You are a writer, striving to be a published author of fiction. You also are a parent. How do you do both well? Can you juggle a serious commitment to a writing career while also being a great mom or dad? You can do it all by following six relatively simple steps.
Picture this. You sit at your laptop, a mug of steaming coffee on the desk next to your elbow. You got up an hour before anyone else in your house so you could have dedicated time to work on your novel.
That hour, that is your time. That is the time you live for. Hitting the power button, you wait for the computer to boot up, knowing exactly what you plan to write. One sip of coffee rolls around on your tongue, and you are ready to create the greatest novel of all time.
Your hands poised, you start typing when an ear-splitting screech fills the air, and you almost knock over the coffee. Without thinking about what you are doing, you jump up. You race for your daughter’s room, oblivious to anything other than checking on her.
Your teen daughter is standing in front of her mirror, fine even though she just screamed. You visually scan her from head to toe, looking for blood or bruises. Nothing seems amiss. “What’s wrong?”
Her voice is shrill. “Mom! I have a zit. I can’t go to school today.” She gestures to a tiny red mark on her nose. “Look at me. I’m hideous!” And just like that, your writing morning is shattered, momentum and focus gone.
Or Daddy stands at his new adjustable desk, a holiday gift from family members to support his writing process. He opens the laptop and writes. One sentence in, the youngest child shouts that the dog has just barfed on the living room floor. Sigh. As the parent, you head to clean up the mess, armed with a roll of paper towels and cleaning spray.
Let’s face it, no one can go back to writing fiction well after cleaning up a steaming pile of dog vomit. Or after calming a crying child, or changing a diaper.
Does that mean that parenting and writing don’t mix? Do you need to have a dedicated office space away from home to get pages written? No, you don’t. There are many ways to mix parenthood and writing, even if your writing takes place in your own home. Here are six foolproof steps to successfully balancing your writing and being a parent.
Step One: Equipment, Usually Technology
Invest in good equipment for your writing. Do you like to type your stories directly, or handwrite then type them? If handwriting is your thing, get paper and writing implements that make you happy. Don’t skimp on cheap pens if they irritate you. If you spend time thinking about how much you dislike the notebook and mechanical pencil, you are losing writing time. Find what works for your own physical and sensory comfort and write away.
If typing is your physical method of choice for writing, a laptop or other piece of technology is a necessity. As a parent, don’t blow your entire budget on the technology that is the top of the line. You want a device that meets your needs, but also is affordable enough that when your child dumps a bowl of Cheerios and milk on the keyboard and damages your machine, you don’t lose your cool with your child in your frustration.
Technology devices can be very helpful for writing. Using online tools helps in both the flexibility of writing and retention of your projects. For example, programs such as Google Docs allow you to write anywhere you have the internet, and you can even use their offline versions. Most of those programs also have automatic saving as well as the ability to go back to earlier versions. They offer the flexibility of jumping from device to device as time allows. For example, sitting waiting for football practice to end? If you use such an online program, you can whip out your phone and continue to work on your project as you sit in the parking lot. The automatic save process is imperative as well. There is nothing worse than typing into a word processing program that doesn’t automatically save, being interrupted with a family crisis, then going back and the new writing is gone. Many tears have been shed, and expletives shouted, over such lost work.
Step 2: Be Serious
If you want to be a writer, you need to make it a priority in your life, and in that of your family. Any child is old enough to learn that Mommy or Daddy wants to write stories or books. Any child is old enough to be part of that process. Connecting your significant other or children to your writing is paramount to you being able to continue. See how they can be involved. Editing, pacing, ideas? Members of your family can help with all of them. Setting specific times to write, and encouraging your family to participate and support you will help it be a cherished part of the process, not make them hate it. For example, if your children do homework after dinner, join them to write during that time. Model for your children how serious you are about writing! Your spouse or partner? They can do research or read while you write. Setting time and importance reduces hostility and increases productivity.
Step 3: Don’t Be Too Serious and Learn to be Realistic in Planning
You’ve decided on the equipment. You’ve made it clear to the important people in your life that writing is crucial to your happiness, and you’ve set a schedule for your writing. Now you also need to accept that you will always need to be flexible if you are trying to balance parenting and writing.
You can have a great outline and plan for how much to write on a given day, and a sick child or a very important half-hour of playing Lego may derail you. It may mean that you don’t write at all that day, or at least mean that you didn’t reach your goal within your set time period. And that is okay, it is to be expected, and the world will not end because of it. Rigidity won’t work in this balancing act.
Setting realistic goals helps, as does not being rigidly bound to deadlines unless those deadlines are tied to paid writing assignments. If you are taking paid assignments as a parent, make sure you are setting reasonable timelines that allow for some wiggle room.
Step 4: Celebrate the Milestones
Equipment, prioritizing, flexibility all are imperative. Then comes the need to celebrate accomplishments with your family. For example, set a goal with your kids that when you finish the first full draft of your novel, you are taking them out for a special meal or activity. When the draft is done, follow through on the promise, thanking them for supporting you on your road. Take family photos of that event, and recognize writing is a family affair, and every one is appreciated for their effort. Those simple celebrations mean the world to those who love us.
Step 5: Recognize the Love and Support
Drafts have been edited. The book has been formatted, now it is time for the final touches. A simple dedication to our children or loved ones, thanking them for their belief in us as writers mean the world to even the most jaded person. Tough-guy teen boys glow like holiday ornaments when they see their names in a dedication. Spouses forget all about the burned dinners and holes in conversations due to a distracted writer when thanked in the acknowledgments.
Step 6: Keep Going
Very few writers write one piece and never write again. Especially if a piece gets shared online or published in some way, writers get hooked on the joy that comes with that accomplishment. Now that you have accomplished completing your writing project, pick a new one and start the process all over again. As a published author myself, with grown children, I find that as soon as I finish one project and celebrate with them and recognize their support, they want to know what the next project is, and how we are going to celebrate this time. Some of my favorite family photos are the ones we have taken at our celebrations, and it has led to my children being prouder of my writing accomplishments than even I am.
Parenting is a very difficult job, but also is also one of the most rewarding ones. Being a writer is time-consuming, emotional, exhausting and frustrating, but again, the rewards are amazing.
Balancing our role as parents and our love of writing is just that, a balancing act. Juggling the two can be tiring and overwhelming at times, but with the correct planning and attitude, it can be done well and can enhance your sense of connection as a family.