QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, September 7, 2009

Writing Under the Influence of Children - Tips for Parents Who Write

When I was six and my sisters were four and two, we loved nothing more than when mom would leave us home with dad. He would kick back on the floor in front of the TV and we would run for the barrettes. He had this giant afro which we would brush into a puff then pull into about fifty pigtails. It kept us busy for hours – and allowed him time to do what he wanted. (Notice that the dad at left is typing on a laptop.) With a dash of planning and a splash of creativity, you can write – with children!

(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:

  1. * 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.
  2. * 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.
  3. * 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.
  4. * 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.
  5. * 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!
  6. * Consider a five minute nap for yourself, or even just a few minutes to relax or do yoga. It’ll refresh you!
  7. * 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!)
  8. * 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.
  9. * 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!
  10. * 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.
  11. * If your kids are old enough, let them prepare the meals. They will love doing it and it will keep them well-occupied.
  12. * 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!
  13. * 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!
  14. * 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.
  15. * 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.
  16. * 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!
  17. * 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: suzettesaxton@querytracker.net)

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."

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.

28 comments:

Marybeth Poppins said...

hahahaha...Sticking a movie in French with English Subtitles...that is PRICELESS!!!!

Calista Taylor said...

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.

I also take my laptop everywhere, since it seems like I'm always waiting around at pick ups/drop offs, classes, etc.

And then the best... when they're finally asleep. : )

Pamela Hammonds said...

I loved this post. A woman who runs a language school for kids told me about the foreign language option on kids' DVDs. I let my son--who needed a break from French homework--watch Mean Girls in French. It was fun for me too.

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.

Angie said...

Great post, Suzette. Hadn't thought of the foreign movies option, but that's a good one! I love to go write outside while the kids play, and I take my notebook along whenever I think I might get the chance to crack it open.

Lady Glamis said...

Suzette, you are a GENIUS. Seriously. I love ALL these suggestions! I'm going to put Finding Nemo in for Darcy right away. With the French. Hehe.

She loves Starfall, as well. Unfortunately, she's not old enough yet for some of your suggestions, but I'm marking this post for future reference. Time really does fly.

Excellent post!!!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post Suzette! I did know about the language abilities of DVDs, mainly because my youngest two are in a Spanish bilingual school (even though we live in Canada where French is the second national language). Nothing better than watching Disney movies in Espanol.

I put on educational DVDs to keep my kids entertained. Though this isn't necessary anymore since all three are at school this year. Even my youngest who started kindegarten. That gives me four hours a day extra to write. :D

quixotic said...

What a great post. I often feel the frustration of trying to juggle my munchkin and my writing! Thank you for sharing this. I am spotlighting this on my blog today. Excellent advice!

mand said...

You're so right about naptime. A friend of mine started her novel-writing career by using her son's daily hour of sleep. (I wished mine had been a sleeper!)

Rabia said...

Awesome post! I fully agree with you that kids need to see their parents pursue passions and interests of their own. I'd hate for my kids to think that all you do as a grownup is boring work!

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.

annarkie said...

I enjoyed the tips, though I would have appreciated them when summer vacation started. Still, very encouraging!
Now I will go back to my "elated that the kids are going back to scjool tomorrow" dance.

Kristi said...

As my youngest is 2 and gave up naps long ago, I don't do any writing during the day at this point. I have about two hours each evening after the kids go down - but when she is a little older, I plan on using some of these tips. I can't even imagine what it will be like to have daytime writing hours! Thanks for these ideas - and it's nice to hear other people dealing with the balance of parenthood and writing.

Danyelle said...

This is awesome! I'm glad I'm not the only one that does that with the DVDs--except I don't put on the subtitles. >:) It's a great idea to show the kids a bit of our world too. :)

Diana said...

I don't even have kids but I loved this post!

The French with English subtitles bit is hilarious. Especially since I've had library patrons come up to me, thrust a DVD and my face, and say, "This isn't one of those FOREIGN films, is it? If I wanted to READ, I'd get a BOOK."

ElanaJ said...

Wow, Suz, this is the best post I've read in a long time! Thanks so much! And you are an excellent writer-mom.

JRS said...

Just had to say that this post was very informative as a father who used to think it was stressful trying to write with kids around, now I find these useful tips to try. Thanks.

Lynnette Labelle said...

My kids love to color, so that often saves me. However, they're only four, so they have a limited attention span. I usually can't write anything while they're awake. Luckily, preschool is starting this week.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Ryan said...

I don't have the pleasure of having any children yet, and one thing that I plan on doing to help get my children into reading is to start out by reading King to them while they're still in the womb. *Heheh*

Don't worry though, my wife says that she's going to read Shakespeare to them while their in the womb too. Just so that I don't mess them up too terribly bad.

But, if you've ever read the comedies and looked below the funny, then you know that Shakespeare is almost as twisted as King is.

My children are going to be really really weird. Lol.

Mary Lindsey said...

Great post, Suzette. Fantastic ideas. It only makes me more grateful that I didn't begin writing until my kids were preteens. Hats off to all you writers with little ones.

Liana Brooks said...

This is fantastic! And just what I needed to hear. Sometimes juggling kids and writing is hard. But these are all great ideas. I've been using subtitles for a long time, so the kids can read along. I'll have to try the foreign language and see how that goes.

Or maybe watch some of my favorites in French. I could stand to learn a new language.

Emily C. said...

Wow. Just Wow. My little girl is a year and a half. I will be using these!

Yamile said...

Thanks for this post. I use many of these suggestions already, and they work! My two older kids, especially, love to read, and my son writes. 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.
Last night my son shared with us three chapters of the book he is writing (he's 8), and both my husband and I were dumbfounded when he was done. It was very good for a kid his age, and I credit his writing skills to his love of reading.
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!

Bethany Wiggins said...

I love this!!! Thank you so much for the wealth of ideas. I am always looking for ways to keep my babes occupied. I can't wait to try the fudge. And yes, nap time is sacred. When I can get my two wee ones to nap at the same time, my fingers are smoking by the time they wake up.

Thanks!!!

Jackee said...

Um, maybe I shouldn't admit this, but when the few of these I use fail, I let my kids have a few dark chocolate M&Ms out my desk candy jar and send them off with a kiss. Blatant bribery and bad for me as well (I mean CHOCOLATE, right in front of my face all the time) but at least I'm not tempted to say go away and they know I love them.

Like I said, I guess I should admit this one!

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Great post, Suzette.

Lately I've been binge writing, which for me means that every second I'm not catering to the needs of my children, I'm at the computer pounding out edits to my novel. It's amazing how much I'm able to get accomplished even with just two- or three-minute snatches here and there. You know, sit the kids down to eat lunch ... grab the laptop. Child is playing in her room ... grab the laptop. Baby is crawling around the house removing all the air-conditioning vent covers from the floor and chewing on them ... grab the laptop. Children are sleeping ... sprint for the laptop!

Of course, I can't keep up binge writing for too many days in a row before my bathtub starts looking green-tinged and so much laundry piles up that I can't walk through my bedroom unless I'm armed with a snow shovel.

But, messy house aside, 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.

ali said...

Great advice Suzette! I'm totally down with the movies with subtitles thing! This will breathe a whole new life into our listless 'older' movies.

Thanks!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

There's a reason why Finnish kids are able to read fluently at a young age (well before kids in North America). Many of their TV shows are in foreign languages with Finnish subtitles. They're forced to read even when watching "mindless" TV.

Suzette Saxton said...

Thank you all for your insightful comments. I have learned so much from you! I appreciate you weighing in... and I'm still chuckling about the dad-to-be reading King to his baby-in-the-womb.

Suzy

Tessa McDermid said...

I love these ideas and will share in my writing class. My own kids are in college now but I did write the entire time they were growing up - and one of my proudest moments was when my son wrote 'writer' down for his mom's occupation. He knew what I did!

We had the old typewriter (from their grandma) for them to use and I was always stapling early copies of my writing together to make them booklets. Another tip that worked well for me - I hired a preteen son of friends to babysit at the house. He would play games with them, get them drinks, keep them busy for an hour or two three afternoons a week. He was learning babysitting skills and I was able to work uninterrupted for a regular time. Worked out great for all of us and he's now a very hands-on dad with his own three kids!