The tips I wish someone had given me.
“She was a great writer, but then she got married and had a baby. Don’t make that mistake, Sarah.”
A fellow writer told me this during one of our group meetings. I was about twenty five at the time and dreaming of having a family of my own. Never had I considered whether that might clash with my other, arguably more far-fetched fantasies about becoming an international bestseller (with film options, obviously).
As you can imagine, his words bothered me. They made me question my ability to be both a writer and a mom. This of course made no sense — there were so many examples of famous mom-writers: J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Jodie Picoult. They seemed to be doing just fine with juggling books and babies. Of course, they also had the perfect mix of drive and talent. Would I stack up?
Looking back with a clear(er) head, I know his comment was wildly incorrect. New parents can, and do, continue writing. We just need to do things a little differently.
- First, Wait
The newborn stage is kind of like Coachella: hot, messy, lots of smells, poor sleep, screaming, more smells, fluids, and confusion.
All of these things are great for future inspiration. Not so much when you want to string together some coherent sentences. That said, you should probably take some time to adjust to the crazy new life you’ve begun. That boob-chewer needs all your attention, and the best thing you can do right now is study his or her cues. What does she look like when she’s hungry? Is that an “I pooped-through-my-onesie” or a “cuddle-me-now-or-I’ll-end-you” cry?
Once you learn these, you can more quickly and easily attend to them, which means you can allocate the extra energy to writing.
2. Adjust Your Expectations
In pre-mom life, my writing routine was like clockwork: Wake up, skim through agent wish lists and Medium while eating breakfast, drink coffee, and write/edit. I usually blocked about three or four uninterrupted hours for this. My output was generally two thousand words a day.
Now, my writing time consists of cold coffee and a rushed sentence or two between diaper changes. I write in tiny chunks, and my output is, on a good day, about five hundred words. To be honest, I’m still adjusting to this. I keep longing for those quiet mornings buried in my laptop.
But then I look at Sebastian’s cheeky grin, and it’s all okay.
Right now we’re setting the foundation for the rest of our child’s life. We can’t be expected to do that while writing at the same level that we did before we were parents. Putting that kind of pressure on ourselves will stress us out. That stress will then be associated with trying to get some writing done, which could destroy our motivation to write in the first place.
3. Exercise Your Flexibility
I was so not a flexible person before Sebastian came along. As previously mentioned, I used to do things on a set schedule and any deviation usually meant my writing flow suffered.
Having a baby has been a wonderful exercise in flexibility. My usual day: I’m in the writing flow, finally, and then the screaming starts. Diaper, feed, play. What was I doing before? Oh, writing. But that diaper lasted all of ten minutes and now he’s pooped all over his onesie and I desperately need to do laundry. Start the wash, but he wants another feed and then I have to get him to sleep. What?! He’s sleeping alone in his cot?! Miracle! Back to my project. Read over what I’ve already written, then try to remember what I was going to write next.
Sebastian starts crying. The process starts again.
Honestly, this is another element of parenting and writing that I’m still learning how to master. It sort of coincides with Tip #2. We can’t expect ourselves to maintain the same writing habits we had pre-baby, and we also can’t expect that baby to (ever) be predictable. The goal is to learn how to adjust to distractions and get back into that writing flow.
I know, laugh all you want. I’m laughing. Also crying.
But seriously. We’re exhausted, smelly, endlessly hungry (only me?), and constantly checking to make sure our little one is still breathing. Our cortisol levels are likely through the roof, and that’s definitely not conducive to inspiration, motivation, and energy.
For the record, I’m sick of those parenting gurus who go on about finding “me-time.” What the hell is that? How can anyone be expected to keep a small human alive around the clock, and then magically create time for themselves?
So I’m not telling you to dedicate twenty minutes to meditation in a quiet, candle-lit room each day. Way too high of an expectation.
But, similar to those spare minutes to jot down a sentence or two, there are ways to sneak in a quiet moment. I try to meditate during my shower, or while chanting to Enya while dancing around with a fussy baby. (This is the only way he will go to sleep. Must be Enya. No idea why).
Side note: meditating while soothing a crying baby is kind of like the olympics of mindfulness. If you can pull off the zen state amongst the tears, then you deserve a place at a Buddhist temple, right?
Back to the writing. Meditation, as you know, can reset your body and clear your head. Just five minutes can give us a potent shot of that Energy, Motivation, and Inspiration that we need to write.
5. Find The Right Writing Group
A good writing group should be supportive of writers juggling diapers and dialogue. If you get odd comments (like above) or judgement for taking a few weeks off to, you know, sustain a human life, then maybe it’s not the right tribe for you.
Additionally, being surrounded and supported by by writers who are also parents can spark both inspiration and motivation. They allow us to see direct evidence that writing and parenting can be done, and well.
Bonus points: if you’re pre-baby but planning on a family in the future, you might want to gravitate towards critique groups with young parents. Emotional support from fellow creatives will be priceless, plus you can never have enough access to free used clothes and toys. Win-win.
6. Jot Down Ideas As They Come
Parent-brain is a real thing. I can’t remember what I texted my mom ten minutes ago, let alone that Nobel-worthy story idea I had during my five-minute shower/meditation.
I rarely used to jot things down, but now, I keep my phone on me at all times and fill my notes app with whatever comes into my head. When the inspiration comes, honour it with a reminder note.
7. Write To Your Circumstances
This goes along with the old adage: write what you know. I always find it easier to write about things that I’m currently experiencing, be it work, travel, or, in this case, parenting. My mind is already zoned for it, so I expend less energy trying to get into the right headspace.
Brainstorming characters? Try drafting something about a new parent. This is where you can use inspiration to your advantage: you probably have hundreds of stories about your little one, and these can be translated into your character’s experiences.
I also find that I’m more motivated to write about things relating to my current circumstances because it does double-duty of both meeting my need for creative output and helping me answer my own questions about the situation.
Basically, this post helps me to not only continue writing, but also to get a better grasp on how to keep writing in the first place.
Are you a writer parent, or planning to be? What tips or tricks do you have for keeping in the flow?