Balancing Act from Writerland

In the news I read that fewer people are having babies these days thus ending a baby boom, even though I greet that news with great disbelief. This year and last year was full of newborn babies in my life, and friends celebrating motherhood for the first and in many cases, the second time (and third!) time. Along with the baby announcements have been tweets and blog posts about their struggles to balance writing with their new children.

There was one blog to which a friend pointed me that actually advised mothers to prioritize their writing to an extreme: the writer said one should NOT go to their children’s activities, and work on their manuscript instead.  My friend (a new mother) and I whispered (if one can whisper on twitter) that just seemed a bit extreme.  (The writer also suggested other extreme items, which I have blocked out from memory, they were harsh enough for me to wonder why it was the writer had children in the first place–children are not pets that can be crated, people!).  But that still begs the question–how to do it? How to balance writing with children?

I asked my friend Meghan who blogs at Writerland, that very question…and she has graciously obliged me with a guest blog post:

People ask me whether I have time to write with two kids—one who just turned two and the other only three months. The answer is, “Yes, but …” Yes, but only while someone else is taking care of them (i.e. I’m paying someone else to take care of them) or after they go to bed. I’m fortunate this time around because my newborn is already sleeping through the night. So after 8 p.m. I’m “free.” Free to eat dinner, wash the dishes, fold the laundry, pay my bills, check my e-mail, catch up on editing, etc. etc. etc.

So I find myself staying up late at night, usually until 12 or 1 a.m., and then getting up at 8 and feeling semi-tired all day. But there is time to write. It’s just compressed time, which means I need to be more disciplined than ever. If I want to accomplish anything, I can’t spend my time e-mailing, reading blogs, and Twittering. I can’t go the gym, have lunch with friends, or watch TV. If I do, I don’t write. Or I don’t sleep. And then I get sick. Which I did two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, the fact that I’ve completed my first book and am trying to get it published makes me feel justified in spending all my time online rather than putting words on the page. I’m itching to start a new project, but I don’t want to be one of those writers who has several unpublished books lying around, so I’m trying to focus on getting my first book out there instead. I wish I had time to do both—to use the social media tools to their fullest extent AND write AND exercise AND spend time with my kids … but I don’t.

Writing with little kids is all about choices. It’s about running instead of going to a yoga class because it saves me time. It’s about sharing my kids’ attention with a nanny and being okay with my son accidentally calling me “Dolores” from time to time. It’s about forking out a lot of money each week in order to buy myself the freedom to write, which is a tough choice when I’m making so little money from my writing. It’s about spending my evenings on my laptop instead of curled up on the couch watching a movie with my husband. It’s about being tired most of the time. Is it possible? Yes. Is it hard? Hell yes!

Yiyun Li, who was my thesis advisor in the Mills College MFA program, said she once heard that a writer’s career is delayed by two years for every kid she has, and she agreed. I agree, too. But when I look at my son’s sparkling blue eyes when he giggles with delight at being tickled, or when my baby girl smiles when she sees my face, I figure it’s worth it. Like the Peace Corps motto, parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. I think that’s true of writing, too. Combine them and you’ve got two tough jobs to love—double the work and double the pleasure.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Balancing Act from Writerland

  1. Thank you for this post! My partner and I are currently negotiating our schedule to fit in working, writing and being with the kids. It’s tough, and writing after the kids go to sleep is so hard for me. But then, mine aren’t sleeping through the night most nights. Hmmm . . . Anyway, I posted this to my courses site because I have lots of clients who are moms and writers. Everyone is struggling to make it work, but boy, when a mom sits down to write, is she ever focused! That’s one thing I wish I’d learned before I had kids. I can’t imagine what I could have accomplished if I was working this hard and had all that time. 🙂

    Many thanks to Jade Park and Megan both. Oh, and one more thought: I learn a lot about story form from reading children’s books aloud, over and over, and I am constantly engaging my imagination, my silliness, my analytical abilities, to keep up with my 2.5-year-olds–and that’s a heck of a training for a writer, too.

  2. Elizabeth, I think about that, too – how much I could have accomplished BEFORE I had kids if only I’d been this disciplined. But what’s that saying – if you want to get something done, ask someone who’s really busy? I think that applies to us!

  3. Great post. And you know, I think writing in general is about choices. I don’t have kids, but I still find myself making similar sacrifices (time on the laptop instead of with my boyfriend, staying up late to write and then being semi-tired all day, spending $ on a workshop even though I don’t make very much, etc.). Kids are just that much more compelling and demanding. But, like you said, much more rewarding too. 🙂

    • Enjoyed the post. I make those same choices every single day, and, yes I always think about myself pre-kid and say to myself “what did I do with all that time?” And here it is New Year’s eve, and I’m supposed to join my partner’s family for an early celebration- and I’m looking for ways to beg out of it, so I can write! The house I’m in is quiet and empty right now, what an opportunity. happy writing in the new year

  4. anonwupfan

    JP: Ok, LOVE this post (and the comments) but… *ahem* what about all of us fathers out here making the same tough choices?

    I would say that anyone tempted to put their work (any work) ahead of their kids better seriously take a step back. Meghan is right: pay the nanny with a grimace, be full-on-ass-tired (as opposed to semi :)), skip the bad sweater party, but you don’t miss your three year old’s ballet recital for your manuscript –that’s blood money. I think most of us, given the choice, would rather be the F. Scott Fitzgerald of parenting than F. Scott Fitzgerald. Besides, kids grow up and then you’ll have all day to write. Hell, maybe the little tyke will grow up to be your first reader.

    That being said, I get way less writing done post- baby (my daughter is 8 mos). It’s tough to find both the time and a functioning brain. And then there’s the baby’s future to think about –that underlying fear of wasting time/$/effort on something as futile and self-indulgent as writing instead of pursuing financial security for my family (send me to finish my degree or baby to college?) Them be murky waters, me hearties. I feel that Nelson Algren summed it up nicely: “I don’t recommend being a bachelor, but it helps if you want to write.”

    Meghan: Thanks for the great post. Your three-m-o is sleeping through the night?!! Congrats and good luck with the book!

  5. Eve

    Nice. If a writer’s work is delayed by two years for every kid she has, then I’ll be unable to write until I’m dead.

    This is fantastic news!

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