As a working mother of two young kids, finding time to write is nigh-impossible. What I want is to sit in my well-appointed office that doesn’t exist for hours at a time, crafting and creating. What I have is five minutes between bath time and bedtime when I’m hiding in the bathroom pretending to poop.
I’m not going to magically get more free time soon, but I’ve figured out a few ways to fit more writing into my day. Here are nine life hacks that actually work for me:
Have a notebook & pen in every room
I stole this genius idea from the original mom blogger/master of horror, Shirley Jackson. Put a notebook by your bed, in the living room to grab while the kids watch PBS, in the kitchen by the sink, in the bathroom (obviously), even in the car. Put one in every backpack, bag and diaper bag. Stash on by the washer/dryer. Throw a little one in the stroller. That way, whenever inspiration strikes, a pen and notebook will be within reach.
Work with your natural sleep patterns
Hello. My name is Phaea and I am a morning person. Once I finally accepted this about myself, it became a lot easier to just set the alarm for 5am and get some writing done. Shaving off an hour of sleep in the morning to get up and write in silence is doable. Losing an hour of sleep in the evening only makes me jittery and unable to fall asleep. If you’re the opposite, maybe that 9-10pm hour could be your most production time!
Have a working lunch
At work, this means actually taking a lunch break AWAY FROM MY DESK and on that lunch break, actually sitting and writing instead of reading Buzzfeed on my phone. This, by far, has been the hardest change to make!
At home with the kids, lunch time is a natural lull in the day. As a family of happy eaters, food often takes total concentration and can occupy our kids for at least 15 minutes. And, hey, sometimes 15 minutes of focus is all I need to work through a story beat or rework some tricky dialog as I feed myself with my left hand. Maybe your lunches aren’t as tranquil? Study the natural ebb and flow of your day and see if there is a different naturally relaxed time and jump all over it.
Talk out your ideas with your kids
This doesn’t only work if – like me – you are writing books for 3-5 year olds. As long as your material isn’t straight up inappropriate (ha ha) talking out your ideas while you stack blocks or build train tracks won’t bother your off-spring a bit. Plus, verbalizing ideas tends to give us a totally different perspective on them. This could be a win-win!
Take notes on your phone
Every smart phone has some kind of notebook app and it’s a great way to jot down ideas while supporting your kid at T-Ball practice or even in those five minutes between parking the car and actually unpacking the kids and walking into the house. I even sometimes text ideas to my husband just to have on record, which usually confuse him quite a bit.
Read when you can’t write
Reading to your kids isn’t just great for them – it’s educational for you. Even the simplest picture book can teach you lessons about storytelling that you can apply to your own stuff, especially if something isn’t working. Once you get to middle grade chapter books, you’ll basically be a YA literally critic, which could only be a good thing! I hope?
Set yourself up for success by setting your partner up with activities
On the weekends, I usually can pawn the kids off on my husband for at least a few hours to get some writing done. (He’s a stay-at-home parent, student, and adjunct professor so this is actually quite an ask!) To make this process as easy on my him as possible, I set up playdates, book library passes, or schedule other fun stuff for him to attend with the kids – if he so choses. If nothing else, it’s a nice gesture that acknowledges his support, rather than just yelling “bye!” and slamming the bedroom door shut behind me. This makes my writing time more relaxed and less guilt-ridden.
Circle in your betas sooner
Usually in the writing process we wait to send out our work to friends or critique group members until it’s polished. But because I have such a limited time to write, I’ve found that sending out work in pieces or even in the really rough draft stage is just as helpful notes-wise, and has the added side effect of keeping the creative ball rolling. I have a list of eight or so people from different areas in my life that I’m comfortable running even the vaguest ideas by. Often just hearing someone else say “this is good” is the boost I need.
Suck it up and turn the TV on
Yes, it riddles us with guilt, but an hour (OR TWO) of TV is not going to ruin the kids, and it provides you with precious writing time as you’re “watching” the kids. While PBS and Nickelodeon are on a lot in my house, we’ve also made TV time an active time with Youtube shows like Cosmic Kids Yoga, or a playlist of Just Dance videos. My son also loves the OK GO videos and he and his sister will dance to all of them in a row. That’s wholesome, right?
I said nine, but here’s the 10th and MOST IMPORTANT trick: don’t beat yourself up for not writing more! Recently I had the life changing thought: “there’s no rush”. The babies won’t be babies forever (sob!) and all the essays, picture books, and novels will someday get finished –albeit one sentence at a time while I’m pretending to poop.