As a mother of four (soon to be five) children under the age of seven, one of the most common questions I get when people find out I’m a writer is: how do you have time for it? Though it’s fair to say that it’s likely only people in the writing and publishing fields know just how huge of a time investment writing is, most people can easily recognize that writing a novel requires a great deal of energy and discipline. Add children to that equation and it does become a lot more daunting of a task.
Can I let you in on a little secret though?
Having children has me a faster, stronger, and more efficient writer. Here’s why:
Ask the Busy Person
There’s an old proverb that states that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” While this may not work for everyone, I’ve found that, personally, the more I have on my plate, the more I’m able to produce. Why?
As I get busier, I come up with more efficient means to do things. As my children demand and require more of my time, I have to adjust the way I do everything, not just writing. For example, if I want a clean house, I have to make a conscious effort to pick up as I go along. I’m not the type of person who lives or dies by a schedule, so in my case, I have to constantly think of what task I’m working on and complete it before moving on to the next big task. While some people get amazing results from to-do lists, I tend to get less overwhelmed when I simply jump into the doing the need in front of me. And because I’d like to spend as little time on that task as necessary, I find a way to do it quickly and right the first time (so I don’t have to do it again).
So How Does This Apply to Writing?
Before I had children, my writing time was long, filled with moments of staring off into space thinking. Or I allowed myself to get distracted while writing. (Ever go on Twitter and see the posts about writers checking Twitter instead of writing? People seem to post things like that daily.) Or I would go do “research” and get sucked into a very-interesting thread completely unrelated to anything I would ever use for my writing.
I simply don’t have time for that anymore. If the only time I have to write is in the few hours after my kids go to bed but before I’m too tired to function, then I have to make each moment count. So when I sit down to write, I don’t allow myself those distractions. I write, instead. If I think I’m going to get distracted down a research hole, I put the research off to another time and focus on completing whatever scene I’m working on with a note to myself to come back once I’ve done the research.
That said, as any parent knows, whenever you make a plan Murphy’s law dictates that your children will say otherwise. Much as I would love have that solid, dedicated writing time at an appointed hour every night, I often don’t. Not just because my kids may wake up or need something—I might be too tired from a long day, or I have too much housework to do, or because I’d like to spend some time watching tv or on another hobby. As a result, as a “writer mom” I’ve also had to learn the fine art of flexibility.
Flexibility Is Key
For me, learning to write in the midst of chaos has been one of the best ways to become an efficient writer. No matter what stage of writing I’m in, I use word count/chapter goals to keep me on task. In the first draft stage, those might be daily or weekly. In the editing stage, it might be to edit a certain number of chapters by a certain date. But how I reach that goal? That’s completely flexible. I may do it by snatching a few minutes here and there to edit while the kids are watching cartoons. I may do it by finding a solid block of time in the morning or evening. As long as I’m always working toward meeting my goal, I don’t care if I have the set time.
I’ve also learned to write while my kids are running around me playing (sometimes very loudly). I’m always thinking about what I’m working on writing-wise, so if I see the kids absorbed in creative play or a game, I may grab my laptop and just sit in the room doing some writing while they play. Being able to write in the middle of so much distraction has also helped me because when I do have quiet, uninterrupted time, I can produce even more.
Ultimately, writing while parenting is similar to any other job while parenting: it requires patience, flexibility, and efficiency. But it’s also extremely rewarding. Writing is a part how my mind works—some of my friends would even say it’s my “therapy.” Just as I think being a parent has made me a better writer, I’m also pretty sure being a writer has made me a better parent.