(Stay tuned – at the end of this article I’ll share a couple of my own guilty little secrets!)
It can be hard to juggle writing and parenthood - harder than most people think! We've all heard that in order to succeed as writers, we need to put full-time hours into our chosen career, but how can we achieve this when children are underfoot?
First, keep this in mind. Rather than daily life revolving around the children, the children should be involved in the life of the adult. Yes, you heard me correctly. It is important for your kids to see you develop your talents. They will take a leaf out of your book (speaking figuratively here - not literally!) You can involve and inspire them while maintaining focus on your project.
Here are a few tried-and-true tips:
- * Workbooks are fun! As I sit writing this, my youngest is learning how to write the alphabet. Homeschool stores are great resources. Our favorite workbooks can be found at Love to Learn.
- * Encourage your kids to write stories, whether by dictation, by hand, or on a computer. Someday their stories will be heirlooms! Illustrations are important, too. Last month, my daughters, frustrated with their abilities to sketch by hand, spent a whole day clipping photos from magazines, then gluing them into stories they'd written. The final step to hook them on writing is to invite your kids to share their stories with the family.
- * A second computer (even an old one!) can be really, really handy. Your child can feel all grown up like mommy or daddy – while learning! Our favorite free websites are StarFall and SheppardSoftware.
- * Consider an indoor racetrack. Kids love to run – especially in circles. I’ve arranged my family room’s furniture in the center of the room, creating a track all around. And yes, if they keep it up long enough, there may be a groove worn in the wood, but hey, it’s worth it! Plus it gets them ready to nap.
- * If you are lucky enough to have kids who nap, hear this. Memorize it. Tattoo it on your skin if you must. NAPTIME IS SACRED!!! Use it only for writing!
- * Consider a five minute nap for yourself, or even just a few minutes to relax or do yoga. It’ll refresh you!
- * If you buy yourself a goodie, like a new notebook and a set of gel pens, consider buying the same for your kidlet. They will get a kick out of writing by your side. (And then they won’t write in your notebook!)
- * If you’re not the type to pen your stories the old-fashioned way, consider investing in a laptop. Some, called mini-notebooks, weigh less than three pounds and measure a mere six by ten inches. They are easy to take almost anywhere.
- * Write outdoors as much as possible. (This is when the laptop comes in handy!) Not only will your kids stay out of your hair for hours, the fresh air will jump-start your creativity. As an added benefit, writing somewhere away from home, like soccer practice, for example, frees you up from other distractions – like the sink full of dirty dishes or your gabby next-door neighbor!
- * Keep a snack cupboard in the kitchen, down low if your kids are small. Stock it with juice boxes, dried fruit, granola bars… and let the kids know they can help themselves. It’ll keep them in better moods and feeling independent - - and it’ll keep you from jumping up to fill their bellies.
- * If your kids are old enough, let them prepare the meals. They will love doing it and it will keep them well-occupied.
- * A couple of my favorite recipes are great at keeping kids busy. One is Fudge-in-a-Bag, where all the ingredients are smooshed inside a ziploc baggie by little fingers. Another is Play Dough. This website has over twenty recipes. Little effort, hours of fun!
- * If you are experiencing writer’s block, ask your child’s opinion of where your story should go next. (Keeping it age appropriate, of course.) Their little minds have few pre-conceived notions, and they may help you out of a jam. Also try doing some of the following yourself: coloring, singing, sculpting, or dancing - you'll be surprised at the many creative windows and doors this will open in your mind!
- * Don’t forget to get away from home now and then. One of our favorite summertime activities is going to Salem Pond where the kids canoe, fish, and swim while I sit in the shade of a hundred-year-old tree working on my latest story. In winter, restaurants with indoor playgrounds are nice.
- * Consider taking weekends off from writing. One mom I know takes the whole summer off from writing, choosing to write only when her children are in school.
- * Read, read, read! Let your kids see you reading, and be willing to take a few minutes to read to them. You’ll be surprised at how long it tides them over – and at how it encourages them in imaginative playing!
- * If all else fails, try a different mindset. Instead of seeing interruptions as annoyances, see them as a) a nice breather from your work or a chance to get a fresh perspective, and b) the opportunity to appreciate your kid’s cute factor. They stay little for such a short time - so enjoy it!
While it’s important not to let your kids rule your life, be sure let them know they are loved. In the long run this will instill confidence and independence and make them less needy. Laps are made for kids to sit in - always be available for cuddles!
And now for my secrets:
My kids love books. So much, in fact, that they’re willing to do just about anything to get them. When they complete a job above and beyond their regular chores, they get to put a tally mark on a chart. One tally equals one book from the library. (Am I sneaky or what?!?)
Another secret - I let my kids watch movies. AND they’re all educational, which absolves me of any guilt. Think I’m kidding? Let me put it this way – have you ever seen Finding Nemo in French with English subtitles? Almost every DVD has the option (usually hidden in the setup menu) of several languages for both audio and subtitles. Voila, your kid is learning a foreign language. And as long as they are sitting, why not have them sort socks or fold kitchen towels?
Last but not least, laugh often. Especially when you feel like tearing your hair out. You’ll feel better – I promise.
Do you have tips for writing with kids? Share them in the comments and I may include them in this post with a link to your blog.
Calista Taylor: "I think the most valuable thing I've learned to do as a writer with 2 young children (6 & 4) is deal with interruptions, which are constant. It no longer breaks my flow or concentration, though I do admit, I end up with a fair amount of echoes, since I don't remember the exact words used a few paragraphs up."
Pamela Hammonds: "One other tip I use is to put down the laptop and notebook while out with my kids and take mental notes instead. I study other people, listen to their speech patterns, observe sounds and smells around me. I'm bad about tuning out the world and this helps me to engage my senses more. Plus it helps my kids to see me NOT writing all the time."
Rabia (whose Blogger profile is unavailable) wrote: "I have three littles (under five) and they go to bed by 8:30, which leaves me the whole evening free. Occasionally, my husband will take them for an hour or so on a Saturday morning and I'll lock myself in room with my laptop and my notes. I also have activities for the older two that'll keep them busy for up to 30 minutes: give them a stack of magazines to cut up and make collages with; sit them down with a Tupperware of noodles, cups, pouring containers, and spoons; home made play dough; drawing pads and a chance to use my special markers and colored pencils. And even the kids who don't nap have a mandatory one-hour Quiet Time in the afternoon. The older ones have a chance to color, play quietly, lay in bed, listen to books on CD or pursue another quiet solitary activity of their own choosing. They've come up with some fabulous Lego/K'nex/Tinkertoy creations in that time." (Rabia, email me if you want me to link to your blog: email@example.com)
Yamile: "We gave the kids old, old laptops that my husband was given at work, and they absolutely adore them! One of the teachers at their school referred us to spellingcity.com and there they get all their spelling practice done. I love that site. We also have an old typewriter that I got from ebay, and that we all love. If your kids see you reading, they will read too. Even my little ones "read" their stories to each other. Writing with kids at home is hard, but it's doable!"
A.L. Sonnichsen: "It's amazing how much I'm able to get accomplished even with just two- or three-minute snatches here and there." "...it's nice to really push through and get something done, instead of waiting for that illusive three-hour writing session that never seems to materialize."