co-editor of the Literary Reflections Department at Literary Mama, I see a lot of submissions along the lines of, “It’s so hard to write with kids.” While we look for essays that delve more deeply into the ways in which writing informs the parenting experience and vice versa, this premise is so true it hurts—writing with kids is hard. I know; I have a fifteen-year-old and eleven-year-old twins. It was hard when they were babies and toddlers, and it’s hard now that they’re tweens and teens. Yet, it wasn’t until I had kids that I felt I had something worth writing about. Before kids, my writing lacked focus, purpose, passion. I always assumed I’d have time to become a writer later, in some distant future. Once my kids were born, writing took on an urgency I could not ignore. I had to get the words down on paper.
“Once my kids were born, writing took on an urgency I could not ignore. I had to get the words down on paper.”
Over the years, I’ve gnashed my teeth in frustration that I haven’t had time or energy or head space to write as much as I’d have liked; yet, looking back, I’m amazed at how much writing I have been able to pull off despite the noise produced and time and energy devoured by my children. In the last fifteen years, I’ve taken classes, attended workshops and conferences, and completed a master’s degree. I’ve published 13 issues of a zine and more than 1100 blog posts; and I’ve had more than 25 essays, short stories, and poems published in online and print publications. Writing with kids is hard, but it’s possible. Here are a few of the ways I made it happen and you can, too:
Work With What You Have.
When I first started writing seriously, we had an ancient hand-me-down laptop that coughed and wheezed as I worked, usually with a baby on my lap and my preschooler at my elbow, saying, “Can I type? When can I type? Do you want to play my computer game?” Later, we got a desktop that my husband used for his home business, leaving me to write on yellow legal pads and use the wee hours of the night to type up and lay out my zine. I started my blog using dial-up Internet. It took twenty minutes to upload a single photo. Now my laptop is so clogged with pictures I get a “startup disk almost full” warning every few minutes, and my charge cord only works when it feels like it. As much as I’d prefer daydreaming about a new computer, instead I devote time each week to backing up and deleting photos, borrow my son’s charge cord, and get back to work.
Try this: Work on a shared computer? Create a file folder just for your writing. Name it “A Room of My Own” or “Bills” to keep family members out. Clean unnecessary files off your hard drive to improve performance, and consider using cloud storage, so you can access your documents from any machine.
Accept That You Will Never Have Enough Time.
Except when I was on maternity leave, I worked either part- or full-time outside of the home for most of my kids’ lives. Never did I feel like I had as much time as I wanted for writing. I recently quit my job, and I still don’t feel like I have enough time. There are reams of stories and essays and even whole books that have gone unwritten due to lack of time. Like most writers I know, I fantasize about a writing retreat—in a villa somewhere off the coast of Greece with endless hours of silence and other people taking care of my needs—but until I win a fellowship or the lottery, I squeeze writing into the margins of my days and let go of the words that don’t make it to paper.
Try this: List all of the writing projects you want to work on. Prioritize the list in order of projects that most energize and excite you. Now prioritize it in order of those you have time, energy, and resources to carry out. Take the first two to five items off of each list, and make these your writing priorities. Set the other projects aside to work on at a later date. Revisit these lists on a regular basis.
Make Your Kids’ Activities Into Your Writing Time.
Over the years, my kids have played baseball, basketball, and soccer; run cross-country; and taken lessons in piano, guitar, and drums. While I show up to their games and performances, I made it a policy years ago to never watch my kids practice. They don’t need me there, and their coaches and music teachers don’t need me there. Instead of making small talk with the other parents, I sit in my car, in the nearby cafe, or on a bench by the river and write. Now that my kids are of an age where I’m their unpaid Uber driver, I write in my head when I’m on my way to pick them up from their activities.
Try this: Leave early to pick up your kids up from school, park in a scenic spot, and write for half an hour in peace. Keep a notebook or journal in your purse, diaper bag, and car, so you’re always ready to write when you get a free minute or two.
Get Out Of The House.
I began a low-residency MFA in creative writing program when my kids were seven and eleven years old, while also working a full-time job. In order to complete the intense amount of work required every month for the next two years, I needed hours of quiet, uninterrupted time each week. I couldn’t get the time and peace I needed at home—our house is small with an open floor plan, and my kids operate on a default “ask Mom if you need anything, even if Dad is right there” mode. So I took myself to the local university library two nights each week, where I could work without distraction (of the kid or housework variety) for three or four hours straight. I admit I haven’t been able to carry on this routine regularly since finishing my MFA—without the “homework” excuse, I don’t have the leverage to make my escape—but when I really need to get work done, I get away from home.
Try this: Make a date with your writing and take yourself to a library or cafe once a week or once a month—whatever time you can get—and write in peace for an hour or two.
Trust That Good Ideas Will Stick Around.
Over the years, I’ve had beautiful sentences, brilliant essays, and entire novels evaporate, like so much fairy dust, because I was too busy to stop and write them down. But other ideas have hung around, percolating in the back of my mind, until I’ve had the time and opportunity to put them down on paper. Once a short story idea hovered in my peripheral vision for two years before I finally wrote it. More recently, I had a breakthrough on how to handle an essay I was struggling with the week before Christmas. I didn’t get a chance to work it out on paper until after New Year’s; but I knew that, tucked in a compartment of my brain, the idea would keep. When I sat down to write, the words flew fast and furious.
Try this: Keep a special notebook for jotting down story and essay ideas; or create a spreadsheet to track writing ideas, storylines, and themes you want to explore.
Remember This Time Won’t Last Forever.
When you’re raising little kids, it can sometimes feel like you’ll be elbow-deep in diapers or tantrums for the rest of your life. But you won’t always be scribbling in a notebook with one hand while holding your baby with the other or daydreaming about the next chapter in your novel while your two-year-old digs in the sandbox. Before you know it, your kids will be off at college, and time will unspool and pile up around you, like a dropped cash register receipt roll (this is what I’m hoping for anyway). What all the old ladies in the grocery store say is true: It goes by so fast. All the more reason to get it down on paper now.
Try this: Take a few minutes once a day or once a week to observe your child, and write down the minute details of what he or she does and says in that time. Even if your genre is futurist dystopian novels and these pages will never see the light of day, you won’t regret capturing these fleeting moments of childhood on the page.
Andrea Lani is a writer, naturalist, and mother of three boys. Her writing has appeared in several online and print publications and is forthcoming from The Maine Review and the anthologies Multiples Illuminated and If Mom’s Happy. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program, she’s an editor at Literary Mama, and can be found online at www.remainsofday.blogspot.com.
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