On Being a Writer When You Have Young Children

Way long ago, when I was a young person fresh out of college, I started thinking about perhaps writing a book. That quickly turned into ‘perhaps writing a book someday.‘ For I had a full-time job and a blooming freelance career, plus an active social life and was newly wed to boot. Where on earth would I find the time to write an entire novel?

Fast-forward a couple years. “When are you going to start writing that book?” people would ask me. “Oh, someday,” I’d reply. “Maybe when I have kids and I’m on maternity leave. I’ll have lots of free time then. A whole year of no work!” My dad bought me a software program and said there was no time like the present. I fiddled around with it, plugged in a few ideas, but never got past a few quick character sketches and a two-paragraph outline.

Fast-forward a couple more years. I’m holding my newborn daughter in my arms. Time to start writing that book, right? After all, I’m collecting government benefits for the next twelve months. I don’t have to work!

Who reading this is laughing right now? A baby’s a hell of a lot more work than a 9-5 job. Somewhere along the way, I had a second kid to double the fun. He was even more of a handful than the first. New plan: I would start writing that book when my kids were in school. Finally, all that time during the day would be mine to do with as I please.

Fast-forward to today. Kid 1 is currently in school, and Kid 2 starts in September. I’m back at work part-time in the meantime and have less free time than I have ever had in my life. And yet in the last year and a half, I’ve written two books and am almost finished the first draft of my third. Here’s how.

  1. Sacrifice. What are you willing to give up to find time to write, when your days are busy with work and/or the needs of the offspring? I gave up virtually all television, as well as other hobbies I enjoyed, like knitting and sewing, that would usually fill the time after the kids went to bed. For some people, that time is best found in the morning. I’m not coherent before 10am, so that’s a non-starter for me. I’m at my best after 9pm and so now that’s when I write. Sometimes I stay up too late so I can finish a scene, and Kid 2 winds up watching TV in the morning because I can’t peel my eyes open. He doesn’t seem to mind, as long as he doesn’t miss play gym.
  2. Stealing time. The kids are playing in the yard for half an hour or watching a movie on a rainy afternoon? That could mean a few hundred words. To hell with less important things like “making dinner” or “vacuuming.”
  3. Free childcare. About once a week, we go to Ikea after I pick up my daughter from kindergarten, have $2 lunches and then I drop the kids off at their supervised play area for an hour, go back up to the restaurant to get myself a plate of fries and gravy and use that time to write. There’s also an indoor play structure at one of the markets in my city, next to a food court, and we often go there when it’s not nice outside. The kids play, we all get a smoothie, and I sit, quasi-supervise them, and write. And as often as possible I’ll trade childcare days with friends. I take their kids for the day one week, and they take mine the next. That means five or six hours – after a nice lunch with my husband, some of it always gets eaten up by non-child-friendly errands, but I make sure there’s writing time too. All this can eke out three or four hours a week. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up.
  4. Dating my laptop. I have one night a week where I take my laptop out for coffee and my husband puts the kids to bed. My favourte cafe is also one of the ones that’s open late, and I park myself at a table and stay until they dim the lights and start mopping the floors. On a good night, I can knock off 3,000 words or more. I actually get more done those nights than when I write at home.
  5. Vacations. The last time I took the kids out to visit my parents, I wrote more in one week than I had the last two months combined. Maybe this one should go under free childcare.
  6. I saved the most important one for last. A supportive partner. None of those things listed above would be possible without my very understanding husband who has entirely taken over some household things so I have a bit more time in the evenings.

I think the point is if you’re really committed, obstacles that previously seemed insurmountable, like having kids/a job/two jobs/two jobs and kids, can be overcome. I might only have the chance to write a few hundred words a day, some days. A lot of days, I write nothing at all, and that’s okay. But having kids shouldn’t be an excuse not to write.

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~ by Nicole Bross on June 1, 2013.

5 Responses to “On Being a Writer When You Have Young Children”

  1. I love this. Thank you! I often get overwhelmed by hearing about other people’s processes, and feel like I’m not “doing it right,” but your honesty and authenticity are very affirming. Reading about Shannon Hale’s writing time has made me feel better, too–she’s a Newbery Award-winner, and with a house full of little kids, she gets to write for about two hours a day. So we can definitely do this!

  2. Collecting government benefits for 12 months? Where do you live? I want to live there, LOL! My only son is now out for the summer, and thanks to an incredibly expensive summer camp program through the local university, I have this week to write. I’m a little overwhelmed. I wrote everyday until this spring, and I have fallen off of the horse. Time to climb back on!

    • lol, Canada. Parents are entitled to 52 weeks of paid benefits for maternity/parental leave for each child, to be split between the two any way they like. It’s pretty much awesome. My two are going to summer camp in August, at which point I hope to get a lot done that week too. Good luck writing this week!

      • That is awesome! In the U.S., we get 12 weeks unpaid leave, but many times the companies use loopholes to avoid giving us that. I’m rocking the edits this week. I just hope I can hold on to some of this momentum when camp ends!

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