Guest Post: Author Katie Rose Guest Pryal On Finding Courage, From NICU To Novelist

ENTANGLEMENT front coverJust when I think I’m the busy and overwhelmed author—I read a post like this one by author Katie Rose Guest Pryal. Nothing like a little perspective with my morning coffee. (Goes so well with humble pie, which is delicious for breakfast.) 

Did any major life events or obstacles happened in tandem with your writing or publication? Share your own stories in the comments, and please welcome Katie to Women’s Fiction Writers.

Amy xo

From NICU to Novelist: Author Katie Rose Guest Pryal On Finding Courage

ENTANGLEMENT front coverThe first book I ever published, I proofed the manuscript while sitting next to my son’s bassinet in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Duke University Hospital. My son, my first child, had been born 6 weeks early. The doctors kept him there in the NICU for a week, feeding him through tubes and warming him on heaters. Baby Boy was so tiny, it terrified me.

All parents of preemies know this fear. We have a secret club, in fact. “You had a preemie? Me too.” Then we nod at each other. It’s a thing, I swear.

I sent off the proofs of my book and brought Baby Boy home the same day. The nurses unhooked tiny Baby Boy from all of his tubes and monitors and simply handed him to me.

They said, “He’s yours. Go on, now.”

I was terrified anew. How was I going to take care of this fragile thing all by myself?

I couldn’t care less if I’d missed any errors in the manuscript.

But then, a few months later, I had an active, healthy infant and an ISBN. Authors often refer to the days their books come out as “book birthdays,” and I really do feel like Baby Boy and my writing career were born at the same time.

That first book, which came out in 2009, was not a novel. I write lots of things, including books about writing. At the time Baby Boy was born, I was an English and law professor, and the book I published taught people how to write well about the law.

(Insert ironic lawyer joke here.)

Although I’d earned my master’s degree in creative writing before I ever went to law school or graduate school in English, and although writing fiction was my first love, I’d set writing aside for what I thought were practical concerns—getting an academic job, succeeding in academic ways. I published lots of research papers and presented at academic conferences.

But over the years I came to realize my heart wasn’t in the work. So I kept writing, working on my fiction in the time-margins between my job and motherhood. (Baby Boy #2 came along less than two years after Baby Boy #1, full term and nearly 10 pounds.)

In fact, one of the biggest challenges to writing fiction that I’ve faced is the pull from two directions—from what I thought my career was supposed to be (academia) and what I wanted my career to be (full-time writer).

The day I figured out how to leave my academic job and write full time, which was only last fall, was one of the best days of my life. And it was only after realizing I could walk away from one career and pick up another that I had the courage to finish my novel, submit it until it was accepted, and see it through publication. Finally I had the courage to write more books—a novella, a second novel (in revision), a memoir (in progress). None of these books would have gotten me very far as a professor. Now, they’re my life’s work.

One of the scariest parts of making the career change was setting aside others’ expectations of me. But setting aside my own expectations of me was scary, too.

But here’s the thing: nothing was scarier than walking out of that hospital six years ago without a baby, leaving Baby Boy in his bassinet in the NICU so I could go home and sleep, praying that the phone would not ring, because a ringing phone could only mean something had gone wrong, so I prayed for silence while I sat it my silent house while wishing it was full of a newborn’s cries.

I didn’t think about my first book that was in the process of being born during those moments. I could only think about Baby Boy and how I could keep him safe.

Now, whenever I feel scared when I’m writing, when I need courage to take the next step with a story or with a query or pitch, I think of the courage I had six years ago, and the courage he had, too, and I move forward, bravely.

Pryal Color Portrait 2014-12Katie enjoys her three professions—novelist, freelance journalist, and lawyer—for one reason: her love of the written word. Fiction or nonfiction, Katie thrives on putting thoughts to paper and sharing them with the world. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the energy of the campus and cafes inspires her writing. Her first novel, ENTANGLEMENT was published in June 2015 by Velvet Morning Press. You can read the prequel novella now, LOVE AND ENTROPY, and grab a free copy of Katie’s writing guide, WRITING ISN’T SEXY, by subscribing to her email list.

Katie contributes regularly to THE HUFFINGTON POST, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, THE TOAST, DAME MAGAZINE and other national venues. (You can view her writing here.)

She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where she attended on a fellowship. Katie has published five books on writing, the most recent with Oxford University Press, and although she has impeccable grammar, she would never correct yours. You can find Katie on Twitter at @krgpryal, on Facebook at, on her blog at

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Author Katie Rose Guest Pryal On Finding Courage, From NICU To Novelist

  1. You had a preemie? Me too. See? It IS a thing. I totally get how you feel. The feeling of having to leave your baby in the NICU as you go home, babyless. Another thing we have in common: we turned to writing! I wrote my second book while I was on bed rest with my second baby. Congrats on your book babies and your baby babies. Glad they’re all doing well 🙂


  2. Thanks for the confirmation that there’s hardly ever a perfect time to write. It’s a lesson I am reminded of whenever I think I can set aside a few days to write. Now an hour or two look pretty good (as I sit in a doctor’s office with my husband).


  3. You underline the fact that all writers need to remember–no matter where you are in your life, you can always write down your feelings and fears. They will help you with a great sigh of relief and they just might fuel more work as your life moves on. Thank you.


  4. Pingback: June Writing Roundup :: Katie Rose Guest Pryal

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