The final proofed pages of my latest novel, on their way back to my publisher, complete with Random Toddler Attack
Top Ten Tips for Being a Mama and Getting Your Writing Done!
I see so many interviews out there where a female writer is asked how she manages to write while also being a mother. And I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but I’m yet to see or hear the same question asked of a male writer. Now, I could pose a lot of theories of why that is the case, but since it is a topic that doesn’t seem to go away, I thought I’d put my two cents in as well.
Firstly, I want to be very clear in that I don’t think there is any difference between a working mother/writer and a mother who is also working as a teacher, nurse, psychologist, chemical engineer, astronaut, television host or cleaner. Right? It’s all a job or career and so we’re all faced with the same challenges. In fact, the ADVANTAGE of being a working writer and mother is that your time is infinitely MORE flexible. (That can also be a double-edged sword, but see below for that.)
So like all working mothers, working writers have to make choices about what is right for them and their career, their time, their family and their children. Nannies, daycare and grandparents are all considered, perhaps working part-time to allow for some sort of ‘balance’. Or, you might like to work full-time with full-time childcare. In my own case, we battled on with (expensive) in-home nannies for the first two years after our son was born (I got my literary agent five weeks after he was born… yikes!), and then he showed us he was ready to go to daycare two days a week. My dad and stepmother (luckily) adore him and they have him with them another day a week. So that gives me three days a week dedicated to writing. This works for all of us right now.
Before I had a child, I could write whenever I wanted to, for the most part. Now, I have to do it on my ‘working’ days. It’s not always easy but, again, any other job is the same. Some days we don’t want to go, right? But if you don’t show up, you don’t get paid. Sometimes I will work at night or on weekends, and every now and then I throw in a weekend away for a writing retreat to get some intensive uninterrupted time with my novel.
The tough stuff for me is when things happen on days that aren’t ‘writing days’: stuff like interviews, photo shoots, interstate travel, publicity events and commitments etc. Then the juggling does get tricky and this takes some whole family commitment to changing timetables and so on. And of course, often those other commitments DO happen on ‘writing days’ (because it is impossible to do a photo shoot with a toddler in his “Hulk” phase testing out his power by upending furniture), so that means that no writing actually happens and that puts pressure on the word count targets.
But I wouldn’t change any of it because I think I have the best job in the world for me.
I do know that the big pressures come when you are as-yet unpublished and are trying to work out how to work, and raise children, AND write a book. That’s tough. But still do-able. It takes a lot of compassion for yourself and belief in your need to write, as well as some creative thinking and support from your family. And it’s okay to ask for help, ya know?
- If you can, take back some time by hiring a cleaner to come for a few hours a week and spend every minute of that time writing. And if you have mama guilt about that, USE it to fuel your word count goal to prove to yourself how useful and productive you’re being. (As an aside, I don’t actually subscribe to this sort of fear-based motivation, but if you need to use it in the short term to get yourself moving then by all means DO IT!)
- If you can write in ten-minute or thirty-minutes snatches of time, I bow at your feet! If, like me, you’re not really like that, try to find at least ONE HOUR at a time (many writers do it at 4.30am or 9.30pm) and write like a demon for sixty minutes. Better yet, maybe it’s even more valuable to negotiate one whole weekend every month or two and just delve down deep into your book. You might get more done in that time than you would in six months of half-hour snatches.
- Writing brings with it incredible flexibility in terms of the time of day you can write and where you can write. This is awesome. Use that flexibility…
- …BUT! Be warned. This type of flexibility also means that when the child is sick and can’t go to daycare, when the car needs to go to the mechanic, when the plumber needs to come to the house etc. etc., it will likely be YOU that is asked to give up your writing time to deal with the domestic need. And, often, this happens because ‘your job’ isn’t ‘earning any money’ at that time while your partner’s job is. Oh, the mama guilt that goes with that! And look, the reality is that you do need to keep money coming into the house, right? But just be very aware of this trap. Learn to set boundaries and be patient with yourself as you learn to protect them and learn to claw back that time that you lost with the plumber on another day. Learn to negotiate. It can be tough; I get it. (Even now, as a published author whose income contributes considerably to our household, I still find it difficult.) But you need to do it.
- Work while disconnected. I use Freedom, a cheap, neat little program that BLOCKS THE INTERNET on my computer while I’m writing. What a difference it makes! We are too distracted and too distractible. If you’re on limited writing time than for goodness’ sake, suck the marrow out of every minute you have.
- Remember that you can plan a lot in your head while you’re playing with train sets and play dough. You can THINK about your book at any minute of the day.
- I think having a child actually makes me a better writer. It focuses my attention and time and forces me to move through procrastination and blocks much faster than I would do if I didn’t have the time ticking down to when I had to leave to pick him up from daycare. He is pure imagination and play and makes me laugh all the time and provides an incredible wealth of new experiences, emotions, ideas and material for books. And I swear that reading children’s books makes me a better writer. This is all valuable stuff for your career.
- Working on hard copy (writing by hand, or editing on paper) is much easier to do when you’ve got little people around than carrying your laptop around or locking yourself away in a room. Your supervision is still good, the little person won’t try and take over your laptop, you can hand over paper and pens so that you can ‘work together’, and the cup of juice that gets spilt won’t ruin your notebook like it will your laptop. You can always type up words later when you’re tired and don’t actually need too many brain cells simply to read and type, rather than create.
- Fatigue can be a problem. Oh boy, I get this. You need to train.
- Finally, it all comes down to this. If you want it enough, you’ll make it work. You can do it. You can. You absolutely can. You MORE than can. You can…. I promise.