Category: Routines

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.

Rise and Shine…

I posted that to my facebook today, but I’ll put it here too, because it expresses the mementuousness of what happened.

This morning I woke up, bleary-eyed as usual, at the ungodly hour of 7:45a.m. If you know me, you know I’m not a morning person, and since I don’t drink coffee in the a.m. I just act grumpy until about 10 or so. Having fed the offspring and agreed to let them watch TV so I could go back to bed in peace, I found myself unable to fall asleep again. What to do, what to do? It only took fifteen minutes to check email and facebook and nothing interesting was going on there. The idea of trying to write crossed my mind, but I told myself that since my brain felt like cotton, it would be a pointless exercise.

Fuck that noise, I told myself a few minutes later. I had in front of me an hour of uninterrupted time – a daytime rarity on par with being able to grocery shop alone – and I haven’t written anything in about a week. So let’s see what happens. Even 200 words is further than I was yesterday, right? Right.

Turns out my brain is quick to adjust in the morning, more so than I give it credit for (I think – I haven’t re-read anything I did this morning yet). But I’m 1,600 words closer to the end. It’s also probably the last chance I’ll get to do such a thing – my oldest didn’t have school today and I didn’t work, so we didn’t have to get up for anything. The lesson here: whenever I tell myself I can’t write for X reason, I should just sit the hell down and do it anyway.

The whole excessive-word-count thing is still getting me down, which is why I haven’t touched my work in about a week. I can easily see another 30-50,000 words to go in this thing, and today I hit 90,000. I guess I’ll just see where I end up, but it’s a bit depressing to know that I’ve put so much work into it that might end up never getting seen by anyone. I’ve definitely identified a few scenes that could stand to be cut, but certainly not 20,000 words worth. Maybe I can make it up by chopping all my really‘s and very‘s. That’s gotta be a thousand words right there.

The Final Tally

I went away for one week. Seven days of rest, relaxation, amazing weather, a view to inspire and extra help with the kids. And as I’ve rejoiced in a previous post, I spent it writing my damn face off. Every day, from 3ish to 5:30ish I sat on a chaise longue (and I have to stop here for a moment and point out that it’s NOT pronounced shayz lownje, it’s shayz long. It’s French for long chair, not lounge chair. End rant) and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. 2,000 word minimum, sometimes over 3,000. And then sometimes I’d do a little bit more before bed too. All told, I banged out around 17,500 words, an average of 2,500 a day. Four whole chapters.

This makes me realize how much of an effect my environment has on my productivity. Yes, it definitely helps that I don’t have to spend the time in the afternoon that the kids are napping with cleaning or cooking or working at my day job, but there was so much around me to stimulate my mind and keep me motivated to write – I looked forward to sitting outside in the sun every day. I certainly don’t spend my days at home eagerly awaiting the time when I can go sit in my cold, dark basement.

Anyway, I’m beyond pleased with how much I accomplished, although I did notice that when I write quickly like that (quickly for me, anyway) I tend to leave out some details or neglect to describe things in sufficient detail in my haste to get all the words out. Nothing a night-time review session with a glass of wine can’t fix, right? Right.

So, the tally:

You may notice the slight increase in the word count goal. There’s no way in hell this story is wrapping up in 13,000 words. I’m even skeptical 43,000 will be enough… 150,000 may end up being my final count. I haven’t been attached to a particular number from the start – it’ll end when it ends, and I imagine after editing that will come down significantly anyway, since I recall reading somewhere that the goal of editing a first draft is to reduce the manuscript by 10%. Crazy to imagine finding so much to cut, but I’m sure it’s there.

After a seven-hour drive today my brain is little more than mush, so there won’t be any writing tonight, but I’m curious to find out as the week begins if I can stick to even a part of my lakeside routine. Writing outside maybe? Saying to hell with the housework (and supper prep) and writing in the afternoon? Or should I be grateful for the break and everything I managed to do, and slip back into my home routine, with fond memories of the time when I felt like I could write forever?

Cuddle Up

How great is writing in bed? I’ve been away from home all week and the only way I can get into my closed-door writing routine is to do it in my bedroom. I lay under all the heavy covers, all snuggled up, with a stack of pillows behind me, and peck away. This is heaven. It’s warm, it’s cozy, it’s quiet – everything I need to get my mind into a good groove for writing.

This is Mark Twain, another bed-writer.

I’m not all that creative when it comes to location, unlike a friend of mine who will carry her hammock down to the river, set it up and write in it there. At home it’s the couch for me. But I like this bed thing. Especially since, as a night writer, when I’m done I can just close my laptop, set it on the night table, switch off the light and go right to sleep. See? Bliss.


Where a writer gets his or her ideas is apparently a hot topic. Obviously, fiction writers need to have a good imagination and creativity to spare, but the source of the inspiration is pretty varied. Dreams, true events, childhood experiences, even a mystical muse, can all get a writer working on a project.

My ideas mostly come from music. My entire concept for these books came to me because two songs played back-to-back on my iPod one day driving my daughter to school. It was as simple and straight-forward as that. In the first chapter I talk about how sometimes Callie gets an idea for a song all at once, like a high-speed download into her brain. Well, that’s basically what happened to me. The first song gave me the idea for Callie herself, and the second created the scenario for the plot and built more on her as a person and introduced the second main character (who I JUST got to write about for the first time – FINALLY! – the other day and I’m so pleased to start getting into his head at long last). In about eight minutes, I had a whole new world in my head and all these people started talking to me.

The rest is minor details, and like I’ve mentioned before, some stuff I’ve written doesn’t occur to me until I start working through a scene. Other parts have come after copious amounts of research. But the basic story arc all came about because of the whim of the shuffle algorithm.

With that I started looking to some other songs I like to fill in holes or describe relationships or certain scenes, with interesting results. Usually it’s a matter of just listening and waiting for the right song to come up. Sometimes it’s as little as one line of lyrics, others it’s the entire song from beginning to end. And there are definitely specific songs that I think about when I’m describing some of Callie’s work – a detriment to me because eventually I’m going to have to come up with some original lyrics for her, and that’s hard to do when you’re already fixated on something someone else wrote as your inspiration. Nothing beats the car for letting new ideas come to me, although now that it’s getting warmer out, I’m hoping walking can replace a lot of that.

When I’m writing a scene that has a song that inspired it, I usually put it on repeat – like I described in my last post – to keep my head in that emotion I’m trying to convey (I’m often prone to distraction, sadly). The second song of the original duo I’ve listened to over 250 times since I started writing, according to iTunes, and I have a nice little playlist built up with a bunch of songs that have triggered something for me.

Everything else comes from idle daydreams, but without those two songs coming up one day in February, I wouldn’t be on this adventure today. It may not be a typical path for a writer to take, but I’m going to run with it and see where it takes me.


I put this song on repeat in iTunes tonight and worked my way through the part I’ve been dreading to write all week. Yes, it was hard. Yes, there were tears. But it wasn’t as hard and there weren’t as many tears as I expected.

Tomorrow I move on and while I can’t really say the story’s going to get any happier, this is as bad as it gets for the next little while.

Overcoming apathy

I went away on vacation for a week and despite my best intentions and dreams of sitting on the beach and by the pool all day, writing endless reams of inspired prose, I never typed a single word. Never opened my document, as a matter of fact. Not even on those six-hour flights on planes without seatback televisions.

It’s easy to fall out of a habit. My routine is to write in the evenings, usually from 11pm until midnight or thereinabouts. Taking a bit of advice from Stephen King’s On Writing, I go down to the basement, close the door of the family room, get comfy (but not too comfy) and go to work without distractions. And I find I really rely on my closed-door routine. In a smallish Hawaiian condo basically confined to a single room after 9pm (so the kids can sleep undisturbed) I couldn’t make my closed-door process work. And I don’t seem to have the right frame of mind to write during the daytime. So when we came back home, I felt apathetic about writing again, compounded by the fact that I didn’t really like how the scene I was in the middle of was going. Even after a three-hour Higher Ground cafe writing marathon with my partner in novelling, I still wasn’t accomplishing much. Last night I struggled through 250 measly words, and that in an hour and a half.

Tonight I broke through. I like how things are shaping up again, I found myself composing a scene I hadn’t even imagined until I started writing (which are usually my favourite ones) and I’m feeling good about where I’ll pick up tomorrow.

One of my supporting characters, Dex, is reminding me more and more of my brother Dan every scene I put him in. Tonight I laughed out loud at something he said, and I didn’t even know he was going to say it until the dialogue started flowing.

I also hit page 30 in my document, which is kind of a milestone. At 12-pt, single spaced, that’s around 18,000 words, and I added another 1,300 or so tonight. For me that’s a good night. I’m a slow, methodical, everything-right-the-first-time kind of writer. I need to think it all through first. A lot of people say the only way to write is to just spew it all out and revise later, but that’s not me – and explaining that is a post for another day. Tonight I’m happy with my progress and looking forward to what the future brings – even if I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next 20 pages!