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 I’m 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 I’m lucky, my writing goal for the day is already done, but chances are that I’ll 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 I’m asked by friends who are also writers is, “how do you do it?”
First, I have a confession to make. I don’t 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 don’t 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. I’m 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 I’m feeling a little perkier, I set a two-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 won’t want to work on it the next, so I don’t 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 publisher’s 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 cliché, 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. “But,” I hear you all collectively say, “I can’t write for ten minutes, walk away, and then go back to writing for fifteen more minutes.” 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. Don’t wait until you’re at home alone on the perfect evening to write. Instead, acknowledge that a disjointed creative process doesn’t feel awesome, but neither does brutal revision or tedious proofreading. Commit yourself to learning to work within the boundaries of real life and you’ll 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 you’re 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 you’re earning royalties that will last for your kids after you’re gone. You’re sending them the message that you don’t just talk about your dreams of writing the next great American novel or making a living by your creativity; you’re modelling following your bliss. You’re doing this for them.