Welcome to my contribution to the Writer Mama Blog Hop, (hosted by Sharon Bayliss) in which writers with small children answer the question, ‘Where do you find time to write?’ No matter how hard I press into this writing life, or how long I am on the journey, there are certain challenges I continue to come up against, so this post is as much a note to self as offering help to others. I hope it will encourage not only Mama and Papa writers, but anyone wanting to live a creative life.
Time to Write
When my son was first born, I preciously guarded his afternoon nap time, not simply because he’d be a nightmare without sleep, but because it was the only writing time available to me. I didn’t clean, cook or socialise, although I often had to fight the urge to take a nap too. I’d often have to trick myself into writing by saying, ‘Just ten minutes. You only have to do it for ten minutes.’
Usually, that was enough for me to be on my way. But there were times I wondered whether there was any point in starting given that my time was so limited. I will be forever grateful for discovering Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s book, Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, in which she wrote:
The truth is, you can get a lot done in just fifteen minutes a day. We all have at least fifteen minutes somewhere – while the pasta boils, while a child bathes, while we’re on hold with the phone company or on a coffee break or at lunch.
[Note to self: Focus on whatever time you do have. Just start.]
During my second pregnancy, doctors diagnosed our unborn daughter with severe heart defects, with no certainty as to life expectancy or quality of life. It is without a doubt the most difficult experience of my life. After her birth, I gave myself permission not to write for at least six months – to simply concentrate on mothering my seriously ill child.
But when she was about four months old, I had the opportunity to contribute a personal essay to an anthology. As I drafted the piece, something came alive in me and I realised I could no more give up writing than I could survive without food.
Giving Perfectionism the Flick
Discovering that writing is core to who I am doesn’t make it any easier. I find first drafts – creating something from nothing – particularly difficult. One of the most liberating things I ever did was to give myself permission to write badly. I’d tell myself, ‘My first draft is always crap and that’s okay.’ You can edit a badly written page; you can’t edit a blank one. Ernest Hemingway is blunter:
The first draft of anything is shit.
In order to create a sustainable writing life, I also needed to walk away from a perfect house. I’m never going to win an award for the tidiest house in the neighbourhood. And some weeks my children will be fed toasted sandwiches three nights in a row.
[Note to self: Done right, toasted sandwiches can cover all the food groups.]
Dealing with Distractions
Now that both of my children are at school full time, I attempt to write four days a week during school hours. Despite the extra hours, I still have to work hard at protecting my writing time. I struggle to say no to requests from others, especially if it involves helping someone out. And while social media can be a wonderful source of connection and information, it is also a dangerous distraction. I’m sure I’m not the only one who loses valuable time this way, as well as falling into the trap of being constantly and instantly available. But I do know that if I lose my allocated time, I am unlikely to recover it. If I don’t value my writing time, how can I expect others to?
When my children were small, I usually sat at the kitchen table to write because it was the only option available. Now that I can leave the house, one of the most effective ways to avoid distractions is to visit my favourite coffee shop. It is familiar enough to be comfortable, but away from dirty dishes in the sink, wet clothes in the washing machine or my cluttered desk. And I have deliberately not installed Face Book or twitter on my phone.
[Note to self: Unless it is the school phoning to tell me my child has fallen out of a tree, it CAN wait.]
There are a couple of distractions I will allow, however, and they usually involve my kids. Even as I attempt to keep firmer boundaries around my writing time, I will continue to take time out to attend assemblies and sports carnivals, and I usually assume that if they are unwell or on holidays, any writing time is a bonus.
While it’s important that I utilise the time available to me, there are days when I need to step away from the desk. I have often wrestled with a plot or structural problem, only to have the solution arrive unannounced while I am doing something else, such as walking or reading or even hanging out washing. Other times, it has nothing to do with my commitment to the craft; I’m just exhausted and need a rest.
[Note to self: It’s okay to take time out. Just step away from the desk.]
The Importance of Support
I don’t think I could have persevered without the support of family, friends and fellow writers. One friend has been a source of support over two decades. When our children were very small, we met one night a week and set each other writing exercises or offer feedback on our works-in-progress. There were numerous times when one of us wondered whether this writing life was worth it. Fortunately, we never felt like giving up at the same time. And without the support of my husband, who heads out to (paid) work everyday, I’d be very hungry.
[Note to self: Find other creative people to walk beside you, preferably ones who don’t want to chuck it in at the same time as you.]
If nothing else, I hope that my children will see my writing journey as an example of what it means to follow your passions with commitment and perseverance. My book, about an extraordinary group of war widows who resisted a life of poverty, social isolation and invisibility, has taken 7 years to research, write and edit, and will be published on 1 November 2015.
Finally, I am grateful for this timely reminder about the creative life from Amander Viviers:
As a creative soul, don’t become so obsessed with the crowd and acclaim, obsessed with who is buying or who is liking, why don’t you try creating again for no other reason than because it is beautiful.
This is a Blog Hop! So If you would like to see how other writers juggle their writing with parenthood, click here to view the list of other participating blogs (powered by Linky Tools).