So when I first read Patrick Samphire’s description of a wild morning story session in the car with his kids, under the creative pressure of his life, I said “Yup. That’s pretty much it.” Twenty parts desperation. One part inspiration. All designed to get you through one more day of this parenting/writing life.
Now, if you’re interested enough to read this blog post, I know you don’t need cheerleading or chin-up Charlies. You don’t need me to tell you why writing is worth it. If you have children and you write at the same time, you’ll already have concluded that writing isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. Or you would have given it up long, long ago.
You don’t need advice from me. So what I’m going to offer is…war stories! Misery does love company, after all. So here is a collection of the best in-the-trenches tales of the insane ways my friends and I have made writing and parenting co-exist.
Don’t Nobody Go in the Bathroom for at Least 35-45 Minutes
Potty training. Perhaps the most dreaded of parenting milestones. It was certainly my least favorite activity as a parent, until the day it dawned on me the rich bounty I had before me. No, not fertilizer. It’s TIME. Sweet, precious dedicated time where your kid is confined to one small space for a predictable set of minutes. So while she sat in there whistling and asking to watch Dinosaur Train, I leaned against that wonderful, closed door with my laptop. Once I left her in there for an hour while I finished a scene. I’m not even sorry.
And speaking of locked rooms…
The Panic Room
There are some moments in a writer’s life that require absolute focus. An editor call. An agent call. A call with your friend who’s waiting for their agent call and is about to shove splinters under their nails to relieve the tension. So what’s a writer to do? Why, lock themselves in a room. In a basement or an attic, if you have one. Then completely, totally ignore the children banging on the door. Even when they shove notes under the door. Or just their hands, driven by their animal zombie instincts to interrupt your call.
Santa Doesn’t Eat Chips-a-Hoy
Now, you’d think as someone with a full time job at night and kids to manage during the day, I’d give up a few hobbies. Nope. I’m a pretty decent baker and I (a) bake way, way too many holiday cookies and (b) do it all from scratch. So two Christmases ago, when I had to get a scene finished or lose my mind, I set my laptop on the counter and wrote in the ten minute increments between cookie batches. And damned if I didn’t finish both the scene AND every batch of cookies without burning a single one. Even the butterscotch lacies came out perfect. I’m still proud of that one.
They say sleep goes out the window with a newborn, but it does come back. So you know the value of what you’re losing when you have to go back to next-to-sleepless nights again to finish a novel. I work a FT split shift that gives me 5 hours or less a night, and I still have to snatch writing time by the minute because my son isn’t yet in preschool. The bags under my eyes hold my lids open during the day, so that’s something. One friend of mine, who I hesitate to name lest her children realize her free hours and devour them like cannibals, rises at 3am EVERY DAY so she can write before heading to her full time job. Another boots her husband into the living room so she can stay up writing all night one night a week. She skips a full night of sleep and writes in sprints. I hope she walks to work the next day. I should ask.
Are There Carcinogens in Ikea Poster Paint?
When you hit a deadline — and I’m talking the Taste the Desperation, night-before-caffeine-induced-acid-reflux kind of deadline — that’s when all the parenting rules go straight out the window. Six hours of DinoTrux on Netflix? Why not? A Winx marathon? Sure, sure. No matter how many times I watch that show, I have no f’ing idea what’s going on, but it can’t be that bad, right? And why bother with curating any of the other content to ensure they’re not imbibing racist memes and sterotyped gender roles. Once I let my daughter have the remote and run wild, and when I came back she was watching this odd collection of holiday shows. I walked in on this cartoon from the 30’s where a collection of children from around the world do something to help Santa. The Asian child does Santa’s laundry. The African-American child — wreathed with a Song of the South grin and a piece of watermelon (yes!) — shines his shoes. I can’t remember what the American-Indian child does, but I think it has something to do with tobacco. And the white kid bosses them all around. I didn’t tell my husband about that one, so let’s hope he doesn’t read this post.
But my husband DID find out about the time, when I had to get some pitches ready for a contest the next day, I opened every paint container in the house, set them in front of my son and told him to have a ball. I don’t have time to write a thousand more words, so this picture will have to do. Cute lil’ bugger, isn’t he? 🙂
But all this untrammeled time in our children’s lives yields at least some creative fruit. Like the day my daughter spun floss into gold and invented the “Rosie Posie (dogs) Prince and Princess in DinoTrux Land” story cycle. Or the day a friend of mine told her pestering child to write a story of their own, and they did and then moved on to writing comic books. Or the day my daughter’s teacher told me how creative her stories are and I confessed myself as a novelist and the teacher said “Of course. I thought she must have a writer in the house.”
And sometimes these creative spurts yield enhanced communication skills. Like my friend who, to facilitate a major editing session, set her son on the floor with some blocks. He got very creative and made a contraption he called “The Super-Editing Trap.” I’m guessing he wanted to free her. Sorry, Charlie. Chin up. It’s a rah-rah life with a parent as a writer, boys and girls, and you’ll thank us for our benign(?) neglect someday.
Now I hope you’ll check out all the other participants in the hop. There’s a lot of crazy wisdom to be found in those pages. I say ‘crazy’ because the wisdom is earned through the sheer effort of not going bat-shit crazy and running away.
- Leah Moore: On Being a Creative Parent
- Patrick Samphire: Scenes from an Exhausted Land
- Aliette de Bodard: The Myth of Entire
- Fran Wilde: Parenting(Creating).FailMode
- Joyce Chng: Writing and Mothering: A Burning Path With Nice Morning Glory Flowers
- Jim C. Hines: Balancing Writing and Parenting
- Stephanie Burgis: Parenting, Creating, Being
- Janet Walden-West: Kids, Writing, and the Myth of Sacred Time