Following, is a special memory and story for me, one that makes up the intricate tapestry of my creative self. And I’m wondering if you have any similar memories like this.
Do you believe that kids often know what they’re supposed to do in the world from a very young age? In my case, I think I did. I have a very strong memory from when I was around three years of age, the timing of which my mother was able to verify based on where I described we were living at the time.
On this particular day, my parents took my sister and me out shopping and we ended up in a toy store. I wandered around and was interested in many things, including a plaster of Paris kit, with figurines of Paddington Bear. But then, I saw a little red typewriter. I was struck with an all-encompassing need to have that typewriter. Soon after, my parents announced it was time to go. I began to cry, real tears of utter pain that I would be leaving without that typewriter.
‘What’s wrong?’ my mother asked, kindly. But I couldn’t articulate what the problem was. I’m not sure I even had a clear idea of what a typewriter did, yet I knew for some reason I desperately wanted it.
‘Do you want the typewriter?’ Mum asked, clearly confused. Then, ‘Or do you want the Paddington Bear kit?’
Now, here is where it got interesting. I can’t remember for exactly what reason–whether it was because I knew the typewriter was expensive, or whether it was because I didn’t think it was reasonable that a three-year-old should want a typewriter (I remember thinking both of those things, but am not sure which argument won out)–I pointed to the Paddington Bear kit and said yes I wanted that.
We took it home and I remember spending many happy hours out in the backyard under the trees making and painting those plaster moulds. I did love it.
But what my heart and soul really wanted that day was the typewriter.
For some completely inexplicable reason, I knew that I was here to create stories and bring them into the world, and at that time the way you did that was on a typewriter.
I was telling my mother this story on the phone recently and I choked up. The pain of leaving that typewriter behind was a strong as it had been when I was three. So when I hung up the phone, I searched ebay to see if there might be a similar one out there. And there was ONE. Just one. Sitting there for sale in England. So I bought it. And now it sits beside my laptop in my writing room and reminds my inner child (and therefore my inner artist) that I am a writer. That I’ve always been a writer. That I deserve to be a writer. That I hear that calling and I acknowledge it. My mission in life is there as a very real, tangible object–a realised dream.
If you’re a creator of any kind, I’m wondering if you have any memories like this? Or if you have any symbols around you in your space that affirm your dreams? Or have you noticed something like this in your own children? I’d love to hear these if you do.
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.
This is my library research assistant, the adorable Bubbalicious.
It’s often said that writing is a child-friendly career. True. But I’m not sure children are a writer-friendly addition 🙂
This is an interesting year for me as I work to find a new way of writing. A new timetable. A new head space. A totally new process. Listening to my body in a whole new way.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that I might need some help. But my Hubbalicious has been consistently working towards finding ways to support my career (and meet my next book deadline) while we maintain our wish to be hands-on, full-time parents. One thing we’ve realised is that I do need sustained, uninterrupted writing time. And that might mean I have to leave the house for a weekend every couple of months to get that. As well, I need at least three or four hours straight in a day to really get into my work.
So today is a new day. After much resistance (maternal angst, guilt, working-mother anxiety), I have embraced the addition of my lovely friend, Katrina, who lives locally and who has known Little Man his whole life. (And is also the greatest aunty to our dogs and cats when we’re away.) Everyone in this family loves Katrina. And today she’ll be joining us three days a week, for four hours a day, at home to help look after our Little Man and allow me some space to work. And I’m okay with that. Finally.
Really. Right now, I’m in my office while the sound of Katrina’s voice and squeaking toys from the other end of the house lets me know my bubba man is okay. Not just okay; he’s having fun. And that’s okay because I just need to remind myself to breathe and know there’ll be more times a plenty when I get to have my little research assistant back again.