Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to combine writing with parenting

“Darling, please be quiet, mummy’s trying to compose a sentence.”

Yeah, right. Try waving a red flag to a bull and asking it not to charge. Combining parenting with writing is probably no more difficult than combining parenting with any job, except that writing doesn’t usually come with a flash/separate office and childcare initiatives, and can often be put aside when something urgent calls. As a parent, something urgent is always calling. It’s easy to try and do it all—support school council, attend events, Playgroup, lessons, matches, help with homework, the day job. So how do you make the time? How do you say no when your children (What could be more important?) are counting on you to be there for them? How do you get those sentences composed when everything else is more urgent?  Here are a few tips:
  • Don’t try to be superperson. You have to accept that you are a parent and that your children will only be little and attention hungry for a short time. You shouldn’t stop writing, by any means, but you also have to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Long projects like novels will take many years. If you write shorter pieces, you’ll have to be honest about the output you can manage. 
  • Plan, plan, plan and then expect the plan to go a little askew if someone gets sick. Sit down for a few hours each year (after the kids have gone to bed perhaps, or while they are at school), and plan what you are going to accomplish during that year, bearing in mind that your family will also need your time. Each month spend a half hour or so revising the plan; each week a few minutes and each day a moment, so that you’re always clear about what you are going to achieve from a writing perspective. 
  • Cut your plan into bite sized, relatively urgent pieces and make sure it’s in your planner/diary. Don’t have a planner/diary? You need one. Decide what writing work you’ll be doing each week and that way you can maximise any available time, whether it’s an hour after the kids are in bed, or five hours while they’re at school. Once the big plan is broken into little segments, you’ll feel a sense of writerly accomplishment meeting those small goals, but only if they are achievable!
Above all, don’t resent your children. What else is life about? The time spent with your children is, even in the most Machiavellian terms (never mind what you’re doing for them…think of what they’re doing for you), inspiration for your work. Notice what excites them, what interests them, how they look while they play and you’ve already got the basis for your next characterisation. Parent writers are lucky in that their work and play often bisect and that the joy and unconditional love in a child’s eye is the best fodder for writing.

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.

photo credit: legends2k via photopin cc


Karen Cioffi said...

Maggie, great advice on finding 'realistic' writing time while being a parent. Taking care of a family is certainly time consuming, as well as energy draining. Planning out a writing schedule is always a help. And, being flexible is key.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great tips Maggie. Bite size chunks of writing over time can create a novel! Also, I think we can all afford to loose the super-person mentality.

Linda Wilson said...

Hi Maggie, your post is helpful even though our children are grown and gone. I find that life happens and I need your advice to get any writing done at all! Thanks for a great post!

Shirley Corder said...

I'm so so so glad I only started writing seriously after I lived in an empty nest! (Well, almost empty. My husband doesn't count. He's incredibly supportive!) For all that, your points apply to my crazy life-style too, so thank you for the suggestions.

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