The week before my baby’s due date, after I had finally wrapped up my work obligations, cleaned the soon-to-be nursery, and inflated my birth ball, I sat down and spent several hours attending to my other “baby,” my first novel. Though I was already experiencing what I now realize were early labor pains, I was determined to complete a hefty round of revisions before the baby was born. If this baby is two weeks late, I thought to myself, and I somehow write polished prose really really fast, then I might, possibly finish this draft…or at least half of this draft?
My first contraction interrupted my thoughts.
I love my little girl and wouldn’t give up being a mother for anything, not even a best-seller. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that having a baby doesn’t mean the end of my writing dreams. Though I had to stretch out my timeline, I managed to complete a fairly final draft of my novel during my baby’s first year.
What advice would I give other aspiring parent-novelists? The one sentence summary would be this: Your novel must be the “next thing” on your list.
A parent’s first three priorities are pretty much set:
1) Family, including spouse/partner and child(ren)
2) Self-care, including eating, showering and—if you’re lucky–sleep and exercise
3) Paying the bills (I was going to call this “financial security,” but that might be too much to ask for in an expensive city like Los Angeles.) If you are already lucky enough to make money writing, then congratulations! But if you’re like me, you need to bring in some income from other sources.
Some people understandably have a hard time managing this list alone. If you’re lucky enough to have time for anything else, though, you are probably only going to get to #4, and possibly #5. If writing a novel doesn’t come until 6 or 7, then you might not want it enough to actually do it. And that’s fine; just about anything else is more likely to make you rich and famous. But if your novel just won’t leave you alone, then you have to give it priority, above tasks like doing the laundry and developing ab muscles like this lady’s. (What’s my excuse? I’m writing a novel!)
Let’s take the classic advice “write while the baby is sleeping.” The problem is, when the baby finally goes down for a nap or bedtime, there will be at least twenty other things on your list: Take a shower, drink coffee, pick up the papers the baby has scattered across the living room floor, eat a snack, wash the dishes, cook dinner, call your mother, check your email, do some stomach crunches… These are all important and worthwhile, but if “write” is the thing you do when you’re finished with everything else, you will not write a word before the baby is once again screaming for your attention. When I really want to write, as soon as I put my toddler in her crib I step across the papers on the floor, ignore the dishes in the sink, turn off my phone and close my email, flip open my computer, and write. (Actually, I usually get a snack first, but I’m an active mother, I need a snack!)
I’m not saying you should always ignore the dishes or never exercise. After all, family and self-care both come before writing on my list, and dishes are harder to wash after the food has dried onto them. But if writing is a priority in your life, you need to make time for it. To do this, let the people in your life know, through your words and actions, that writing is important to you. And once you’ve set your goals, don’t hesitate to get help. If your partner, relatives, and/or neighbors are willing to watch the baby for a few hours while you write, let them! And if you have the means, consider hiring a nanny or babysitter.
If you are fortunate enough to have someone else assist with childcare, I suggest you leave the house to write. Even when she’s with my loving husband, I find her it nearly impossible to ignore my daughter’s plaintive cries when she wants my attention, and she always wants my attention when I’m trying to write!
Of course, as someone who is still striving towards her dreams of publication, I know that all of this is easier said than done. There have been many times in my life when, for various reasons, my writing has been put on the back-burner. If it’s not the right time in your life to make writing a top priority, you may want to simply find ways to keep the writing spark alive. I think it would be difficult to finish and revise a novel by writing for fifteen minutes a few times per week, but that may be enough to keep your skills in practice until you have more time to hone your craft.
Unlike your human babies, your novel will not reach a new milestone or grab a sharp knife that you were sure was out of her arm’s reach when you look away for a split second. It will just sit there unfinished, patiently waiting until you are once again able to make it the next thing on your list.
For any other writing mommies (or daddies) other there: What advice would you give about how to find time to write without ignoring your child(ren)? Post a comment! I’m always open to new ideas.