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Tips on Getting Writing Done While Parenting
Notes apps, coffee, and noise-canceling headphones
Welcome to the June bonus email for Humor Me, which is focused on getting writing done while parenting.
I know that many writers who are parents or are thinking of becoming parents wonder how they can balance the two pursuits. I also know this is a question women writers get asked in disproportionate numbers to male writers, which is problematic for a lot of reasons.
However, as a writer with kids, I am often trying to figure out how to get things done (and I more pressingly wanted to figure that out when I first became a parent). So I asked for tips from others on how to be a writer and a parent and got a lot of great reponses from writers who have kids of varying ages.
Marika Páez Wiesen, who writes the Living the In-Between Times Substack said:
“My two tips for getting creative work done as a parent are:
#1 ABR--always be ready. I keep a running list of writing tasks/assignments in my Task app, including compelling questions such as, "WTH is ch. 4 about???" When I'm in the car line, or waiting for piano lessons to be over, or the kids seem blissfully occupied on a Saturday afternoon, I'm ready to jump into action. (The trick is to keep updating the list with new assignments after each writing session.)
#2 Voice Dictation--I get quite a bit of creating done on morning runs through dictation on my Apple notes. My headphones are shit tho, so I often end up with sentences like "What do you want to be able to save yourself and start moo in the moments of your day how are you? Are an acting goes" that I have to work to decipher later!)”
AM Costanzo, who writes Mindfully Yours, said:
“The power of noise-canceling headphones cannot be underestimated when dealing with children and trying to get creative work done! (I mean, as long as the children are self-sufficient—better yet, age-appropriate. My kids aren't very self-sufficient. Lazy, yes. Self-sufficient, nope!)”'
Claire Zulkey, who writes the Evil Witches parenting Substack said:
“I try to get my Substack out in the mornings before the kids go to school. They can of course sense when I’m trying to do something that involves me focusing on something that’s not them and get in my face. Last night I put this sign on my door with an alarm clock outside so they could see what time it was.
The downside is that my 10-year-old went to noisily play basketball outside at 6:30 am but at least everyone stayed out of my room and I got my newsletter out!”
From John Sucich, who writes Sunday Paper:
It is an almost impossible balance, because parenting outweighs the writing by so much - at least in my case, but I'm sure there are so many others like me. I tried to balance it out when my kids were little by bringing a backpack with a couple of notebooks and my laptop everywhere. That way if something came to me while I was bringing the kids here and there I at least wasn't wasting downtime. I've written some of my favorite pieces sitting on the bench in the lobby of dancing school.
I've also often thought about my writing about parenting and I always try to make sure that balance leans heavily towards my experience as a parent rather than solely on what my kids have done. It's easy to want to write about everything a little kid does (or a teenager, for that matter), but when kids are little they don't understand - and at any age they didn't sign up to be written about. I might be wrong, but I hope I don't have anything out there in the world that my kids would be upset to read about themselves. Because they quickly get to an age where they can find what's been written and ask questions.
Pam Moore, writer of the Real Nourished newsletter said:
“My biggest issue has always been finding time to write. When my girls (now 8 and 11) were little and I had very little childcare I had to get creative.
The preschool my girls went to ran Tuesday through Friday from 7:55-10:40 AM. When I had a preschooler and a baby, I'd drop the preschooler off at preschool, then drop my younger child off at gym babysitting because it was the absolute cheapest childcare available.
Instead of working out, I'd write in the lobby for two hours, then grab the baby and take her to pick my older kid up from preschool. I did all that by bike, so my main form of exercise was bike commuting with the kids in the trailer. (Very efficient).
Once my older kid was in kindergarten and my little one was in preschool, I arranged a swap with another mom. One day a week we took each others' kids after preschool for a few hours, which was so helpful.
So be creative with how you carve out the time. And be kind to yourself when you can't get it all done. You're never going to complete everything on your list, so you might as well enjoy yourself now instead of waiting until your to-do list is complete.”
From author Liz Alterman, who has written several books and writes Liz’s Newsletter on Substack:
“My boys are older now—21, 17, and 15—so you’d think balancing writing and parenting would be much easier, and sometimes it is, but not always. I often joke that I’m never more in-demand than when I sneak away to my attic to write or edit. The same kids who had nothing to share at breakfast, lunch, or dinner now want to show me TikTok videos, talk about their golf swing, and ask if I’d consider letting them manage my retirement account. (Sorry, son, that’s a hard “no!”)
To safeguard my time, I employ the following strategy: I listen to them for about a minute then I say, “I’m so glad you’re here. Have a seat, I’d love to read you my first three chapters.” Or, “Hey, can I email you ten pages and you can try to catch some typos?” Or, "Let's brainstorm some interesting ways to describe an elderly woman's dining room." Boy, do they scatter and my time is once again all my own!”
“The only ways I get work done with my (now 10yo) kid:
Chug coffee at 9 pm to wake myself up and write in a jittery haze for 2 hours after he goes to bed, then wonder why my eyes are so bloodshot the next day
Take him to a coffee shop with me, and bribe him with a donut to sit quietly and read. This has worked exactly once and lasted for 42 minutes.
Notes app, notes app, notes app: especially in my car, especially while he is in Tae Kwon Do class. This is especially generative for essay ideas I'll never have time to actually write.
Really, the best way for me to get writing done when my child is around is to let him watch consecutive hours of mindless youtube videos that are supposedly (according to him) age-appropriate but absolutely are not.”
From Ben Berman, author of the book Writing While Parenting:
“First, I don’t think that balance is possible. I think that the desire to write comes from the constant feeling of imbalance in our lives and that writing, itself, is a way of seeking balance. That is not particularly helpful or actionable advice, but I do believe that if we approach writing with that mindset then we are more likely to find, or perhaps create, time for it.
Second, everyone’s life is different, so it’s essential to figure out what works for you. Do your best not to compare yourself to others. I am a routine-driven person – I wake up very early every single morning and try to write for a few hours before the sun rises. But I have friends who write once a week and only on buses, other friends who outline novels in their head while doing the dishes. There is no single way to make this crazy thing work.
Third, there are many aspects of the writing process that don’t necessarily involve writing: reading, research, attending literary events, jotting down observations about the guy sitting across from you on the train, daydreaming about the speeches we will one day give when we win the Pulitzer, Oscar and Nobel Peace Prizes. Sometimes, an idea comes when we are in the shower. Or on a walk. Or while bouncing our one-year-old back to sleep. Count it all as writing and you will feel better about your productivity!
Fourth, think of parenting as a master class in writing. When your five-year-old refuses to drink the penicillin that she has been prescribed for her strep throat, treat it as an opportunity to improve your divergent thinking by brainstorming creative threats and rewards. When you are talking to your best friend on the phone about their failing marriage while simultaneously playing Go Fish with your seven-year-old, think of it as a lesson in how to use more subtext in your dialogue. Everything I’ve ever learned about writing can be found in parenting moments.
Lastly, sometimes you have to lean into the obstacle, as though the obstacle, itself, is the way. One night, for example, when my younger daughter was four, she woke up at two in the morning with a tummy ache and ended up throwing up all over my bare feet – a big old chunky stew of rice and carrots. After I cleaned it up and helped her back to bed, I headed to my desk, exhausted and upset that I was about to lose yet another morning of writing, until I realized that maybe this had the potential to be a starting point for an essay. And it ended up being one of my favorite pieces in my book. It reminds me of an old supervisor who would often tell us – with a bemused smile – to think of every challenge as an opportunity.
From me, the writer of the newsletter you are currently reading:
I think these covered a lot of what my advice would be too. I started writing short humor in part because it was something I could do in small chunks of time while sleep-deprived and getting constantly interrupted. It was also a way to channel some of my parenting frustrations.
There are longer more involved writing projects I would like to one day do but the time to do them (for me) did not feel like it was when I had young kids. Although I know other writers who do pull this off, so it is not impossible. I think it does come down to your own particular situation and what you want to focus on.
Also, much of my success as a writer came after having kids — that’s when I broke into bigger publications and got a book deal. I think having kids actually made me more motivated to write and be more efficient with my writing time, so I’m not a fan of the idea that you can’t get writing done after having kids. Will you sometimes feel frustrated? Yes. But can you still get stuff done? Also, yes.
Have more tips or a recommendation for the best pair of noise-canceling headphones? Feel free to share them in the comments.
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