One of the most common questions I get: How do you find time to write and be a mother? I've written twice about this, when I had one kid and again when I had two. I reread what I wrote there and find everything is still relevant. But I want to add, because now I have four small children, ages 2 1/2 - 9, and life is very tricky. Even if I wasn't a writer and didn't work outside the home, having two school-aged kids and two toddlers makes for a tricky, tricky day. So how do I manage to do both?
I need help. Before, I could manage to find sporadic writing time here and there. When I had one child who napped, nap time was writing time, without fail. By the time I had 5 published books and two non-napping children, I realized this writing thing was technically a career and I didn't have to be a martyr and I could give myself permission to get help. Originally I had a sitter that came over 9 house/week. This past year, it's up to 17 hours/week. And it's not enough to do all I could/should do. But it has to be. Because I don't want to have a full-time nanny even if that was feasible. I want to be a stay-at-home mom. And I don't want writing to take over my evening-husband time or my weekend-family time. So my sitter has saved me. And for the most part, I seem to be writing as much as my non-parent full-time-writer friends even though I have a part time schedule. I think I've learned how to make the minutes count.
The balance is insane. I constantly have to check myself, make sure I'm making enough time for my kids and making that time count, make sure I'm not letting unnecessary things encroach on my writing time. I constantly have to remind myself that I have to say no, no, and no, again and again, to the many requests and pleas and invites I get. I feel guilty constantly. I get angry emails. I disappoint friends and extended family. I'm accused of not giving back enough. Sometimes I think only other writers understand how hard you have to fight to keep your writing time.
I can write. I can mother. And that's it. As a writer and a mother of two children, I thought I didn't have any spare time. And then we added twins to our family, and I wondered what I used to do with all that spare time. I cannot give up my writing. I would go insane. I would be the woman staring at the yellow wallpaper. So we've figured it out. I'm lucky that my husband has always been the primary wage earner, so I haven't had that stress. Still, there's a lot I've given up to keep writing and keep being a stay-at-home mom. Like social anything. Lots of book publicity. Networking opportunities. Hobbies. Yard work. Housework. Driving my kids to lots of classes and activities. Sports and interests and some friends and loads of potential friends and just about anything you can name. I've had to sacrifice it in order to keep writing and yet still have heaps of time for my family. I am not capable of doing it all, whatever it is. Not everyone can or is willing to live the kind of life being a writer mom demands, and I respect that absolutely. But those two things mean everything to me, and that's how I keep going.
I take a day of rest. I usually don't write on Saturdays and I never write on Sundays. I need a day of rest. I go to church, spend computer-free time with my family, visit relatives, read, cook, relax (as much as one can relax with four small children), try to do good works. I think this day is an important day. The demands of my story are always there, nipping at my ankles whenever I leave my computer to do my mom stuff. It's a little exhausting. So having a day where I tell myself, "No writing today" is good for me, a way to turn off. 'Cause the rest of the week I'm obsessive.
Writing is not a hobby. I've talked about this before. Writing is not safe, comforting, something you can pick up now and again like that pretty cross-stitch pattern you've always wanted to finish. It's demanding. Writing a book is like adopting a child. She can't be neglected. You can't leave her home like a pet when you go out--the story goes with you everywhere. She needs lots of attention. Attention you want to give. But treating novel writing like any other hobby would leave me unfulfilled, frustrated, and novel-less.
I just can't stress enough: to make something as demanding as writing work while also immersed in something as demanding as full-time parenting, I have to be so committed. Ruthlessly committed. Willing to sacrifice all other distractions. Since adding our twins, I eat less. I shower less, do my hair less, rarely wear makeup. I read less. I don't go to plays like I used to or keep up with penpals or take care of chores and errands in a timely manner. I weed less and cook less and do all those other things that used to feel like non-negotiables a lot less, because these two little cuties demand more of my time, and I have to find other things to cut out of my life in order to save my writing. I'm brutal about it. And I'm hardcore.
I know it's the right thing for me. I would be so unhappy if I didn't get to write. Being the primary care giver to four small children takes a lot of focus and energy and is exquisitely rewarding in its own way, but it doesn't always use my mind or creativity the way I need. As well, I'm addicted to progress and completion. Motherhood never ends. Books do. I need those page and draft and book completion milestones to help me measure my productivity and feel like a useful human being. Writing helps me be a better mother, helps me relax and enjoy the mothering moments more. When mama's happy, everyone's happy. I know some judge me for my choices, and by no means do I think my choices are right for everyone. But I couldn't do what I do if I wasn't absolutely sure it was the right choice for me.
Writing is one thing; publishing another. The more books I have published, the more business and publicity demands on my time, and the less time I have for writing. That's one reason when I meet writers who are asking me about how to get published before they've even completed one book, I tell them, please, slow down, concentrate on your craft. Do not hurry this. You won't be able to depend on publishing as a primary income for a long time (I still don't), so there's no reason to hurry it. Do not worry more about that other stuff than about how to tell the best story you can. And all of that is a lot a lot a lot harder as a mom. Writer dads I know who aren't the primary care giver have a different situation. They can go off when they have a deadline to a hotel for a few weeks and write, or they work from morning to night for weeks on end and their wife picks up the slack. But I'm the primary care giver, and I don't have that luxury. I don't want it. But figuring out how to do both is stressful. Meeting deadlines, keeping up with daily word counts, juggling one draft at the same time as the copy edits come in for another book and they need it back in a week and there are publicity requests and emails and a sick baby and homework and a school recital and no one but me can do it all. Certain mother tasks cannot be hired out. And none of my writing tasks can be. So it's stressful. And I would say, if you'd be just as happy knitting and mothering or scrapbooking and mothering as writing and mothering, then by all means, do those instead.
But if you can't, then you know who you are and what you need to do.
I don't think anyone should feel like they need to write. But if you are one of the unfortunates haunted by the need, and if you haven't found a good writing routine yet, let me recommend an experiment. And this goes for whatever your passion is, not just writing. Art, music, gardening, cooking, sewing, crafting, getting that degree, starting an animal shelter, whatever. Starting tomorrow, for one week turn off your internet and TV. All week. Scary? No smart phone except for phone calls. No watching movies or shows or clips. No internet at all except--time yourself--10 minutes/day for email and then cut yourself off. Without those time fillers, reexamine your week. How much free time do you have that you didn't think you did? How can you use it? Be brutal. Be hardcore. Start taking your passion seriously. Do it today.