Writing while raising your children requires a special set of skills. To be your most productive writing self, you will want to develop these special skills concurrently with your other writing skills. There are many skills to master, and I’m far from mastering them all, but here are the top three skills that have increased my productivity as a writer/mother.
Skill #1: Take the Time that is Given
When writing with children, writing time is precious, but it can also be unpredictable. While it’s a good idea to schedule times when you can write without worrying about your kids, you cannot rely on these times only. If you’re used to following a rigid schedule, you’re going to need to learn some flexibility or you will lose significant portions of your writing time to the rest of your lifestyle.
I used to write in the mornings before the kids get up, while the kids are at school, and after the kids go to bed. Sounds like a lot of kid-free writing time, doesn’t it? It was, when it worked.
But then there were the days when I had too much left-over to-do stuff that needed to be done in the mornings, before the kids got up. And there were so many days when the kids didn’t have school, including summer vacation, winter and spring vacation, snow days and lots of little days in-between. Not to mention weekends. And there were those nights when the kids just wouldn’t go to bed or they were too sick to be left unattended or when I was just too exhausted to put two coherent words together.
After losing whole days, sometimes weeks, by trying to stick to kid-free times, I figured out that my lack of flexibility was doing more harm than good. I still plan my writing time during my kid-free periods, but I also take the time that is given and use it to write.
Right now my children are outside playing. My husband is upstairs keeping an eye on them. It’s relatively quiet and peaceful. I can hear them out the window, but not stomping overhead (my office is in the basement, right under the playroom). I can concentrate and tap out this blog post much more quickly this way. It wasn’t the next thing on my to-do list, but it’s the right time and I’m taking it!
Skill #2: Work with Locks
My kids are autistic, which means they are exceptional for a lot of reasons. Unfortunately, this means they’re not so good with understanding/appreciating/obeying boundaries and rules, like the rule that they shouldn’t mess with my writing stuff. Toddlers are much the same way and even older, developmentally-typical kids can get into things they shouldn’t.
I used to keep my important writing papers, like notes for assignments, locked away. For a while this was adequate, but my kids’ explorations grew wider and more sophisticated, and now I keep my entire office locked up. It’s not perfect. Sometimes they do get the key and get downstairs before we catch them, so I still have to keep important documents safe, but it means most of the time my work is left undisturbed. This helps me leave off and pick up projects at my leisure.
I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about the advantages of locking themselves in, but locking others out is equally important when you have kids—especially when you’re not in. It takes a bit of work, and spare keys (yes, more than one spare key) are essential, but it’s worth the effort.
Skill #3: Get Used to the Noise
I prefer to write in quiet. I prefer to have my own thoughts loud and clear in my head, without the “sound” of those thoughts having to compete with a lot of other noises—or any other noises. This was part of what made kid-free writing time so essential. But even with the kids gone, there were telephone calls and other disruptions. And for so much of the time the kids weren’t gone.
Part of it, for me, is something called sensory processing disorder. This trait often coincides with autism, but it can occur separately as well. Basically, it is difficult for me to filter unwanted sounds, sights, smells, and feelings (touch, not emotion). I consciously process everything I hear, which makes it more difficult to think effectively in noisy environments. The sounds my kids make are very distracting. Before I learned to adapt, my productivity would decline considerably during noisy periods, comparing my quiet writing times to my not-quiet writing times. So I just didn’t write when it was noisy. This insistence on quiet really limited my writing time, actually making me less productive, instead of more productive.
So, I forced myself to work in the noise. It was slower and very frustrating, but, even with my sensory processing difficulties, I learned to adapt. Working through the noise boosted my productivity and can even help with my creativity, depending on the piece I’m working on.
Writing is a pleasure, but writing is also work. If you want a writing career, you have to take your work seriously, especially when you’re developing your career and raising your children simultaneously. Developing some flexibility, keeping your work safe, and forcing yourself to work in a less-than-ideal environment will boost your productivity and keep you working.