Yes, you've read it all before, about how to write with kids at home. But moms are tough nuts. We like to dispense advice—not take it, right? I learned a lot about my writing, my family, and myself through my own experiences as a writing mother. I hope some of it resonates with you.
1. PERSONAL PASSIONS
You could recite this by heart, but how many of you believe it in your gut? It's okay to take time out of family life for yourself. Try to write at least a little bit every day, and do it without guilt.
Believe it! I don't care what you have to do to make yourself believe—close your eyes, cross your toes, and hop like a bunny three times, but incorporate this belief deep inside you and never let it go.
If you can't manage an hour a day, block off special time sometime every week—plan your week ahead, if you can—and let everyone know this is "Mom's writing time." It might have to change week to week. So what? Just make sure the time adds up. Make "Do Not Disturb the Genius" signs, do whatever you have to do, but make sure the whole family is aware that writing is important to you.
Often this is easier said than done. One way to get your personal agenda on the collective family conscience—without anyone getting defensive, outright prickly, or confused—is to go around in a circle and ask every family member what their personal passion is. Talk about what personal passions are: the creative thing you do that makes you super happy. Write down everyone's answers. Put them on a poster, collage each one, write a song about them! Or do like me when you're overloaded on Creative Mom Ideas, and just freak out, do none of those things, and go eat chocolate ice cream.
But honestly, if you can manage this "tawk" with your family, everyone understands better where you're coming from. They'll be more cooperative about your writing, but remember—this also means you need to keep "personal passions" in the daily conversation. Ask your kids about theirs, too. Help them achieve them.
Now your writing journey has become a part of the overall family journey. And it will mean more to you when you achieve your writing goals if both you and your kids learned something about yourselves, time management, and perseverance along the way.
I think this is the most important thing I've learned in my writing life. I thought I'd throw it in as the number two thing to kind of catch you unawares, but really—if you get one helpful hint out of my little essay, I hope it's about balance.
To be perfectly blunt: You'll never get back those special family moments, so don't shortchange yourself and your kids by leading an imbalanced life. Remind yourself that everything has a season…getting too frantic for success often means your writing will suffer, and so will you and your family.
You have to understand LIFE to be able to get good stuff on the page, and the only way to understand it is to immerse yourself in it. I'm SO glad I tried to maintain balance between my writing and my time with the kids. Now I have a child going off to college, and I can look back and truly say that I didn't shortchange that guy. Neither did I shortchange myself. Sometimes it was tough to shut the laptop, but now I'm so glad I did! I have a whole bunch of memories of my kids that I'll keep forever, and I can still have my writing career!
In a nutshell: Be patient. Enjoy the journey.
For everyone, but particularly you moms who feel extra guilty about taking any time away from the family, try this trick: include your kids in your daily writing life. It's a lot of fun. Tell them the gist of your story, even the little ones, i.e. "this really tired waitress meets a policeman who seems cranky at first, but then she finds out he's actually nice, and they fall in love." Ask the children for help with describing your characters, settings, even plot points, etc. They'll be thrilled, and you'll feel like your personal passion is integrated into the family dynamic even more. Not only that, you won't believe how your kids' ideas will save you sometimes! Remember, they think in very fresh ways. We forget how wise and imaginative they are. I truly have been helped a lot by my kids with my stories. And I'm talking from the time they were small to being great big teenagers.
4. WRITING SPACE
You've all heard you need to set yourself up a writer's space at home, a place that defines you as a writer, an aspiring author, or already published author (take your pick of labels). Here's my feeling on that, especially for you mothers of small children who fight the daily battle against being overrun by toys in the den: aside from basic space for organizing files, you can do whatever you want about "defining" your space—
Including NOT defining it!
Nowadays you can pick up your computer and take it almost anywhere. Of course, for those of you who write on yellow legal pads, you've always had the option to roam around.
Let's face it: for some of us moms, there's never a particularly good place to write at home. Our houses might not be able to accommodate an office. When you have kids, toys, dogs, and maybe relatives staying over, defining a space just for YOU can be difficult.
Some of us are lucky and DO have great spaces to write in at home. That's awesome. But it doesn't mean you're going to be a better, more productive writer. (I just want to reassure the writers out there who don't have a space and are wrecked about that). Yes, we all admire Virginia Woolfe and what she said about every woman needing a room of her own, but real life DOES intrude for many of us. Having your own room or space is sometimes simply not possible.
I've worked in good and bad spaces, and neither one affected my production or its quality.
Besides, whether you have a physical writing space or not, some people like to shake things up and move around anyway! They carry their writing space around in their heads and take themselves from place to place.
I have one writing friend who usually makes Starbucks her office. When she's there, she writes, but she also writes everywhere else. Starbucks just happens to be her favorite "office." As for me, I change places according to the seasons. My office (a converted back porch) is too cold in the winter, so I stay inside on the den couch once the temperature drops. And then when I'm bored or need some people interaction, I pick up my laptop and go to Atlanta Bread or Barnes and Noble to write. I've written in the car (hate it but still manage), at the pool, at baseball practice, and in the doctor's office.
Carry your office with you! As long as you have the right attitude and a laptop or legal pad, you're set.
Now here's a little mommy lecture about your writing place: don't feel sorry for yourself if you don't have the "perfect" space. Sometimes when you have kids in the house, it's rough to carve out writing territory. And focusing on that kind of "lack" in your life is an easy way to convince yourself to stop writing. Plow through that inconvenience by writing anyway—be the writer who can write while walking barefoot through a foot of snow! :>)
We all tend to get wrapped around the axle about the environment we think we "require," thanks to all the essays we've been bombarded with on the subject—and forget that plenty of people have written in much worse scenarios than we've ever been in. And they did it because they had something to say.
Focus on what you have to say. Not on the place you're going to be when you say it. The more you do that, the less important the right room is, the right computer, the right pen, the right paper, or even the "right age" for your child to get to before you can commit to writing. <G> Those are rationalizations for delaying the actual writing. We can't wait for the "right" time. NOW is the right time...even if it means you have to get up an hour early to have time. Tell yourself that.
5. THE DISMAL DAYS
There will be days…I think all of us who are moms understand what I mean—days where you go to bed exhausted, where you think you're on a perpetual treadmill and that nothing will change, days where you're sure you'll never get to indulge in that personal passion of yours, putting words on a page.
During those low moments, remember one of the greatest mom bits of advice ever: Rome wasn't built in a day. Your kids aren't, and neither is your writing life. If it helps, see them growing together.
I know too many writing moms who work themselves into despair because they think they have to have it all right away: the agent, the book, the next book contract, the success. The same way you patiently watch your children hit developmental milestones—and celebrate them!—look for those milestones in your writing.
Someone telling you to slow down and enjoy the journey of your writing life isn't going to "fix" anything for you. In this case, that someone is me. You're going to have to make your own life, choose your own attitudes, be the person who creates YOUR road.
Do I sound like the typical mom?
Well, I am. <g>
And I like to repeat myself, as a lot of moms do. So one last bit of advice, and I think you should read it over and over, or read your own version of what you think is important for you to remember about writing: Appreciate your growth as a writer, celebrate those turning points in your career, and love yourself as you go. Truly, at the end of the day, it's not the pages that matter—it's the person who wrote them. Take care of her, and the writing success will follow.
Note from Jenny J., your new blog moderator: Post a response and you could be the lucky winner of a free book! I'll post the winner's name here on Monday, September 19, 2011!