(even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever get published)
Top tips for finding time and inspiration
I’ve read a few blogs on this subject, but they always seem to be from someone who has already published their book. That makes sense – their being published is what gives them the authority to speak – but they always refer to writing under pressure of deadlines or signing a contract with baby sick on it. They say things like ‘I got my publishing deal when I was pregnant and then wrote book two as I rocked the baby bouncer with one foot’… Ok pretty impressive… But you had the publishing deal! I’d be motivated too if I thought anyone else believed in me actually making this dream a reality.
The fact is, there’s an awful lot of us juggling kids and work and writing without any promise of success – now that’s a real challenge! (and I have no idea why people say ‘juggling’ that makes it sound like there’s some sort of order to it all. There isn’t. It’s chaos!).
I admit it’s a challenge that defeats me some days; one that brings with it guilt and questions about my priorities and leaves me wondering whether I’ll look back in ten years and be sad I wasted all those hours deluding myself that I could do this.
Some days I return from work (where I write all day), feed my 2 year old, bath him, greet my husband, read the little man a story, put him to bed, cook for us (my husband does share the chores but that doesn’t help me make my point so ignore that for now!), attempt adult conversation… and then start writing. And I haven’t mentioned the tantrums, the second toddler dinner I made as the first went to the dog by mistake, the washing, cleaning, bills and correspondence or the fact we’re all meant to be on social media constantly to promote our platforms in the hope that one day we can flog all our followers a copy (sorry followers!) – by then any teens I had following me will be too old to enjoy it so I’m confident I’m wasting my time but hey! Ooh badly structured tangent sentence alert – should probably rewrite. Nope. Too exhausted!
So yeah, it’s not easy and it’s not ideal. I mean we’d all love a week long writing retreat, or days holed up in sunlit attic writing room, but if I waited for that there’d never be a single word produced. And yet, somehow, I have 85,000 words of my first novel, 5,000 of my second, several children’s stories, a few prizewinning short stories and a pile of new ideas brewing, all since my little boy was born. It’s not because I’ve been especially organised or good, it’s more because writing is a bit of a compulsion and even when I think I probably should give up, I can’t. But I have developed a few strategies over the past couple of years and thought it may help to share them…
6 windows of time I exploit wherever possible:
- nap times – these are gold. Of course there are other jobs that need doing in this time like, housework or perhaps you have other children, but if you can manage a minimum of 20 minutes free it’s ideal writing time.
- 30 mins in the evening – either as my husband puts him to bed (which is so lovely as I can hear them giggling or discussing the bedtime story as I type) or just after I’ve done it (which is often the case as he travels a lot for work so I’m frequently a single parent – in case some of you are trying to do this alone, it is still possible).
- Plan a tv programme’s worth of writing -whatever the concentration span of your child, you’ll probably manage a minimum of 20 minutes and that’s a window of time you can work in, but you need to plan. Know what you want to achieve and as soon as they are settled – scram! (or get the laptop out and hope they don’t notice and want to ‘help’). No time for making tea or just folding the washing first. Sit down and write!
- Find a weekly activity for dad or grandparents to do with kid(s) – this pretty hit and miss in our house due to my travelling partner, but signing them up to Sunday swimming sessions definitely gained me a few clear hours about every other Sunday, so it was worth it!
- Get up early – I struggle with this one. I already have to get up at 6.30 to get my boy up and fed and ready for nursery and me all set for work, so anything much earlier is a lot like torture, but just occasionally the sacrifice is worth it.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and clear your head – this one works for me every time. I often can’t sleep for things buzzing around in my head, I just get up and write it all down (which can generate useful story or character material later) and then possibly take 20 minutes of writing time on the book as well. By the time I’m done I’m sleepy and my head is clear.
In the meantime, whilst you are actually doing the parenting stuff…
5 tips for inspiration
- use the notes section of your phone (or the voice recorder if your hands aren’t free, or a notebook if you prefer low tech) whenever inspiration strikes mid-nappy-change.
- Read your child stories and watch their favourite tv shows with them to get inspired with characters and settings and plot lines. No matter which audience you’re writing for there’s a wealth of ideas out there, plus it’s good positive parent time.
- Talk to them about your story- sometimes kids have the best ideas.
- Take them to inspiring places. It benefits you both, even if it means an hour of Prep before you go, a battle to get them into the car and a meltdown in the gift shop! If you can’t find a story in the Pitt Rivers museum or the local woods, for that matter, I’ll eat my… cliche.
- Be present – try to put the writing aside and actually play with them sometimes! Sometimes a rest is refreshing for the mind, and being childlike feeds your creative well.
It’s hard to spend a great deal of time thinking about birth and the beginnings of life without thinking about the end of life and the aging process. Creating a new generation means shuffling along that proverbial ‘mortal coil’ a little and realizing that we are getting older. We do this at intervals of course – the major birthdays, the big life changes (first day at uni, first job, buying a property, getting married) but not in such a specifically mortality-related way perhaps.
For a start, there are suddenly wills and guardians and life insurance concerns that crop up and we are forced to consider what might happen to our child if we were no longer there, but on a more subtle level there is the fact that our child will never see us the way we think of ourselves. They won’t remember our youthful looks – the ones that turned our partner’s head initially – they won’t know that we were wild adventurers, that we were carefree and unafraid once. They will see only the parent we have become from the time they reach around 7 years old and memory really establishes itself.
Instead they will be frustrated by our slowness, by our muddling stories or not understanding the leaps in technology, the latest music or what is now socially acceptable that wasn’t in ‘our day’. Is that it then? Have we had ‘our day’? And is it selfish to want it to continue? I’m sorry to sound miserly but, as much as I would give this baby anything and I haven’t even met him yet, I don’t want life to end. There is so much pressure to be this wonderful, selfless earth mother character in today’s society that we aren’t really meant to say this out loud (and I am trying to steel myself for some negative comments in response to this post), but the fact is I don’t want to stop my romance with my husband or our magical travels or the creativity that inspires me. In fact, more than that – I want my child to witness these things; to grow up with their light in his life so that he knows their wonder too.
Of course we are in the age of ‘you can have it all’ but I am not talking about having a job and a family. Not necessarily. I’m talking about NOT becoming the stressed out monster who moans about her lot, nags about homework and is all about getting through the day or keeping the routine. I’m talking about keeping the magic, the inspiration, the joy… even the youth? I know I can’t look like I did forever – I don’t recognize my body now and I’m really trying to prepare myself for the shock after it’s been through childbirth so I guess I have to suck that up (although I can’t help the little hopeful part of me that is kidding herself that with a little bit of gym work and a good diet… ha ha ha! Of course I also imagine the results will give me back my pre-25 figure!) – but the point is I’d like to feel young, to still have the urge to play, OK OK… and to look, at least, the way I recognise myself.
Wow I’m not painting a very nice picture of myself here, am I? Vain, selfish and scared of not being young anymore (even though, at 35, I’m clearly not that anyway!). But isn’t this a lot of people’s internal dialogue? Aren’t we all a little daunted by what we’ll become? Don’t lots of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s look back and feel a little sad they aren’t still in the thick of it all: healthy, vibrant, looking to a future full of dreams?
I am lucky that I have parents who still do a great deal, who get out and travel and live and enjoy the theatre and garden and read and get involved in the world, but even they won’t deny that it gets harder. And they stand beside us watching us forge ahead, occasionally stepping in to scoop us up when things get tough, without ever a trace of envy. Will I be good enough to do the same?
In many ways I think I will. I have had so much so far, and I know I have many years’ more experiences to gather up (life doesn’t end with a baby, it just changes – right?!) and I have such great hopes for the little boy we are going to love so much, I know I will be so proud of his every step through this amazing world. But I do not want to bear witness to my own fading and it is hard for any self-aware individual not to be conscious of that. Do I matter in the grand scheme of things? Not one bit. Have I changed the world in any way? Not yet. But he could, and maybe that is all that it’s about.