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How the Podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books Helped Me Finish My Novel

Friday, May 06, 2022

By Sagit Schwartz

Last September, I turned 47, the same age my mom was when she died. I decided to write a book inspired by her — a domestic suspense novel about a woman who believes her mother died in a hit-and-run accident when she was fifteen years old only to discover decades later that she’s still alive and in peril.

Around this time, my family had relocated from Los Angeles to a beach town further down the coast. Starting a whole new life in the best of times is challenging. During a pandemic, it felt insurmountable. Between the move and the pandemic, I found myself writing in more isolation than ever, desperately missing my friends and my writing community.

Enter, Zibby Owens, whose articles I somehow stumbled on and inhaled. I then discovered she had a podcast with hundreds of author interviews dating back to 2018! I began listening to Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books while walking, cleaning, driving, whenever I could steal a free moment.

When I started having doubts about my new novel, Celeste Ng was there reminding me that my book may mean something to someone else and that maybe I wasn’t just spinning fairy tales. “Are you sure, Celeste?” I imagined asking her. “Yes,” I imagined her responding. So, I kept going.

Claire Bidwell Smith, whose book, The Rules of Inheritance, I had read, and whose mother died when she was just 18, told Zibby about her mom: “She was my world.” I wrote that exact line in my novel. My mom was my world, too. Claire’s words and grace made me feel less alone.

Writing my new book was painful at times. I reread letters my mom had written me that I hadn’t looked at in twenty-five years since before she had died. They were reminders that she was taken in the prime of her life, just as I was entering young adulthood when I had needed her the most.

But Glennon Doyle told me that people who don’t suck are people that have lost and have overcome something. I guess I dont suck then, I thought to myself. I swallowed Glennon’s words like powerful vitamins, grew a few inches taller, and kept writing.

Will this book sell? Will it reach people? It was hard not to consider all of the disappointments I had experienced in my writing career, which is a second career. I had been a successful psychotherapist before transitioning to writing full-time.

The ache in Alex Michaelides’s voice could’ve been my own. He told me he put away the Silent Patient countless times over several years, plagued with self-doubt born from Hollywood rejection. He told me that scriptwriting and novel writing were different skill sets and that he’d come to realize he was better at the latter. I wondered if I might be too. Above all, he told me not to give up and pleaded with me to keep going. So I did.

Lori Gottlieb, a fellow psychotherapist, told me she had canceled a book contract to write a book about happiness because it didn’t feel authentic to what she was experiencing at the time. Instead, she opted to write the book about what she was seeing in the therapy room. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone ultimately became a bestseller.

It made me think about a book I had written that I had not pushed very hard to sell. Lori’s words made me realize why. While I was writing it, the book hadn’t felt authentic to me. But the novel I was working on now felt like the one I had always been meant to write. It was my voice. So, I kept going.

One day I was feeling down, desperately missing my friends in LA, displaced in my new town. How does one escape? With a Housewife, of course! So I listened to Zibby interviewing Jill Zarin, whose voice immediately cheered me up.

Will this book sell? Will it reach people? It was hard not to consider all of the disappointments I had experienced in my writing career, which is a second career.

There was something for everyone in Zibby’s podcast, even for my husband, a huge tennis fan (and player — he’d be upset if I didn’t mention that!) Zibby interviewed tennis legend Andre Agassi and referenced a line from his book: “Hate brings me to my knees. Love brings me to my feet.” The words cut through me. My mom’s love had always brought me to my feet, which is why her absence had left a gaping hole in my life, why I was writing this book, and why I had to keep going.

Then Laura Lippman popped in, a friend from real life. Laura sounded like the rock star she is, exuding a coolness that would leave Mick Jagger in the dust. Sorry, Mick. Hearing my friend’s velvety voice comforted me. Also, her books are sublime.

Speaking of Lauras, I had no idea Laura Prepon had written a book. I wondered if she could see me blushing while listening to her talk with Zibby. I know I’m not the only one that had a girl crush on her in Orange Is the New Black.

And then tragedy struck. There was a time-lapse before Zibby’s interviews picked up again. She shared that her mother-in-law and her grandmother-in-law had died of Covid. She was crying and I was crying with her too, wishing with all my might that I could hug her.

Zibby’s podcast isn’t just about the authors — she reveals parts of herself without getting in their way. This wasn’t the only time. She had also shared three articles she had written about her best friend, Stacey, her soulmate, whom she had lost on September 11th. Zibby spoke lovingly about Stacey’s boa which personified her effervescent personality and the experience of watching one of her own young children playing with it. The boa served as a reminder to live life to the fullest because we can never know what tomorrow may bring.

Later, I listened to an interview in which Zibby explained the double meaning of the word time in Mom’s Don’t Have Time to Read Books. All of us have a finite time on this earth. We must make the most of the gift that is today.

Whenever I listened to Zibby, I felt grateful to witness her humanity in a world that at times can feel like it values it less and less. As a former practicing therapist, I strove to help my patients transform into their most authentic selves, which she always embodied.

My mom’s love had always brought me to my feet, which is why her absence had left a gaping hole in my life, why I was writing this book, and why I had to keep going.

I was now in the middle of my book. The “Hump Day” of novel writing. Is there anything worse? My doubts were front and center again. All the greatest hits on replay: Will anyone read this? Will it matter? Why am I doing this?

But Anne Lamott reminded me I wasn’t writing because the publishing world would validate me, or to fill the holes and broken-heartedness life inevitably leaves in us all. She said I was writing because I was a co-creator in the world. I was writing because I had a story to tell.

At its heart, my thriller is about eating disorder recovery. My protagonist first develops an eating disorder (ED) when she is a teenager after her mother dies (or so she thinks), but relapses again when she is pregnant. When the book begins a decade later and she finds out her mother is still alive, ED, a formidable, slippery foe, resurfaces in her life again.

My story is one of advocacy, meant to help others, and if I reached and lifted one ED sufferer, it would be worth the toil. So, I kept going.

I had finally nailed the part of my novel that took place in the past. But the present proved to be trickier and gave me all kinds of headaches. Enter Brit Bennett — I literally had to pinch myself! I named my protagonist after her — Beatrice Bennett.

Brit told me she also struggled with the timeline of The Vanishing Half. I wasn’t the only one. We had things in common. I was smitten. But the love affair was short-lived when she said my writing would be bad far longer than it would be good. Really, Brit? I thought we had a good thing going.

She also said that I had to be patient with myself and get used to the part of writing that involved hating my work. “But I hate the part where I hate my work!” I wanted to shout back at her, lying on the ground, kicking and screaming, limbs up in the air. I imagined her holding back an eye roll before telling me to cut the crap and to keep going. So I did.

And then one day, it finally happened. Erika Swyler mentioned on Twitter the challenges of writing in different genres, and Antoine Wilson responded, so I pointed both of them to Zibby’s interview with Jean Hanff Korelitz, who discussed this very thing. And my new friend, Zibby, retweeted me!

Zibby had also connected me to a community in my new town. One day I was feeling especially lonely. I had just attended my brilliant friend’s book launch party in LA. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled for Matt Witten, as I’d read a couple early drafts of his novel, The Necklace, long before he had landed his book deal. But at his house, I was surrounded by writers who I knew, and it made me desperately miss having this community.

On the hourlong drive back from LA to the South Bay, I listened to Zibby’s interview with Taylor Jenkins Reid, in which she told Taylor that Malibu Rising had kept her company on the day her kids went to stay with her ex-husband for a long weekend. I needed company too. And I had to find my people one way or another in my new town. People who love stories. People who love to read.

I finally ventured to my new local indie bookstore, Pages. I spoke with a couple of booksellers explaining that my new friend, Zibby, had recommended Malibu Rising and they responded, “We love Zibby!”

I had found my new home.

By now, I felt like Julie from Julie and Julia. But instead of making a new recipe each day (I wish I knew how to cook), I was listening to different authors being interviewed every day, learning about motherhood, marriage, loss, life, and what it means to be a writer.

I was nearing the end of my novel, working on the most difficult chapter in my book. The one that brought me to my knees. The one that made me want to give up. The one that convinced me that I would. Keep going, my new friends had told me over and over and over again.

They were my chorus, my late mother, the voice inside of me that somehow still believed. So, I kept going. Even when I didn’t want to. Even when I didn’t know how. Even when I didn’t think I could.

Thank you, Zibby Owens. Now there is this:


Sagit Schwartz is a Los Angeles-based writer, producer, and licensed psychotherapist. Hollywood credits include head writer and producer for Lifetime Television’s series Fall Into Me. Bylines in Slate, The Atlantic, and Medium.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sagitschwartz