A Parent’s Time to Write
Posted on May 15, 2014
At a writers’ conference I went to a few years ago, there was a session on finding time to write when you’re a mom. I attended, excited to hear from these women who were making it work. At the time, I had a two-year-old daughter. I had written a book when she was a baby, but that was during grad school. I had strict deadlines and an office I could go to during the day. Now that grad school was over and I was working full time as an English instructor, it was harder and harder to find the time I needed to write. My creative work was languishing. The only things I had time to read were student papers.
The conference session gave me a few ideas (like writing in the car when you’re out running errands, because no one is going to question an extra twenty minutes at the grocery store), but overall, I was disappointed. It was a session for women who were trying to manage two full time occupations: parenting and writing. There was little advice given for those of us balancing three occupations: parenting, writing, and our day jobs.
There was a lot of advice like, “Go away for a weekend every month to a hotel or a retreat center and write!”
“Treat writing like it’s your job–show up every morning, put in several hours a day.”
“Get a babysitter to come to the house for a few hours a day so you can have writing time in whatever space is your office.”
I don’t know these people who have chosen to stay home with their kids, but also have enough money to go away every fourth weekend or hire a babysitter to come to the house daily while they go write. Treating writing as a full time job is great–but I need a full time job that actually provides a paycheck, so until then, I’ve got to squeeze in those 40-ish hour weeks at work.
As a teacher, there are plenty of nights I can’t get away to write. If I have time to myself, I must use it to grade papers or assess portfolios or grade more papers or grade even more papers.
Since January 2013, though, I have been trying to make writing an additional priority in my life. My house is messier than I want it to be, I let Ruthie watch more TV than I should, and sometimes my students get their feedback a little later than I would prefer, but I write.
I blog. I write articles and publish them. Sometimes I submit essays to publishers. I conduct interviews and send out query letters, and I read books.
I am wildly fortunate that this summer, I don’t have to work. I have the summer off, save one independent study student (Hi, student!) and a few odd jobs for the department. Of course, I also don’t have daycare lined up for Ruthie or Neville, so I’ll be a full time mom for the next several weeks. I’m down to the two jobs that the women at the writing conference said were so hard to do–and I’m just thrilled that for a few months, it’s two and not three.
Here are my tips for managing parenting, a career, and writing:
Commit to all three, but know what can and can’t be done.
I can be an awesome mom who does an art project every single day, but I can’t be a no-tv household. It’s just not going to happen. I can be a great teacher who is dedicated to her students, but I can’t be the prof who is hanging out in the campus coffeeshop to meet with students on a social level on a Thursday evening after dinner. I can write every day, but I can’t write for hours every day. Sometimes all I have time to write is an e-mail.
Get up early.
Or stay up late. Or never lie down during naptimes. Whatever way works for you, make sure you have a period of the day when you’re awake and the kids are sleeping. This one is hard for me. I like staying up later than them, but my kids go to bed late. By the time I finish reading a chapter of True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle to my four-year-old, it might be 10:30 at night, and I want to go to bed, not write. If I have to stay up, it’s to grade papers. So I’m trying to get up with the baby, before the four-year-old is awake, and write in the mornings. I find that starting my day before them is a good strategy, and one that makes me feel sane. Plus, if I can get some writing done before I go to work, I’ve already accomplished something!
Ask your partner for help.
I have Starbucks nights that I couldn’t have without the support of my husband Chalupa. It’s hard sometimes because his health prevents us from being able to set up a schedule for this, but as often as I can, I leave the house to go write in the evenings. Don’t tell, but we also call the garage Starbucks, and sometimes when I say goodbye to Ruthie and tell her, “I’m going to Starbucks!” I’m really writing in the garage.
Create a specific writing space, but be flexible.
Speaking of my garage-Starbucks (where I do in fact make my coffee because Chalupa hates the smell of coffee in the house), I wish I could always write out there. If not there, then on the back patio, where I can look at the woods and watch for deer to come out. But as much as I love having a dedicated writing space, a caregiving parent has to be flexible. I write a lot at the kitchen table while Ruthie is watching a movie in the living room. I write on the couch. I write in the car. I write while sitting on the living room floor, patting the baby’s belly and making him laugh.
Carve out time at work to write.
This one can be tricky. It works for me because I have a certain number of hours that I have to be on campus, and sometimes I can turn a portion of that time into writing time. Most people’s jobs don’t allow them that flexibility, but if they do, take advantage of it! You can also write during breaks, or in your car if you get to work early.
Tell your kids how important your writing is.
Because of the conversations we’ve had, my daughter understands that my work is important–it’s how we make money so I can buy her yummy snacks, and my students need me to help them learn to write better, and my coworkers depend on me to get work done. Lately I’ve been helping her understand that my writing is important, too. I’ve told her that this summer, we get to spend the whole summer together, but I also have a big project. I have to write a book, and it’s a book that is going to help people. It’s a book about being a mom. She is starting to get it. Yesterday when I told Chalupa I’d like to go write at the coffeeshop, Ruthie said with pride, “Yeah, Dad! She’s got to go write her book!” Now that she understands what I’m doing when I spend an hour just typing, typing, typing, she is much more understanding of it. I can say, “You watch Rio in here, and I will write in the kitchen. When the movie is over, we’ll do an art project!”
I love all three of my jobs. Parenting my kids is fun and invigorating and full of special, squeezable moments. Teaching English is intellectually challenging and professionally rewarding and full of laughs with my students. And writing? Writing is where I get to learn, create, and communicate with the world.
I wouldn’t want to give up any of it!