing, and launching books one on top of another, I sometimes worked 30 hours per week.
But I’ve also had slow times when I’ve worked only five or ten hours per week. It’s helped to know there will be seasons where I will work less and have more fun with my family. There will also be seasons where I anticipate that writing and publishing will demand more of me.
As a family unit, we can anticipate the ebb and flow of publishing.
Thomas: That work rhythm is natural and ancient. Most of us descended from agrarian cultures. Farmers don’t work for eight hours and then clock out as a factory worker would. At harvest time, a farmer might work 14 hours per day. If there’s a harvest moon, you might work longer than that.
When the ground is frozen in the winter, a farmer could sleep all day if he wanted. That was a normal rhythm.
But Americans grew up with a mindset that you get eight hours to work for Mr. Ford in the factory, eight hours to yourself, and eight hours to sleep. But that’s not a seasonal rhythm.
We need to give ourselves permission to have seasons of rest and seasons of working.
How do you incorporate rest into your work?
Asheritah: We’re living in a twenty-four-seven hustle culture. Because of social media, people expect you to be engaged online, creating stories of your life on Instagram. Everything is up for public consumption.
I fell into that, and it’s something I still guard against. It’s tempting to try and turn everything in my life into a story, blog post, reel, or a TikTok. But that is exhausting and draining.
A few years ago, I talked with my husband and with women in my church who I have invited to speak into my life. I asked them what boundaries I needed to draw around my work life to keep it separate from my personal family life.
I’ve been doing online ministry for eight and a half years. And I’m seeing people who started at the same time I did, but they’re burning out because they can’t keep the constant pace of always being connected.
I’ve had to set boundaries for myself. I have screen limits on my phone. My social-media apps do not turn on until 10:00 AM, and they turn off at 8:00 PM. I’ve set a 60-minute limit on all social media platforms combined. Between those open hours, I can be on social media for a maximum of an hour.
There have been seasons where I’ve deleted Instagram and other social-media apps. I took sabbaticals from social media before that was trendy. I’m happy more people are doing it now because it’s good for our souls.
I started taking breaks when no one dared to step away; and in response to my break from social media, people would say, “Wow. You’re so brave. I wish I could do that.”
During the first few days off social media, I felt antsy. I felt like I should be doing something and being productive. I should be creating content for my community.
After a while, it led to a deep sense of rest. I was reminded that I am loved by God, not for what I can do for him or how much content I produce or how many books I write, but I am loved because he made me to be loved by him.
That simple reminder makes me a healthier writer and a more present mom for my kids.
Thomas: I could not agree more. I recorded an episode on my other podcast about Why Most Authors Don’t Need Social Media in 2022. Social media is not the way to build your platform, and it doesn’t work for most authors.
For every author who can build a following on social media, there are 200 authors who tried and failed because it’s not a good place to do it. It’s exhausting.
Being on social media is like being a watchman on a wall. You’re constantly looking out for danger. If you’re going to be a good watchman, you must be totally present on the wall, staring at the horizon. You can’t look down to write a book on parchment at the same time.
Sadly, many of us try to do both at the same time, glancing at the horizon and then down at your parchment. It’s a miserable way to live.
I love your time-limited approach to social media. If you’re only spending an hour on all your platforms, you’re forced to be intentional about what you’re doing.
Asheritah: It also helps to remember that social media is transient and temporary.
There were seasons when I would spend 45 minutes drafting an Instagram post; and two weeks later, it didn’t show up in anyone’s feed.
I would much rather spend those 45 minutes working on my current manuscript and then repurposing that content. Now, I pull quotes from my published books to put on social media, which is a smarter use of my time.
Thomas: I have ten-year-old blog posts on my website that still get thousands of visits each month. Some posts have benefited hundreds of thousands of people, but never a whole bunch of people all at once. They just get a steady trickle of traffic.
Podcasts are the same way. Over half of our downloads are on our old episodes. When people discover the podcast, they scroll back through the old episodes and download the ones that interest them.
But a tweet is here today and gone tomorrow unless somebody hates you, and they dig up your tweets from ten years ago to try and get you canceled.
I hereby give you permission to turn off social media. You don’t have to take a break and come back. You could just turn it off. Any agent or publisher who says you still need to be active on social media is operating with an old mindset of how social media was in the early 2000s.
I encourage you to send them to my episode where I break it down. I used to be the guru in the room with politicians, planning social-media strategies back when it worked. I’ve been helping professionals with social media for a long time; and now, in almost all instances, I recommend against it because it doesn’t work. I have the numbers to prove it.
What support network do you have around your work and family?
Asheritah: My husband is my biggest supporter by far. I wouldn’t be able to do this without him in my corner. He’s generally encouraging, but he’s also our IT guy. He builds our websites, does design work, and helps behind the scenes.
Working with your spouse is another conversation for another episode because it’s a fine dance. Date nights spent talking about book launches do not go well.
My mother-in-law has been supportive and helpful with the kids, especially when they were young. As we’re recording this, my three-year-old is hanging out with my mother-in-law and loving life. She makes it easier for me to be present while I’m writing or podcasting. I can focus on the work at hand when I know my son is with someone who loves and cares for him.
My two oldest daughters are at school now. Soon all my children will be in school; but in these early years, having childcare with people we loved and trusted was a major reason we could write and publish multiple books in a short period of time.
My own mom was my first email subscriber, and now over 40,000 readers subscribe to my weekly devotional. My mom tells all her friends about my books.
Those three are my MVPs. In addition, many women in my local church pray for me, encourage me, and love on my kids. They’ll drop off meals at my house if we are all sick with COVID the week I need to submit my manuscript.
It’s such a beautiful picture of how the body of Christ works. Sometimes we elevate authors on a pedestal and think they’re extra important because they have a platform with followers. But that idea is foreign to the gospel.
In the body of Christ, we are all members of one another, and we need each other. I’ve had the privilege of loving and serving my local church through my writing, but I can do it because they love and support my family and me in practical ways.
Thomas: It takes humility to ask for help too. They wouldn’t have known you had COVID and a deadline If you hadn’t told them.
It’s easy to suffer alone and then shake your fist, wondering why the church isn’t helping. But you must be willing to explain the circumstances and ask for help.
It’s like breathing. We breathe out and help others, but we also breathe in and receive help from others. If you’re only breathing out, you’re not healthy. You’re going to starve yourself of necessary oxygen.
We’ve discovered that grandma’s house is a magical place. We recently moved closer to our parents. We needed them, and they love being with their grandkids.
What advice would you give someone who doesn’t have a supportive family network?
Asheritah: We experienced isolation early in the pandemic when we weren’t sure what was happening.
My husband worked from home, and we kept the kids home with us. Five of us were home, locked down; and I had a book due.
We couldn’t send our children anywhere, and everyone needed to eat three times a day. But again, my husband and I talked about it. I said, “I have this deadline. How are we going to meet it?”
The only way it worked during that time was for me to wake up before my kids and get my word count in before other duties were demanded of me. There are seasons where that’s the only way it will get done.
No one likes to hear that advice; but remember, it won’t be that way forever. Your children will grow and enroll in school at some point. If they’re homeschooled, a day will come when they can entertain themselves.
Focus on what you can do in this season instead of what you can’t do.
In a different season, I wrote Uncovering the Love of Jesus, my Lenten devotional, almost entirely in weekend spurts. My husband watched the kids on Saturday from 8:00 AM until 4:00 PM, and I would go to a coffee shop like it was my office and write for eight hours.
It was the only writing time I had during that season of our life. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.
Thomas: I’m reading a book called Essentialism. It talks about living a life of rest and making things easy. The author encourages you to ask, “How could this be easier? Or how could this be easy?”
Most professional writers do their writing first thing in the morning. You’re more rested and alert in the morning. If you wake up before your distractions, you’ll always write more.
But some professional writers take the cabin-in-the-woods approach, where you run away and have longer, extended writing blocks.
How did you make the most of your one weekly block of writing time?
Thomas: Many writers who try the weekly extended block think they will write for eight hours, but they don’t.
They come home and realize they only wrote for two hours. Something else happened, and they’re not sure where the rest of the time went.
How’d you make your eight hours productive?
Asheritah: I’d venture to guess that part of “what happened to the time” was a lot of social media. I’m guilty of that. I’d need to research something for my devotional; and 45 minutes later, I’d find myself in a dark rabbit hole watching YouTube videos on Persian armor.
You may need to shut off your Internet. Set that boundary on your laptop.
Another helpful practice is to have a ritual to get you started.
Rituals sounded silly to me until I had to write my second book in a year. I needed something that told my brain, “It’s go time.” If I didn’t have that ritual, I would do everything else. I would respond to emails I hadn’t responded to in months. I would clear off my desk. I would suddenly have an itching to do laundry.
A starting ritual can help get your mind in “the zone.”
Because I write devotionals and Christian living books for women, I’ve found that prayer is my most helpful ritual. It might sound like a copout, but it works.
I follow the APTAT acronym John Piper uses when he prepares sermons.
I started every writing session in the coffee shop with this ritual:
A: Acknowledge your need for God.
I would start typing and write, “God, I can’t do this. These are all the reasons I don’t want to write today. This is everything that’s heavy on my heart today. I know I need you.”
P: Pray for help.
I would ask God to help me write what I needed to get done that day.
T: Trust a promise.
John Piper encourages people to find a promise from Scripture to hold onto and pray that verse. When I sit down to write, I pray Colossians 1:29, “We labor with all of Christ’s energy that works so powerfully within us.” I pray that verse and trust the promise.
This is where you just do the thing. Start writing.
T: Thank Him.
When you’ve finished your writing session, you thank God for what he’s done in you during that time and what he will do with the work he’s enabled.
Thomas: Many Christian writers believe in prayer, but the idea of a “ritual” feels foreign.
But think of how a ritual helps a baseball player. As the batter steps up to the plate, they do the same thing every time to get in the zone.
Maybe they make the sign of the cross. Maybe they tap the plate in a certain way or take a certain number of practice swings, but it’s always the same. It’s never different.
The ritual of following that acronym for prayer reminds me of Charles Spurgeon’s ritual for preaching.
He had to walk up three stairs before preaching; and as he ascended the stairs, he would repeat, “I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit,” the whole way up the stairs. It would get him in the zone. It was also the way he submitted himself to God to ready himself to preach.
I come from a Protestant tradition that’s not big on rituals. But as I age, I realize that just because something is a ritual doesn’t mean it’s evil. Just because a ritual has lost its meaning to some doesn’t mean it never had meaning.
Having rituals can be positive. They shouldn’t be rejected out of hand just because “we’re not that kind of Christian.”
Asheritah: The older I get, the more I see the wisdom of our forefathers and foremothers. I find myself borrowing their wisdom.
What does your ministry and support network look like now that you’re eight years in?
Thomas: Is your husband still working a day job, or is he now a part of the ministry?
Asheritah: He still works full-time for our local hospital; and in the evenings and weekends, he puts in a few hours for our ministry. We keep praying about when he could make the leap and work full-time for our ministry.
Working together full-time is appealing in some ways because we’re good friends. We were childhood friends before we got married, so we work well together. But at this point, we decided that the pressure of making a full-time income from our ministry to support our whole family would probably do more harm than good.
We’re blessed that we can live on his income, and not having the pressure to provide a certain income from the writing has been such a relief.
Thomas: If he joined your ministry full-time at this point, it would add a lot of stress. It would reduce your income sources. Ecclesiastes 11:6 says, “Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both.”
The idea is that in the morning, you’re doing your high-risk, high-reward work. If the crops come in, you get a big return. If the weather is bad, crops die and you get nothing.
But you’re also working in the afternoon on less risky, lower reward types of work. You don’t know which one God will bless, but you’ve diversified.
In fact, in that same passage, Solomon talks about diversification. Diversification is smart. You have to feel confident in the income sources of the ministry. If your whole family is in the ministry, then ministry stress becomes family stress. It ripples out and can cause relational fractures.
It’s easier to make righteous decisions when you’re not financially stressed.
Asheritah: It has helped to have that open-hand policy in prayer. We’ve said, “Lord, if you’re telling us to shut something down, we will do it.” That has been a big relief as well.
What mistakes do writers make as they try to balance parenthood with writing?
Asheritah: New writers who are balancing parenthood and writing often want to be published right away. They’re willing to quit their day job, put all their eggs in one basket, and hustle hard for a publishing contract.
I advise writers to enjoy the process. My friend, Jennifer Dukes Lee, calls it growing slow. Be okay with taking time to hone your craft, learning how to write and listening to your readers so that you can meet them in their place of need.
You may simply want to tell your story, but telling your story and writing for a reader are two different types of writing. Be okay with serving people God has placed in front of you, even if it’s 100 readers.
Don’t strive for those tens of thousands of readers because you’re probably not ready for that. Don’t try to skip the step of serving 100 people. Be faithful where you are with what God has entrusted to you. Be faithful with that readership and invest in them. Nurture those relationships. Show up for them consistently and watch as God grows the readership at the right pace. You can trust his pace.
What mistakes have you made along the way?
Asheritah: Many of my own mistakes had to do with hustle, striving, and setting aggressive goals for our ministry. I’d do it in a way that sounded spiritual. I’d pray, “God would you bless our ministry tenfold?”
That mentality came from the productivity books I was reading and the podcasts I was listening to. I was drinking the Internet-marketing Kool-Aid at the time.
In the last few years, I’ve slowed down and asked God to help me write from a place of rest. I want to be okay with the portion he’s allotted to me instead of coveting someone else’s platform.
Thomas: It could be God’s mercy that your platform is small. I’ve written blog posts that have been read by 100,000 people, and it’s much different than ministering to 50 readers.
A large readership is psychologically harder because you get much more hate. It gets complicated. Being famous can mess with you. It can damage your faith and inhibit your growth in toxic ways. Fame can be like the weeds that choked out the good seed in the parable of the sower.
Be faithful in the little things. The act of serving and loving 50 people teaches you how to minister. When you have 50,000 people to minister to, you’re better equipped to do it with humility, honesty, and integrity.
It’s painful to learn hard lessons in front of lots of people.
Asheritah: That is heavy on my heart right now, Thomas. I’ve sensed a small part of that double-edge sword of popularity. I am by no means a popular writer or a household name. But right around Christmas time, my Advent devotional, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, comes up in a lot of people’s feeds. I get bombarded by messages from families who use my Advent devotional.
Pride is sneaky. We were not made for greatness, despite what your little social media memes say. We were not made to be great. We were made to worship the only One who is great.
I’m glad I didn’t experience that taste of notoriety eight years ago or even five years ago. It already costs so much for me to guard my soul. Five years ago, I would not have been prepared for that. Even now, I ask the Lord to protect me from pride, help me stay humble, and help me learn how to point to Him when people say kind things about my words.
We want people to read what we’ve written, but learning how to handle positive acclaim comes with time and maturity. I’m still learning that.
I’d encourage new writers to let God work on their character and maturity and trust that he will bring the right thing at the right time.
Thomas: There’s a passage in Leviticus with instructions on growing a fruit tree that points to a principle about sustaining yourself during the early years of business (or growing fruit trees).
A fruit tree can’t produce enough food to sustain you for the first four years of its growth. You need to have other food to eat for those first five years. And if you let that first fruit fall to the ground and fertilize the tree, ultimately, the tree will be stronger and healthier.
The principle applies to starting a business and being an author. You need to have a plan that will sustain you financially for those first five to ten years of being an author.
Book writing is not a lucrative business. You need another way to put food on the table. If you’re trying to make book writing your main food source, you will stress the tree. You’ll stress yourself and burn out.
You can’t hustle your way to writing success.
Waiting to publish is important because it gives you time to develop your craft.
The ninth commandment of Novel Marketing is, “Thou shalt not publish thine first book first.” Your first book teaches you how to write and usually isn’t fit to publish.
If you’re willing to put that first book aside and let it fertilize the tree of your writing career, it will help all your subsequent books. You’ll be a better writer for your second book, and you’ll be treated better by the industry and readers.
Asheritah: You learn so much while writing that first book. I cringe when I read my first blog posts. I was consistently showing up and serving my readers, but I was practicing my writing. I have archived most blog posts before 2016 because I cringe.
How and why did you start a podcast?
Thomas: Your podcast is popular. It’s in the top 0.5% of all podcasts online. How and why did you start it?
Asheritah: My podcast is called Prayers of REST. It started during the pandemic, just a few weeks into the lockdown.
Along with the rest of the world, I felt a sense of anxiety. I sensed God was calling me to meet with him every day. I showed up on Instagram live the next day, hungry for community and hoping to join with other women in prayer.
I went live on Instagram and prayed for 30 minutes every weekday for eight weeks. I met with women around the world, praying and walking them through this REST acronym of prayer. After eight weeks, it became a weekly podcast so people in different time zones could join.
We’re coming up on two years of leading people to rest in God’s loving presence through prayer.
The title of my newest book with Moody Publishers is Prayers of REST: Daily Prompts to Slow Down and Hear God’s Voice. This is my eighth book with Moody publishers, but it’s the first one with a companion podcast.
Thomas: Has the companion podcast impacted book sales?
Asheritah: We’re still a few months out from launch as we’re recording this, I can’t say for sure, but I will say there’s a lot more excitement for this book because it started as a podcast.
Listeners wrote to us asking if they could get a written version of the prayer because they wanted to pray it another time. Anytime you can write a book readers are asking for, it’s a good thing. I’m hopeful that Prayers of REST will help with prayer discipleship in families and churches worldwide.
Thomas: Turning a podcast into a book is common in the secular world but not as common in the Christian writing world. I’d like to see it happen more because it’s a solid strategy.
It’s like writing a book and then making a movie version. People who read the book are first in line to watch the movie. They’re getting something they love in a different format, and it’s exciting.
It’s a different experience to read it in a well-edited book. Plus, the book is like an artifact you can put on your shelf, and it’s different than listening to an invisible podcast.
Asheritah: It’s worked in the reverse way as well.
Now that I have the book, planning our new podcast seasons is easier because the book is a collection of 365 prayers themed around different needs. As I’m looking at what I will publish next year on the podcast, I have 12 different collections to choose from.
What other tips or encouragement do you have for writers?
Thomas: Do you have any final encouragement or advice?
Asheritah: Yes. I love to give practical help. I’ve written Three Prayers Before You Start Writing, which can help writers establish a prayer ritual to help them get started. You can choose the one that best represents how you’re feeling that day. You can find it at asheritah.com/writers.
This is my new favorite episode. Thank you both for sharing this wisdom, not only about time management but also humility and patience!