Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids

Today, I interview Kathy Seal, who co-authored, "Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child." Kathy talks about how her education helped her in her writing career, co-authoring and developing a writing specialty.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a journalist and author, and the mother of two sons. I’m married and I live in Santa Monica, Calif.

Tell us about your new book, Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child.

It's about the pressure and anxiety put on parents by the heightened competition in kids' lives today. That anxiety tends to make us push and control our kids, which isn’t good for them. What should we do instead? The research is clear: we need to stay involved, respect their autonomy, and give structure and support. If you do that instead of screaming at your child, offering rewards, or trying to force her in other ways, you’ll foster your child’s inner passion and interest, her intrinsic motivation. She’ll excel because she wants to. In other words, Pressured Parents shows you how to fend off the craziness you feel when your kid competes in sports, academics, and even the arts, while helping children succeed. And it's all based on the past 30 years of academic research.

How did you go from majoring in classics and comparative literature in college to a specialty in writing and speaking on parenting?
Classics and comparative literature prepare you well for writing! They make you love language, and train you to think clearly, and write precisely. When I had children, quite naturally I became very interested in their psychology and jumped at the chance to interview psychologists, chat with them about parents’ concerns, and then as a journalist share their thinking with my readers.

Your books have been co-authored. How do you find the right collaborator when doing a co-authored book?
I found Wendy Grolnick, my collaborator on Pressured Parents, Stressed Out Kids, while writing magazine articles. A psychologist I was interviewing suggested I call Wendy to talk about parenting and children’s motivation to learn. She was a great interview and I called on her as I wrote subsequent articles. She had published an academic book on parental pressure, and suggested we write a popular book on the same topic.
I met my first coauthor Deborah Stipek when she was director of my children’s laboratory elementary school at UCLA, the Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School. I had begun writing articles on her research specialty, motivation, and she began giving me suggestions for a few articles. Then I began interviewing her for stories, and eventually she agreed to coauthor a book with me.

How does the co-authoring process work for you - do you each write a chapter - explain the creative process?
Usually I draft a section or chapter, often after discussing an outline or the points we want to make (this discussion may have taken place already in the book proposal stage.) Then my coauthor makes suggestions and/or changes the copy, using tracking software. We send the chapter back and forth like this until we’re both happy with it. Occasionally the procedure is reversed, with my coauthor writing the first draft.

For you, how does writing an article differ from writing an entire book?
Writing an article demands a quick pass at the topic, concentrating the information into a small gem. But writing a book allows you to go into depth, examining the issue deeply and linking it to what people already know and to common points of reference in our culture, the stuff of stories and anecdotes. It’s more like creating a necklace and earrings, studded with many gems.

How important do you believe developing a specialty is to a writer's career?
It’s all-important. The more you write about a topic the more you learn about it -- until you become an expert. Then you can write high quality articles and eventually you’ll know enough to write a book.

How did you find your agent/publisher?
Wendy and I visited a number of agents in New York, both referrals from friends and agents we read about on line, especially at mediabistro.com. We chose the agent we thought would best represent us. However, I ended up finding our publisher at the ASJA annual meeting.


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