Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Be a Professional Writer and a Mom Too!

I present to you a slightly hypocritical article on how to do something that I only occasionally get just right. Balancing motherhood and writing!

I've been doing it for about 5 years now, and although I am by no means perfect, I have learned quite a few tips and tricks that might help YOU as you juggle your own priorities. And heck, it used to be harder when I was a full-time student, so I guess I'm just grateful that I am only torn between the two now. But even then, with a 5-year-old, 4-year-old, and 2-year-old, I still feel like I'm being ripped in several different directions on a daily basis.

How do you hold yourself together? Here's what I've learned thus far:

1.) Learn to Write on Cue--I realize that this is not something that most authors can do...or even want to do for that matter. The creative process is very different for everyone, but I learned when I sat down to write Lunula (I had a 22-month-old and a 6-month-old at the time) that I would need to write in short, productive bursts. It was really hard to train myself to write this way. In all my creative writing classes we had learned about going with the flow and knowing when to write as inspiration struck. That doesn't work when you have little kids who need your attention. 

So I trained my brain to write when needed. I can't really even tell you how I did this; I think it was just a skill driven by desperation. I needed to write this story or my brain would explode. But my kids needed me even more. So I treated it like a job or school assignment, and put all my focus on the paper. I will attribute some of this will-power to the charter school I went to for High School. We were required to write 1-2 page essays on the spot, and very frequently. I think my brain was already halfway there when I applied it to my creative writing. 

So if you can manage to train yourself to do this, it will help you tremendously! I still saved most of my writing time for when the kids were sleeping, but as they have gotten older and naps have bitten the dust, this has become a huge life saver for me. When you have children, your free-time is limited. This means that you must make the most of every spare minute!

2.) Schedule Writing Time--Somewhat related to the above tip, you should schedule your writing time for actual times of the day. Again, it's really hard to just force the creative flow to happen at a certain time. And being totally honest, I can't always make myself write! Even if I schedule it and the kids are cooperating, occasionally the words won't come to me. Such is the life of a writer.

But that doesn't stop me from trying! The thing with little munchkins is that they like schedules. They like routines, and for the most part, will thrive if you have a somewhat recognizable pattern throughout the day. They will also be more understanding of "writing time" if it is done during a familiar part of that routine they enjoy so much! My kids don't even bat an eye when I tell them mommy is writing. They just know that this is that part of the day where they need to entertain themselves, and mama isn't likely to be available for an involved craft or story reading marathon. 

3.) Take Breaks--Even during your "writing block," I highly recommend timing some breaks. I don't use a stopwatch (although I have tried), but I try to follow the flow of my writing. If I have finished a chunk of dialogue or have reached some kind of transition, I put it aside and do something else. Usually this is something for my kids, like getting them a snack, setting them up with a craft, or reading a book to them. I find this also helps me keep my writing more focused, and I'm less likely to become distracted. The temptation to open Facebook or Pinterest is strong! 

4.) Make/Plan Activities Ahead of Time--I'm not going to pretend that I haven't had days where I pulled out the free babysitter called "boob tube." I have used the TV in the past, and I really feel no shame about having occasional days where I just let the kids camp down with blankets and pillows and marathon their way through Netflix. Heck, I do it. 

However, I also know that it's not good for their little noggins to do that too often, so in keeping with the rule of 2 hours of TV a day, I have had to get a little creative in order to occupy them. Especially if inspiration has struck, and I need more than my allotted writing time. There really are days where I have to do nothing but write, or wither on the inside for having not expelled the creativity as soon as possible. 

You know your kids better than anyone else, so I'm sure you know what their favorite activities are. Here are just a few that have worked well for me:

--Busy Bags: I have a Pinterest board dedicated to this very thing, and they have turned out to be completely awesome. I made them originally for homeschool and church, but as luck would have it, they are also fantastic "writing block" entertainers. The best part is that we can all sit at the table together, and while they do their puzzles and activities, I can sit there with them and occasionally interact with them as they need me. It's a lot less attention-intensive than things like painting, fort building, sidewalk chalk drawing, pool time, etc. But its still good for their development. 
Busy Bags

--Folder Games: Along the same vein as busy bags (and I believe I have pinned some folder games onto that Pinterest board as well), folder games can be both educational and amusing for kids of all ages. And they're easy to make! 

--Outside Play: When the weather is nice, we head outside. In the spring and summer this is every day as long as the weather permits. I sit close enough to my house that my Chromebook can pick up my wifi, so I still have access to my writing. (In case you missed my earlier post about this, I use Google Docs for all my novels now). I get the most writing done when they are outside. I supervise and write, and they go nuts in the backyard and on their bikes. It works out perfectly. 

--McChickKings's: Yeah. Fast food joints. After filling them with some nuggets and fruit, I send them off to the play place and then take advantage of the free wifi. I like Chick Fil A the best for this because their play places have tables right up against the glass wall so I can see the kiddos at all times. I do manage to get in a few paragraphs while they're happily occupied. Judge me if you will, but this is a huge relief when they are tearing the house apart with pent up energy. It happens more often in the winter months when I can't take them to a park.  

--Build a Fort: While the actual fort building takes a lot of time and attention, the distraction it provides after the building is what can get you through an entire afternoon. And it's a win/win. You spent a good half hour playing, creating, and giggling with your cuties, and then for an hour or so afterward they enjoy the spoils of your efforts, and so can you! 
One of our awesome forts

5.) Give Them One-on-One Time--What I mean by this is not just doing fun stuff with your kids as a whole, but making sure you give each of your children individual attention at regular intervals. In my experience, kids know when they are being ignored. I might get away with one day where I stare at my Google Document for the majority of the day, and leave the kids to their own devices, but by day two its all out pandemonium. Ignored children become attention-seeking children...and that means a lot of destruction. 

I make an effort to look each child in the eyes at least once or twice while doing some kind of interactive activity with them. With my oldest it's usually drawing or going over a story she has made or picture she has drawn. If I take ten minutes to praise her efforts, talk about the picture, and listen to what she has to say, she's a much happier girl. Even happier if I do this several times a day when I can remember. With my son, if I take a good fifteen minutes to plop myself on the ground and build blocks with him, then he's on cloud nine for the rest of the day. My youngest is actually easier. Snuggles, an unintelligible conversation, and she's off doing her own thing. I have found that they are all much happier playing on their own if I have given them that direct line of communication first. 

6.) Know When to Fold 'Em--There are stretches of days--weeks even--where I don't write a single word. Sometimes this is a combination of writer's block and motherly duties, and sometimes its just a simple fact that my children need me more. And I give in to that. As you can see even from the sporadic posts on my blog, there are times when I am lost in motherhood, and I don't have a lot more to give.

And that's okay.

Remember that your job as a mother (or father!) is THE most important job in the world. I mean that sincerely. If you think about the fact that you are shaping people, and possibly shaping the positive or negative impact they will have on the world around them, then you kind of realize how ginormous that responsibility is. And it's a delicate thing, parenthood. Every moment, good and bad, is added to the overall accumulation of your child's makeup and eventual outlook on their adult lives. So while its okay for me to have "writing days" as I call them, where they watch TV and I hardly interact with them at all, its not okay for me to make that the norm. Because I know what's most important.

The most crucial part about being a mother and a writer is knowing what comes first. 

Everything else is just a balancing act that you have to experiment with and find the best solutions for. So I hope these ideas help you on your journey as a parent AND a super fantastic writer!

Have any tips for getting your work done and still doing the parent thing? Let me know in the comments! (Heaven knows I could use the input.)


  1. I haven't been around in awhile, but just wanted to stop and thank you for this great post! I think seeing how other people can do it, or how their break down of time occurs, helps those of us who aren't quite to the stage you are, but are getting there. (like me!) Plus it gives great ideas for how to manage it ourselves.

    I'm going to share around. Thanks again!

    1. Nice to see you Katie! Thanks for stopping by, and yes, trust me, you'll be there before you know it!