I’ve been perusing entries on Write With Warnimont and came across a recent one that made me think- a post about limiting distractions while writing. Distraction is a huge problem for me, and he’s got some helpful tips. The last point he mentions is writing with kids around; I had a nice, long (practically novel-length) response typed up about writing with kids in the house, and I lost it.
I do that a lot, genius that I am.
So you can thank Mr Warnimont for inspiring this one…
Let me tell you what’s happening in my house, right at this moment. The TV is on, but there’s no one watching it. Why? Because I just sent the boys downstairs. Their dad is trying to sleep, I have a pounding headache, and they’re boys- they’re loud. I can still hear them, though. What I hear right now is the older one sing-shouting “RA-RA-RAS-POO-TEEN, AH BLAR BLAH BLAH RUSSIAN QUEEN” (or something, I don’t know the words), mixed with a lot of “OW, QUIT IT!” and screaming.
So typical snow day with a 7-year old and a 4-year old.
I love my children, I do. But I love writing, too, and the kids aren’t just distractions from it. They’re concrete roadblocks. Hang on a sec, somebody’s crying.
See what I mean?
And yet I write, don’t I? True, it took me two years to write, revise, and polish one novel (which had already been festering in my brain long before that), but I’m getting better with it. Also, I’m posting here fairly regularly, even if the dog practically does half of the work. So while I’m not a professional writer by any stretch of the imagination, I think I’m in a position to share a bit of advice on how I’m doing it.
1) My best piece of advice: Don’t have kids. Too late for that? Let’s move on…
2) Make writing a priority. I know, I know, easier said than done. It’s hard not to feel guilty about taking time for yourself when there are so many people wanting your time and attention. You might feel like you’re neglecting your family, but you need to take time to recharge yourself if you want to be at your best for them. Writing is my refuge. It’s how I get away from stress and problems, and it’s cheaper than a day at the spa (or taking up drinking as a hobby, for that matter). If you need a kick in the pants to do this, read on…
3) NaNoWriMo. I know, there are a lot of people who think it’s a bad idea, but I’m not talking about the quality of your first draft, here. I’m talking about giving yourself permission to make writing a priority. NaNoWriMo is official. It’s a big, but achievable goal, and it’s just for one month. The first time I did it (in 2010), I told my husband what I was doing, and he basically patted me on the head and said, “Whatever floats your boat, honey.” Kind of his general attitude toward my writing, actually… point is, I could ask him to watch the kids a bit more without feeling guilty, and more importantly I had a good excuse for writing instead of watching TV with him after the kids were in bed. After all, I had a word count to achieve! A deadline! And “it’s only for two more weeks” sounded a lot more reasonable to him than “I just have to get my imaginary people out of this dragon cave and into each other’s arms and rip them apart and nearly kill her and…” Get it? Without NaNoWriMo, I might never have given myself permission to just write, and to ask my family for that precious alone time. And it becomes a habit, which is also important.
4) Focus on the other stuff- I’m still bad for this, but I’m working on it. On days when I try to squeeze writing in during the day, I’m jumping back and forth between that, keeping the house clean, making meals, and playing with the kids (and letting the dog out, and letting the dog in, and letting the cat in who got out when the dog came in…). Then the kids go to bed, it’s writing time, and I still have dishes to do, laundry to move over, and tidying to do, because I was too unfocused during the day. If I can focus on the other stuff during the day/early evening and get it done without trying to fit my writing in wherever I can, if I can get it DONE, then my evening is just for me, a cup of tea, and my book… assuming my husband’s working nights, of course. Speaking of which…
5) Don’t neglect your relationships. This goes back to distractions again, and can be really difficult when things are going well in your writing. When you’re with your family, BE with your family. Don’t think about how you could be writing at that moment. Play with the kids, or read to them (I prefer reading, but sometimes it has to be trucks). Watch FRIENDS with your spouse and play Phase 10, or whatever it is you crazy kids do when you hang out. Get everyone out of the house together for a while, go for a hike, go to the playground. It’s time away from your work, but your family will be much more gracious about “sharing” you with your writing when they’ve already had their quality time with you. You’re important to them!
6) Get out of the house. When I’m at home, there’s always something else I should be doing, something to distract me. We live in a tiny community- no coffee shop to pop out to, not even a decent library branch to spend an hour or two at, but those would be good options if you have them nearby (you lucky thing, you). My current favourite trick is offering to take the car in every time it needs repairs. I can sit at the Hyundai dealership for a few hours and type, or if they have a car for me to borrow, it’s off to the library. The 45 minute drives there and back are great times to think, too, since there’s no one else in the car to distract me (um… just make sure you’re still watching the road, OK?)
7) Get help. Easier said than done for some of us; our closest family (geographically speaking) is my husband’s parents, and they’re an hour+ drive away. If you have family members close by, though, or teenagers who are willing to babysit for a reasonable fee, I say take advantage of it whenever you can. I am fortunate to have a husband who will keep the boys out of my hair for a while when they’re really driving me nuts, even though he doesn’t share my interests or really understand why I need to do this. He’s a keeper, that one.
8) Even heard of benign neglect? It’s not actually neglecting the kids; rather, it’s letting them do their own thing, to find their own fun, to work things out on their own without a parent hovering over them every minute of the day. Obviously babies need the attention, and can’t be left to fend for themselves, but it’s good for older kids. Be available if they really need you, but let them know that when you’re writing, they need to respect your space. Teach them to get their own snacks, and to help each other out with things. Teach them to resolve their arguments without hitting (and be prepared to step in when they do, anyway). Send them outside to play, weather permitting. This is all good for them! They need to learn to be creative in dealing with boredom and solving problems. It’s not ideal; I sit at the kitchen table or at my desk in the living room to write, and even when the boys aren’t hanging off of me and talking to me, they’re still around, still loud, and I still need to be aware of what’s happening. It’s better, though, and it brings me to my last point:
8) Writing through the distractions. This is what I’m doing right now, and do for most blog posts (since that sacred quiet time when I have the house to myself is strictly for fiction). You need to train yourself to do it, but it is possible. Yes, it’s annoying when you do have to get pulled out of your zone (which is why this doesn’t work as well for me when my mind has to be in another world), but at least you can get something done. I might be a bit snippier with the kids when I’m doing this than I normally would be, but we’re figuring it out.
So there you go. My little list of ways to get this thing done. Will these tips make it easy? Nope, sorry. If you’re like me, you will feel guilty every time you take time away from your kids. But it’s so worth it.
(Speaking of kids… I need to wish my Ike a super-duper 5th birthday today! Best Valentine’s Day gift ever.)