Writing With Two Kids Under Two
by Chauran Alexandra
I often hear a chirping giggle from the other room mid-morning. It
is my son waking up from his nap, startling me from my reverie at
the keyboard where Iím currently writing non-fiction. On my lap my
daughter cuddles with her blanket, so I set her down gently on the
floor before we go to retrieve her brother. If Iím lucky, my
writing goal for the day is already done, but chances are that Iíll
finish it after library story time but before lunch, leaving the
entire afternoon free for other things, like playing with the kids
and working on my doctoral degree. Evenings are reserved for my
spouse and weekends are sacrosanct family time.
I signed my first two book contracts with my publisher while I was
pregnant with my daughter. I wrote a book while she was a newborn
and a book while my son was a newborn. Now that he is seven months
old, I have my seventh book acquired by a publisher to match, and my
daughter just turned two. The most common question Iím asked by
friends who are also writers is, ďhow do you do it?Ē
First, I have a confession to make. I donít have a regular nine to
five job, and most of the people beating themselves up about
productivity have just that. To those, I suggest recognizing that
writing is a hobby, to find the refreshing joy in it without the
pressure, or to stop when it stops being fun. What I do have is a
full time job as a wife, mother, small-business owner, doctoral
student and I also happen to have a part-time gig as a prolific
published author with high aspirations. Here are my top three
questions about how I do it all, along with their answers.
How do you keep so steadily productive no matter what twists and
turns your life seems to take?
I set myself a word-count goal and get started on it as early in the
day as possible. I learned the trick of counting words from
participating in the National Novel Writing Month, in which anyone
can attempt to write a fifty-thousand word novella in thirty days.
The benefits of writing fast are manifold. Not only do you start
honing your real craft, that of revision and editing after the fact,
but you donít get hung-up on your masterpiece that took you years to
write as soon as your publisher tells you to turn it upside down and
inside out. You might just get the added bonus of actually finishing
what you start, which is a life challenge that has typically been
hard for me.
My kids and I get up at eight in the morning. Iím at keyboard at
nine on weekdays, plugging away until I reach my writing goal. A
relaxed writing goal for me with two young kids is a thousand words
a day per writing project. If Iím feeling a little perkier, I set a
thousand word goal for every weekday per writing project. I
work on at least one project at a time, but sometimes hit my word
count for two or even three. If I burn myself out writing too
much on one project one day, chances are that I wonít want to work
on it the next, so I donít overdo it.
For my productivity, these goals mean that I like to write a book
every two months. Sometimes I stretch that out to three months,
sometimes I pack a book into a month. I have filled out my
publisherís schedule for the next two years, so that leaves me
plenty of time to experiment with new genres to forge relationships
with new publishers in the future.
How do you keep a work-life balance?
Set working hours and working space, especially if you work at
home. That advice seems trite and clichť, but I can promise you
from experience that it is real. I used to do half-assed work all
the time, and now I only write concertedly for a couple hours a
day. Guess which version of me is getting more published? I
usually write at my laptop on a countertop or in a media center room
in my home. In the main family living room and the bedroom, such
electronic pursuits are off-limits and face to face interactions
rule. I work weekdays from eight to six, leaving evenings and
weekends for family and even a social life.
During those working hours, cultivate an ability to get back to work
after having been disturbed. ďBut,Ē I hear you all collectively
say, ďI canít write for ten minutes, walk away, and then go back to
writing for fifteen more minutes.Ē I have a pretty big attention
deficit myself, and so I know how uncomfortable it can be to be to
switch gears. I know that it is even more nasty and defeating to
try to get back in the saddle and work after going to change a
diaper or answer a ringing phone, only to have to jump out of your
seat again five minutes later. Donít wait until youíre at home
alone on the perfect evening to write. Instead, acknowledge that a
disjointed creative process doesnít feel awesome, but neither does
brutal revision or tedious proofreading. Commit yourself to
learning to work within the boundaries of real life and youíll find
it gets easier.
How can anyone be a productive author and a good mom when kids need
so much attention?
This question is hard to answer because there are so many good ways
to parent, and if youíre writing while your kids are around they are
already blessed to have you. Keep your perspective and set a
routine for your kids to know when to play independently and when
they can expect your full attention. Most importantly, remember
that youíre earning royalties that will last for your kids after
youíre gone. Youíre sending them the message that you donít just
talk about your dreams of writing the next great American novel or
making a living by your creativity; youíre modelling following your
bliss. Youíre doing this for them.
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