There are many things that parents have to overcome when it comes to writing and publishing during the early years of parenting. As a stay-at-home mother of four kids, and being pregnant with number five, I have learned a lot about how to maintain a good writing habit in the chaos of the early years. For some perspective:
I've had four kids in five years, all singleton pregnancies., I'm now pregnant with #5. I finally feel like I can breathe a little as my oldest has begun to be more independent and helpful. But the past six years have been a whirlwind of diapers, tantrums, breaking up fights, and long, sleepless nights feeding new babies. None of my children are in public school, either, since we've decided to home school them. Where in the world did I find time to write and publish two full-length novels and a short story? Am I insane to even consider my newest goal to write and publish an urban fantasy trilogy in just 12 months?
Most of my friends will tell you that, yes, I am insane. But insane works for me! I love staying busy, I love having babies, and I love being at home as a mom. It takes a lot of creativity and motivation to find the right balance between home life and writer's life. Hopefully, some of what I share today will help you find that creativity and motivation. I know you can find the time in your unique schedule and lifestyle for writing if you want it enough, but it will take adjusting your expectations, setting realistic goals, and finding the right kind of support.
1. Adjust Expectations
Perhaps you're a writer expecting your first child to come into your life and you're not sure what to expect. If you already have kids, you know how they can throw a wrench into all of the best-laid plans. Most likely, if you're a new parent, your expectations will not match reality. You could get that perfect angel baby that sleeps on schedule, all through the night, and rarely fusses. The vast majority of babies do not fit into this category. I've had four amazing, adorable children, and they've all been pretty happy babies. Even stil, they've had times when their sleep schedule changes without warning (teething, anyone?) or when they get sick and needed to be rocked in my arms all day long.
In the beginning you'll need to set aside that shiny writing schedule and make some time for learning how this little human being works and how you can work while parenting him/her.
If you're a new mother, set aside ALL expectations of writing productivity for at least the first 3-4 weeks after you have your baby. The immediate postpartum period is a trying time. Even for a seasoned motherit can be difficult to remember how little sleep you get, how much healing your body needs, and how little you can actually do. You'll need help to clean your house, make meals, and in the first week, you might even need help to go to the bathroom or lift your baby, especially if you've given birth by cesarean section. Learning how to breastfeed (if you are), care for a newborn, and care for yourself will consume all your time.
If you're going to be a father to a new baby, you're not off the hook! Your wife needs your help and attention more than ever. She might be doing next to all of the breastfeeding and rocking to sleep and general baby care, so what she needs most is someone to be tending to her care. Make sure she eats, sleeps, and has someone to talk to. Don't get so wrapped up in your next deadline that you neglect her. Postpartum depression is a real thing that can get very scary. You will both need to look out for each other's well-being and stay connected as a couple to make this work.
Those are the early days. It does get better! The better days come more and more frequently as your baby masters the challenges that come with adjusting to life outside the womb. Once you start feeling settled into your new normal, look at your writing goals and schedule. What needs to change? Now that you're getting enough sleep (assuming you are), can you write during your baby's nap? Can you write at night? Can you hire a babysitter for an hour or two, maybe trading with another friend that stays home with their kids? If you work during the day, can you write during a train or bus ride? Can you write during your lunch break? The time can be found if you look for it and if you want to find it.
For parents with more than one child who feel like the case is hopeless, fear not! You, too, can make progress in your writing career. Your expectations might be in the right place, or they might be way too low. "No way can I find time to write!" You exclaim. What you need is to MAKE time to write. It's not going to magically show up, and that's where my next two tips come into play.
2. Set Realistic Goals
If you don't set goals, you're liable to drift all over the place with your productivity, and probably feel unsatisfied with what you end up getting done. I wrote this way for three years, "pantsing" my way through the first drafts of "Woven". I was writing sporadically during naptime with "Bob the Train" playing in the background. Then I had two more babies and life got hectic living in a basement apartment and taking care of my husband's grandmother.
After the birth of my third child, I decided to trade/hire to have a babysitter come every week. We were pretty poor, but I found someone who would accept a very low hourly rate in exchange for some other knowledge I had to offer. She came two days a week for about three hours, and I wrote. Around this time I set a goal to have a full manuscript of my book done by a certain day. I had to extend that deadline, but it happened! Then I queried and pitched, and got rejected, all the while revising my manuscript to the best of my ability.
Around this time my manuscript was accepted and new deadlines came into play - publisher's deadlines. Woven came out one week after my fourth baby was born, and I made a new goal: have the sequel to "Woven" written completely by the end of 2017. I planned to participate in NaNoWriMo and wrote the bulk of the novel in one month with a four month old baby and three older kids running around the house. By December 2017, I had a full manuscript ready for editing. And, on September 1st, just 13 months after "Woven" was published, "Bound" was released. It has been a wild ride, but I was able to do it because I set goals. Sometimes my expectations need to be adjusted, and that might the case with my newest goal: write and publish a new trilogy by December 2019, but with a daily word count of 700 words a day, NaNoWriMo coming up again, and a super supportive husband and writing group, I know that I'll at least get close, but I plan to make it.
Which brings me to my third and final key to having a writing career as a parent.
3. Find the Right Kind of Support
Proper expectations and setting goals are both essential components of writing and publishing while raising kids, but the keystone to it all is having the right kind of support. Throughout the past six years of writing and publishing, I've had family, babysitters, friends, and my incredible husband step up and support me when I've asked them to.
These days it's common for a parent, especially a stay-at-home parent, to feel utterly alone in the never-ending task of raising their kids. It used to be that we had "villages", communities of people available at a phone call or a knock on the door to watch our kids while we got things done or just to talk and visit with so we didn't feel so alone. Even if you're an introvert, as most writers claim, you still have a human need to connect with other humans. Preferably humans that don't poop or spit up on you, or only speak in lisping, half-formed sentences. Finding support is essential as a parent, and even more so as a writer working towards publication. Here are some places you can look for support so you can MAKE time to write and meet your goals:
Writing, publishing, and parenting don't have to be impossible. You can do all three with the right balance of expectations, goals, and support. I know because I'm living it, right now. Even though there were seasons when writing felt almost impossible and my goals have seemed farther away than ever, looking back over the past few years I'm glad I've made every effort and brought my dreams into reality. I don't regret anything from the past few years of striving to make this work. You won't regret trying either. But you will regret if another year passes and you still haven't finished that story you're working on, if you haven't at least tried to write daily, to meet a goal to submit to agents or start learning about self-publishing. In my life, I strive to follow the path of least regret. I ask myself, if I don't try this, will I be disappointed in myself? Where do I really want to be in a year?
Many writers have a goal to be so successful financially with their writing that they give up their day job. I don't plan to give up my "day job" as a mother homeschooling her children, even when I do make enough to hire someone to take my place. I love being a mom at home, and I love writing. I don't plan to give up either anytime soon.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.