Last night I had a Twitter conversation with Nanny and fellow writer Elizabeth Hawksworth about the challenges and joys of writing whilst caring for children. It brought up some interesting thoughts, and made me want to explore the topic further.
Though I’m technically a stay-at-home-mum, I have the luxury of often having paid help around the apartment, with housework and childminding. Sometimes I’ve asked myself if I’d even be able to pursue my interest in writing without that help, but I know the answer is yes. Plenty of other parents and people who care for kids full time manage to do so. To be perfectly honest, when I was working on the first draft of my novel, I probably churned out more words when I didn’t have paid help than when I did. Sometimes having the luxury of time actually makes it harder to organise your schedule, because you think you can fit more in.
For me, as with many other writers with children, I think the key factor in making it work is determination. It can be really challenging to sit down and write when you could be interrupted any second from a little person who wants your attention, or needs you to get them a drink or a snack. Writing a blog post in a day is easier than having your concentration interrupted for a much longer piece.
This week, it has been just me and the kids. My paid help has been on vacation, and my husband is in Geneva for work. I’ve had to resort to staying up late, after the kids are in bed, in order to focus on editing my novel. It’s really important to make the most of the time you have available.
The hardest part about writing with kids is focusing on it. When you’re spending most of your energy on looking after their needs, sometimes the last thing you want to do when you have some time to yourself is more work. I’m a big procrastinator due to that. I want to be able to sit down and relax by enjoying a good TV show, or going out to a movie. Facebook has been a big distraction for me because I like reading a lot of the links that show up in my feed. I ended up deactivating my account temporarily to prevent myself from using that as an excuse.
Yet, I didn’t go to that extreme when I wrote my novel. I was a lot better about staying away from social media when I needed to concentrate. It takes a lot of discipline to cut out other things you enjoy in order to focus on your goals. I had to set my own deadlines, and the one way I was able to focus on meeting them was having someone wanting to read each chapter as I finished them. Who that was changed depending on when I was writing. At first it was my editor, Jeremiah Murphy, and then my husband joined in. When Jeremiah was caught up in other life stuff, I was able to continue to progress because my husband was still there, willing to read and offer me feedback when I’d finished a chapter. He also supported me by giving me time to write in the evenings, or taking the kids somewhere on a weekend. I don’t know if it’s possible to juggle kids and writing without some kind of support network like that.
It’s been harder to stay focused lately because I don’t have anyone else on my back to get me to finish the editing. I let things slip when Jeremiah went through the upheaval of moving his life to Qatar, knowing he wouldn’t be able to do the final proofread for months. Now he’s more settled and I still haven’t progressed as much as I’d have liked. It’s a lot of work, and over 100,000 words is daunting to step back into. Even though I have already fixed a lot of the things my other beta readers gave me feedback about, I’m scared of what I might find myself that I’ll want to change. On the other hand, going over chapter one has already seen me improve the story in ways I couldn’t have expected, and for once I’m actually enjoying the process of editing.
Still, between when I finished the first draft in September, and now, I have probably spent more time on short fiction and blog posts than my novel, because it’s easier to fit that in when you’re also caring for kids. It’s easier to know you’ll be able to find the time for shorter works.
My kids can also be a source of inspiration when I write. Though my youngest is too young to really explain, “Mummy needs a bit of time to write now,” my six-year-old gets it. The other day, I was working on designing my book cover, which I’m doing in conjunction with my graphic designer friend, Lisa, who also designed the cover of Fae Fatales and my husband’s book, Multi-Stakeholder Governance and the Internet Governance Forum. My eldest walked in and asked what I was doing.
“Designing the cover for my book,” I said.
“Is that the one with the mermaid?” he asked.
Even though the novel is not appropriate for children, I felt like it was important to explain to my son what I’m working on, and it made me really happy to see that he remembered that about my book. I haven’t talked about it for a while since I haven’t been working on it, but I think when he sees I have a tangible goal, and he’s impressed by the graphic work, it benefits both of us. For myself, it’s nice to have his support and feel the pride he has for his mum. As for my son, he benefits by seeing the positive outcome of hard work and determination – both traits I’d like to instill in him.
Both of my kids also seem to enjoy seeing me dress up as my pirate protagonist, Jaclyn Rousseau. My two and a half year old still can’t say a lot, but “pirate” is one word he is familiar with. I may also have Jake and the Neverland Pirates to thank for that. He loves saying “Smee!” the way Captain Hook does.
So, though I may not write child-friendly stories at the moment, I do think letting my kids feel more involved with the process without sharing the adult aspects, has been good for all of us. I also know that when I get around to including children characters in more of my writing, my experiences with my own kids will help me write them in a more realistic way.
Next week, I will be inviting Elizabeth Hawksworth to write a guest post about her experiences with writing while nannying, so I look forward to her perspective on these issues. In the mean time, let’s keep the discussion going. Do you juggle writing and caring for kids? What challenges do you face? What benefits do you experience? How do you make it work for you? Let me know in the comments!