Writing with Kids


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Vision 79

 

Writing with Kids

By

Amy Keeley

Copyright © 2015, Amy Keeley, All Rights Reserved

 

I have eight children.

Oh wait. Do you need a chair? Water? You’re good? Okay.

As I was saying, I have eight children. I started trying to learn how to write professionally when my second-born had just become a toddler and quickly found it was an enormous struggle to do both for two reasons.

1) I wasn’t taught how to take care of a house at a level where I could reasonably manage upheavals.

2) Writing at a professional level, especially when you’re starting out, takes almost as much work as raising kids.

I somehow managed, but it was an enormous struggle with times where I felt like I wasn’t making any headway at all and failing at both. Here’s a list of things I learned, in case any moms out there find themselves in the same situation.

Be very aware of time.

I hate time. Really, truly hate it. It breaks things, erodes things, tears things down bit by bit until nothing is left. Time changes things, people, even events that you would think could be clearly seen in the moment.

It took years for me to learn this about myself, and before I knew it, I would smile and nod and agree with those who said to use calendars, appointment books, etc. Watches. Can’t stand watches. But my point is that there was one thing I learned to love more than any other timepiece in the world.

I learned to love my timer.

When I have an infant, I’ve learned it’s okay to break tasks up into small chunks. Five minutes for laundry. Two minutes to clear off a surface.

The same applies to writing. Even if all I do is write for a minute, that’s one minute more than my default, which is nothing.

Write down your priorities

This is a big one. You would think it would be obvious. The kids come first, always. But when you’re getting money for your work, and that money is helping feed the kids you love, or at least has the possibility of feeding them, things become a lot more hazy.

So, when you have a few minutes (use your timer!) write out what writing will demand of you and what your kids will demand of you. Write out which is more important and why. Let your answers be honest, even if they sound brutal to you. And then do what writers do best: look at the consequences of those actions.

After you’ve done that, figure out which will take priority in your life and how much you’re willing to sacrifice of either. Because something will have to give. It may not appear that way now, but both raising a family and writing are demanding professions. You’ll need to know where to draw your lines in the sand and you’ll need to be okay with it now so that you won’t end up either full of resentment or regret after you’ve made your choice.

Take a look at your options and where you can find a compromise, if one exists. Which leads me to my next point.

Take advantage of naps

Some writers get up earlier than anyone else, sometimes a couple of hours earlier, and write whatever they can fit into that space. When my kids were really little (most of them are much older now) I lived for naps.

That one to three hour block was all mine, and I would use it either to think through story problems or actually write. Nowadays, I have a baby that doesn’t really nap in long blocks. I either write in the early morning, fit in what I can during the short naps he does take, or (and this is usually what happens) I write after everyone else has gone to sleep.

This is not a consistent schedule, but when you have kids, especially very little kids, consistency is a faraway ideal. At least, for me.

Be kind to yourself

As you try to find a compromise between these two demanding professions, you’ll have moments where you’ll feel as if you’ve failed at both. Miserably. There will also be days where you’ll succeed in one and not the other, and you’ll wonder if it really is possible to do both.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t excuse yourself if you made a mistake or got your priorities temporarily out of whack. Do your best to look at the situation objectively, learn from it, and get back in balance.

Look at your kids as research

In line with this, on days when you have diaper after diaper to change, or the kids are sick, or some other thing has pulled you away entirely from your writing, look at it as something you can put in a future story.

It sounds cold, but for me it worked really well, especially during those last few months of pregnancy when I was always uncomfortable. I’m currently writing a series (under a pen name) that has a pregnant character and I’m reliving not only the miserable moments, but the ones that reminded me why I love having kids in the first place.

Be willing to drop back

As you raise your family, you may encounter a moment when you have to put one side of your life firmly above the other.

When I first started to learn how to write professionally, the dramatic shift in publishing hadn’t happened yet. Either you published traditionally or you didn’t publish at all. And the only way to get published was to do the submission rounds, pounding out new material while you shopped around the old.


At the time, I not only had little children, two of them had special needs (correction: they still have special needs but they aren't little children anymore). So, in the eyes of the world, I essentially dropped out of writing. For five years.

I’m simplifying this story quite a bit, but the principle remains. Although it felt at times like I’d given up writing forever, when I came back to it, I was in a much better place than I expected and had learned more than I would have if I hadn’t focused on something else for that time.

And, looking back, it’s not as if I competely gave it up, either. I wrote short stories for my kids. I wrote stories to help teach my kids phonics and give them practice hearing the sounds and blends and so on. I even wrote a story about a unicorn and a wolf for my daughter, at a time when I thought I was done writing fantasy.

During that time, I focused on learning how to take care of a family, how to become a better cook, the principles of thrifty living, the mechanics of speech development, ways to increase fine and gross motor ability, the ins and outs of the health care system, curriculum construction, and I also ended up (for unexpected reasons) learning an awful lot about herbs and natural healing. I even ended up finding out about the history of homemaking in America and why we have the attitudes about it that we currently have.

Nowadays, there are more choices available. At the same time, it adds new pressures. There will always be someone telling you you’re not moving fast enough, that if you want to succeed in writing, you have to produce a lot in a short amount of time and you have to be either frequently submitting or frequently uploading.

Only do what you can. Writing isn’t as bound by time as kids are. Difficult as it may be, if you have to make the choice to walk away from writing, it’ll still be there waiting when you come back with all your shiny new knowledge. Your kids won’t. So my final bit of advice is this: choose your kids. The world, yours and theirs, will be better for it.