Nov 22, 2013

How to write with a baby

Today I thought I'd share some tips on how I've managed to keep up with my writing during these crazy busy three-and-a-half years since my kids were born.

Keep in mind, of course, that all kids are different and this is just what worked with my particular situation. I work part-time (three days a week), but if you work full-time, a lot of this applies to weekends and evenings, too.

Newborns:

OK, this might not be what you want to hear, but it's pretty darn impossible to write with a brand-new newborn. Even if you're sleeping a decent amount (which you probably aren't), the physical and emotional toll of giving birth is pretty intense and writing is probably low on your priorities list. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. A month or two off from writing is scary when you're used to doing it every single day, but I think it's actually good for your brain to take a rest.

Use the time to catch up on reading, if you can. My son wanted to eat nonstop for the first two months of his life, and luckily I was able to prop a book up on the Boppy cushion while feeding him. Obviously this works less well if you have other kids to chase during the day, but is also great in the evenings when you feel trapped on the couch and sucked into crappy TV. If you have a Kindle app, you can sync it across all your devices and read on whatever device you can grab in a pinch while rocking, feeding, bouncing the bouncy seat, etc.

Taking a break ended up giving me a great brain reset. I came out of the first few months of my son's infancy with a ton of shiny new ideas and a new perspective on a revision that needed doing. And once you're less zombie-like, you can do micro-bursts of writing when you have time. Just don't put too much pressure on it. This is a great time to explore new, small ideas, maybe short stories or beginnings of longer pieces.

Littlies:

After a few months, once you get the kiddo sleeping a bit during the day, it's basically wonderful because: A) you can maybe take a shower, and B) you can sneak in writing sessions if so inclined. Again, if you're still not feeling it, I'm a firm supporter of not pushing it. Everybody is different, and some babies are harder than others. For a long time, my son would wake up every time I touched the keys of my laptop, even if he was in the other room. One of those weird mom/baby telepathy things, I think. That was frustrating.

Which brings me to my next point. Even if you can't write, you can still plot. There are a lot of mindless baby-related activities, especially before they can talk or do much. You can use that time to plan your story, dream up characters, work out sticky plot points, etc. Long walks are a godsend. The baby sleeps, you have time to think, and there's something about walking that really stirs up ideas. And hey, maybe when you get home, the baby is still sleeping and you can sneak out the laptop and get a few words in.

Toddlers/older kids:

This is the time when, hopefully, you can establish a solid naptime routine. I was really strict about putting my son down for a nap at 1pm, the same time as his sister's nap. He wasn't that into it for a while, but I just kept putting him down after lunch, and eventually it took. And bingo! Mama has at least an hour of quiet.

My daughter stopped napping at around two and a half, so I transitioned her to quiet time, which took a while and some adjusting, but works well now. I will confess to cheating a bit and letting her play with an iPod mini after she's done 30-40 minutes of playing on her own.

Now here's the key: Make sure to use this time wisely! Don't clean the house. Bah, that can be done when the kids are awake -- kind of. OK fine, my house isn't that clean. But I have my priorities and I am OK with them. I try to get as many chores done as I can when the kids are awake, because naptime is writing time. Some day I'll have more time to make things spotless. Just not now. If you can afford a cleaning person, I am so jealous of you.

Again, I try to use all mindless time (like keeping an eye on kids at the playground, walking) for plotting. I make a lot of random notes on my phone and email them to myself. And I try to limit my TV time after dinner. There are a couple of shows (Vampire Diaries -- don't judge me) that are sacred, but for the most part, I shut off the TV by 9 and write until bedtime. It sounds strict, but it works for me. Some people like to go to bed early and get up at 5, before the rest of the household wakes up, to write. That's a great idea if you're more of a morning person.


The bottom line is this: schedules are a good thing if you can make them work for your lifestyle. Not just for the kids -- for you, too. Scheduled writing time is a good way to keep yourself productive and on track.

Anyway, this all sounds very prescriptive and strict, but it's worked well for me. I'm just finishing up revising a 70,000-word book that I started in March, which I think is pretty decent. Of course I'm horribly jealous of my writer friends who post on Twitter about spending an entire Saturday writing. But I'm OK with my choices. And only having small windows of time to write works well for me, because I'm a terrible procrastinator and will happily spend two hours on Pinterest if I've got nothing else to do.

I'm sure there are a million other tips and tricks, but these are the big ones I can think of off the top of my head. Will post more if they occur to me.

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