Someone over at my blog asked me to write about writing when you have small children.
It is a topic – now somewhat distant – which is of some relevance because I think most female writers are either childless or have raised their kids when they start doing this seriously.
I guess I’m different (being terminally stupid is different) and I started trying to publish, seriously, when I had a one year old. I got my first professional short story sale when he was three, and I sold my first novel when his four years younger brother was three.
In between lay eight unpublished novels and about 100 short stories (most of which are now published.)
Looking back, it seems sometimes amazing not only that I did that, but that it was after I had the kids – and not the six years before – that I got serious about getting published and also that my productivity went from a short story a year to a short a week plus a minimum of two novels – every year.
How did I do it? Well… There are “tricks” you can use and some of them apply to any situation you find yourself in where writing is NOT and cannot be your primary occupation. This includes if you work (at another job) from home, if you work at another job which restricts your writing time or if – like me now – you’re doing two or three jobs (just in writing, not counting mom and housekeeping.)
1- Set writing time, and stick to it.
I realized when I first stayed home to write that if I didn’t get up at the same time my husband did, I got up too late and got nothing done. The same applies with kids. Before the chaos sets in, before you become a mommy, set time to write. (Or after, if you’re a night person. I’m actually a night person, but found that when the kids were little I did best getting up at five am and writing till six thirty. That way if I didn’t get any more writing time throughout the day, I’d already done some.)
2- Make the writing time count.
You might actually only have an hour or two to sit down and write at the keyboard. That means your usual cat rotation, mental re-alignment and figuring out where the characters pick up from, etc, MUST take place while doing other things. I got really good at “dreaming up the next chapter” while ironing, walking with the kids, cooking or supervising some game. If you don’t have a good enough memory to remember what you dreamed up, find a tiny enough notebook to fit your pocket, and have it with you at all times. A note like “She doesn’t give him the pearl” takes seconds. Even a series of them is doable while still preventing the youngest from cheating at Candyland.
3- Do auxiliary tasks away from computer
Not just the plotting, but you can read reference books while at the play park. And there’s no law on Earth that says you can’t revise your manuscript while waiting for kindergarten to let out.
4- As the kids get older, develop routines that allow you to write while being there for them, and develop the ability to write while they’re playing next to you.
Look, kids don’t want you concentrating on them ALL the time. No, trust me, they don’t. And I don’t mean just because they are (of course) hoping to be up to something. I mean, they should learn to play without your support/dictation/etc.
For my kids, we found that several LARGE buckets of assorted lego pieces and an office with tons of floor space were the best thing ever. They’d build stuff around and over my chair, and I’d write. At first it’s a little odd, but you can get used to practically everything.
Later still, we put up a table, so they could do their homework next to my computer, so I was there for questions/answers, but still managed to work.
Later still, my kid’s homeschooling desk was RIGHT next to mine. He was doing his video lectures and online courses, and I was writing. (He was 12.) We had lunch together, and discussed what we were doing (and sometimes he asked questions, but more often told me about interesting stuff.
5 – You’re not going to manage total control.
Some days you’ll have to write off. I’m minded of when the swing broke under Robert and he went against a wall with force.
But that’s true even if you don’t have kids. Sometimes you’ll go to the store in the morning, and the car gives out on you. Or a cat develops some weird condition, or…
The thing is to keep trying. Even if you don’t get to the keyboard for more than a few minutes everyday, it is enough to keep the habit going.
6 Find support.
No, I don’t mean get someone to pay you to write – though that’s the goal – I mean find other people who are trying to write in difficult conditions. At one time our group had three mommies of small kids, two daddies of small kids, and two people with full time jobs. It helps. Sometimes you just need to call someone and go “I got 500 words in and then the kid duct taped himself to the cat, and we had to shave the cat to get him free, and then his brother made something explosive from shaving cream and dishwasher detergent and set the backyard on fire, and then—“ an know the other person completely gets it, and is hoping you do better tomorrow.
7 Realize you’ve been given a gift.
By limiting your available time, by making you realize that you have to choose to write and carve time for it, life has handed you a great gift. When you have all the time in the world, it is possible – and in fact normal – to fritter it away, because you’ll always have time, right? But just like the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully, the prospect of the kid waking up from a nap concentrates the writing faculties wonderfully. You find yourself hoping you can just finish one more scene, one more chapter, and getting more done than you would if you knew your time was unemcumbered.
8 Enjoy. Both the kids and the breaking in phase will eventually be gone and it will seem to you it’s all too fast. So enjoy it while it’s here.
And good luck.