I quit my full-time day job just over a month ago. By now, thanks to all that newfound time, you might expect I’d have finished up three books, eleven short stories, written a spec script for Doctor Who, and branched out into goblin romance novels under a pseudonym. But apparently it doesn’t work that way…
Author Leah Cypess has been doing this Writing While Parenting thing a lot longer than I have, and has come along just in time to share some of her insights and lessons on trying to balance it all and make the most of that time.
Leah has two series, the most recent of which begins with the YA fantasy Death Sworn. Booklist compared her protagonist to Tamora Pierce’s Alanna and George R.R. Martin’s Arya Stark, which is pretty cool praise if you ask me.
Posts about balancing writing and kids usually intimidate me. Other people are getting up at 5 a.m. to write or actually getting their kids to leave them alone when they want to work. These people have figured it out, and I clearly have not.
(Case in point: I originally told Jim I would send him this post in late August, exactly the time when my kids have no camp and no school. I think the takeaway from that is obvious.)
With that said, I have 4 kids and 4 published books, and in the process of producing all 8 of these, I’ve gained a sense of what works for me and what doesn’t. I don’t have a “method,” but I do have a set of principles that I’ve learned to ignore at my peril.
They may or may not work for you; but for those who will find them useful, here they are: Write first. I cannot stress this one enough. Raising kids involves a million mindless tasks, ranging from necessary to bizarre, that can keep you occupied every waking minute. Don’t waste your alert mind on those tasks. I try to get an hour of writing done every morning, as soon as possible after the 3 older kids are in school, before the endless tasks list can take over my attention. That is almost always the most productive hour of my day.  Go outside. There are times when it is really tempting to skip this one. My husband got the older kids out the door, the baby is still sleeping, and I just woke up with an epiphany about exactly what need to happen next in my book and how it’s going to be the coolest plot twist ever. I’m wearing really comfortable pajamas and there are no distractions on the horizon. Obviously, all I need to do is open my laptop and write five thousand words. No, seven thousand! Ten thousand! This will be my most productive day in months!
Right. Half an hour later, I realize the plot twist doesn’t actually make any sense, and I need to pause and think it over. I check my email, an hour later, I check facebook, and next thing I know my kids are coming home from school and I’ve written five paragraphs and eaten half a box of chocolate peanut butter cups. Okay, maybe not as bad as that, but there is something about staying home in my pajamas that drains my willpower and creative energy. Don’t take on extra commitments without thinking about them carefully. (See first paragraph above.) But DO take on some commitments, even those that don’t seem to make perfect sense on a time-for-money basis. Every time I agree to do a bookstore visit, I end up regretting it the day before — because I have to drive so far! and find a babysitter! and it’s taking up so much of my time! — but my regret is almost always gone by the time the event is over. There’s nothing like hanging out with other writers and meeting fans of your books to remind yourself why you wanted to do this in the first place. Just try to schedule your commitments realistically; everything you do eats into your writing and childcare time, so make your decisions with open eyes. (Maureen Johnson wrote a blog post I find myself re-reading often, to help myself stick to this.)  Your kids need to occupy themselves. Not all the time, but some of the time. You don’t actually need to be actively engaged with them every second. (An especially important message for women, since society sometimes sends the message that any time a mother is not fully focused on her kids, she is being selfish.) You can help by taking them places where it is easy for them to entertain themselves. For younger kids, playgrounds are awesome — free, always open, and with convenient benches for sitting and writing. For older kids, playdates are usually the answer. Another huge help is reading: if you can get your kid interested in reading, then aside from all the obvious benefits to them, you can sit next to them while they read, and you can write, and everyone is happy.
That’s what works for me … most of the time, anyhow. What works for someone else may be entirely different. Heck, what works for me in four years may be entirely different. But for now, this is keeping my own balancing act going; and maybe some aspects of it will be helpful for yours.