My head is full of lyre-backed chairs and the glint of sun far, far in the north as a drakan prow surges, cracking ice, and on the problems of point-of-view and why can’t I find a decent synonym for trouble that means what I need it to mean? and no, no, not that character, no, go away images, I want that one to—
—live, no maybe the images will change if I wait, and anyway I need to research early mattresses so that, oh yeah, but first remember to go back through to clarify that yin-thread about the song with the inverted fifth and its yang about how rumor metastasizes—
“Mom! Drive me to Brian’s house!”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry. My brain was—”
“Your brain is always—” Hand gesture to match mine.
“Sorry, kiddo, I’m trying hard as I can.” Open door, start car, sit at super long red light and oh, see, there are the lights hissing across the sky, reflections on the rain wet sails…
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
“How about if I make tacos? Nothing that heats up the kitchen too bad.”
Biscuits! If they’re making pan-biscuits over the campfire when the…
When you are the stay-at-home parent, or when you are home with the kids if you do have a full-time job, there just isn’t that civilized office schedule, where you are in your cube for four hours, lunch break for an hour, cube for four hours. Regularly scheduled meetings that everyone is there for, and you don’t have to scrape gum off chairs, find everyone, get them bathed, find their missing socks, and get them to focus on the task at hand instead of their cell phone or the TV, and deal with fifty interruptions, every single one a crisis—for someone else. But you are the one who has to deal.
In short, unless you can afford a nanny, you are on the job pretty much 24/7 . . . yes, you get a break when the small ones sleep, though that’s when you usually fall exhausted into bed. And of course you have to get up if someone barfs, or wets the bed, or wakes up with a fever.
So how does the writer get any writing done when you have kids? The truth is, when children are very young, writing time just plain dips. The thing I tell writers just venturing into parenthood is that time doesn’t stop, however long those days of diapers and spit-up and keeping them from putting horrible things in their mouths seem to stretch; you blink and those rugrat years are gone, and the teen barely waves as they head out the door into the world.
But until then, what to do? So much depends on how many adults are on hand to help out, and also, what kind of a writing process you have. How I coped was accepting that my free time was going to be doled out in two and three and seven and a half minute increments, usually impossible to schedule. I got used to thinking about my next project as my hands were busy with laundrag and vacuuming. (I don’t recommend letting your mind shift to Over There when cooking, or you will end up with the same sorts of culinary disasters that I created.)
I kept a notebook with me at all times, so I could scribble down ideas as soon as I parked the car, while in the doctor’s waiting room with my feverish kid, while waiting for everybody to sit down and get things going at a school function, etc. My writing schedule during the years I taught full time began at four a.m. every day, because that was the only uninterrupted time I could get. I stopped at seven, when I had to turn into Mom and Teacher, and usually I didn’t get to put my writer hat on again until just before bed, when offspring slept and correcting was done.
That worked for me because I’m by nature a morning person. Some writer friends prefer to work late at night, when everyone else is watching the tube, or asleep.
When I actually began selling, I had deadlines, and because I was getting paid (eventually) it became easier to negotiate with my equally busy spouse for time. (Before he became a tenured professor, he was holding down five part time jobs all over Southern California, so he spent a great deal of time on the freeway.)
For many writers, before that first sale, writing is often regarded as a never-ending hobby, like a piece of knitting that will never be cast off, and that nobody is ever going to want as the months and even years slide by while one is toiling through the submission process.
Writers have often said to me, I definitely made sure that anyone I dated was okay with writing. She said, oh, how wonderful! He said, whoa, that’s cool! Writing, very often, is only cool when it doesn’t get into everyone else’s way. I had one friend whose spouse got angry because he wanted to steal away and write while his wife watched TV. She felt that TV-time was their only together time, and it was important for her that they watch together, because really, that writing was just never-ending, and it might be years before somebody actually bought it, and wouldn’t kayaking be more fun as a hobby? They could do it together!
I had another friend, a teacher, who discovered if she told her spouse that she was working on student papers, he either did the domestic chore himself or occupied his time in some other way, but if she said she was working on her novel, he had a list of things that needed her attention right now, and couldn’t she do that “later”? When people are in relationships, they discover that their time really isn’t their own. It’s wonderful when rhythms totally match, but for most of us, our days are a constant negotiation between ours and others’ priorities. When writing is high on our priority list and low on theirs, that’s when the friction can begin, causing great guilt because no one wants conflicts between the things and the people they love.
Writing is a solitary act, and its progress is not instantly measurable the way that building a canoe is, or knitting a sweater, or even taking a night course. Until one has gone pro and has deadlines, the payoff, unlike the canoe being put into the water or the sweater being worn or the course enabling one to try a new thing, seems to the non-writer as imaginary as the content of the novel.
Trying to get the non-writer to understand the importance of writing time for the writer can be tough. When I was young, the sense of isolation could be eroded into guilt for being “selfish”; one good thing about the Internet is that writers can find other writers, who understand the drive, the need, the love.
So back to writers and kids. How to manage both since as yet we can’t replicate? One way is the three—five—ten minute process that I described above. But some cannot deal with splintered bits of time. If your process requires sustained time, the suggestion I’ve found that works for many writers is to trade with your partner for “me” time, and get out of the house. If you’re home, it’s too easy to interrupt you. If you go to the library, or Starbucks, or to the park with your laptop or notebook, you’re out of reach, and psychologically you’re distant enough from home that you’ve a better chance of making your time productive.
Those are my suggestions. Anything else that others have discovered and would like to share would be most welcome!