When I began my writing career, I had a pre-schooler with a cognitive disability and a toddler. Despite already juggling toilet training, sleepless nights, speech therapy and psychologist appointments, I was determined to turn a lifelong hobby into a successful career. Now that I’m on the verge of graduating a four year diploma in Professional Writing, working on five projects and both of my boys are in school every day, I draw strength and encouragement from those early days.
You might think that I’m crazy when I talk about balancing parenting with a writing career because you can barely balance parenting with a regular shower. Or you might be worried that starting a family is going to impact negatively on your writing career when you’re finally having some success.
Well, I can tell you that, yes the juggling act can be done. And no, having children isn’t going to impact negatively on your writing career. However, sacrifices need to be made, and it takes time to find your rhythm. But we as parents are already accustomed to the art of multi-tasking, so hopefully some what you read in this article will make balancing a writing career with parental responsibilities a little less overwhelming.
Support is essential. Find it, demand it in fact. In my house, Tuesdays are my night to work and my husband’s night to bathe the kidlets and put them to bed. If your children aren’t yet of school age and conventional day care doesn’t appeal to you, some other strategies include family day care or asking friends with kids or extended family like grandparents to babysit.
Like the ever elusive cleaning fairy, there is no time fairy that is going to grant you eight uninterrupted hours of writing every day. Make the most of the time you have. Pare your life down to your greatest priorities –family and writing. Let everything else fall to the wayside for a while, especially housework. I cannot stress this enough. You CAN still write if the dishes aren’t done and the laundry isn’t folded. Tend to these tasks during designated breaks. Get real with yourself about how much time you waste watching TV and surfing social media. Keep social obligations to a minimum.
You won’t need to sacrifice forever. As your career gains momentum and you gain a better handle on the balancing act, you can add leisure activities back one by one.
Don’t compare your progress to other writers. There are many different forms of progress. Some writers might not write for six months and then plunge into a novel and not stop writing until a draft is ready to send to publishers. Another writer might spend months and months researching and planning, and stick to a writing schedule of a certain number of pages per day.
I write when I have a block of uninterrupted time, usually once the kids are at school or in bed, but I have been known to suddenly fly away from a game of Monopoly to jot down a paragraph that has suddenly come to mind. I lose track of time and reality during my productive blocks, but I can also go days in between writing sessions without writing a single word. The point is – baby steps are better than remaining stagnant.
Also keep in mind that writing isn’t always the physical act of typing on the keyboard, either. Writing can be editing and reading and researching, perhaps taking notes from a movie that inspires your current project. It’s all part of the creative process.
Think beyond the 9-to-5 clock. The best part of working from home is that you can operate outside of typical office hours. I’ve stayed up until 3am to finish a draft, woken up at 7am to do lunchboxes and school drop off before crawling back to bed for a couple of hours. Things don’t always go as planned when you’ve got children, so the more flexible you can be about your writing schedule, the better.
A pen and paper should be within reach AT ALL TIMES. Between wipes, bottles and Buzz Lightyear, we’re already carrying around everything but the kitchen sink anyway – I’m sure you can squeeze in that notebook and pen for when inspiration suddenly hits. Also, phones today have a voice recording app, so add a shortcut for this to your homepage. When you’re chauffeuring Mum’s Taxi between extracurricular activities, you can quickly pull over and record your idea.
Feeling like a professional writer isn’t easy when your desk is littered with sippy cups and you’re trying to ignore the squeals from an argument between siblings in the next room. Don’t worry if people know that you work from home while raising your kidlets. With technology making it easier to be on-call these days, chances are they’re doing the same thing.
Convey professionalism in the ways that count. By meeting deadlines, doing what you’ll say you’ll do, handling feedback with a positive attitude, and clearly communicating any needs or concerns.
Learning how to balance parenting with writing is tough and messy to begin with, and it can take some time to find your rhythm. But once you get into the swing of juggling major responsibilities and develop a view for the long-term, you can be both a successful parent AND a successful writer.
© Tara Jenkinson 2016