Two years ago, when I first considered pursuing a career in writing, my biggest problem was learning how to fit it in with my other job – parenting my four kids. Today, as I continue to chip away at the writing career, I still have that problem, though I’ve solved some of the issues. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Focus On Yourself:
One important lesson I learned is that the way I personally find to fit writing into my life is not going to look anything like what other writers do. For a good year I was continually frustrated because I kept comparing myself to others. I’d read all sorts of suggestions from other writers on their blogs and few of them actually worked for me. For instance: “Write once your children go to sleep.” Nope. That didn’t work for me because I had a baby that required my physical presence in bed during sleep times. “Get up really early in the morning and work before anyone else is up in the house.” Nope. Same reason as above. It’s important to realize that your life is not like anyone else’s life out there, so one writer’s amazing solution might be worthless to you personally. Try not to be frustrated by that and focus on how you can make your life work.
Probably one of the most valuable things I’ve learned from being a parent is the value of flexibility. More importantly, I learned how amazingly flexible I’m capable of being as a person. Little people have such big emotions that go in all sorts of directions. Those same little people are capable of turning on a dime and changing from moment to moment. Most of the great parents I know (all of them, actually) know we have to be flexible with those changes.
I’ve also got to be incredibly flexible about how I fit writing into my life as a parent.
When I first started writing, I read a few blogs that said the key to finding time to write was to make a rule that you would write X-minutes per day and never to let that writing time be encroached on. Have you ever read about Jerry’s Seinfeld’s productivity secret? It’s pretty much the same idea – he tried to never go a single day without getting some work done. Do you know what these theories have in common? They are not flexible. Nevertheless, for quite a while I tried to follow this sort of plan. My husband, who also works from home, even encouraged me to do it. He’d be chanting, “Don’t break the chain!” to me (see the Seinfeld link if you don’t get it).
But you know what happens when you try to make firm work rules when you are busy every day raising kids? It doesn’t work. And then for every day when you miss writing, or when you “break the chain”, and when your X-number of minutes writing is much shorter than you hoped for, you end up feeling like a failure. You worry that you will never be an actual writer because you keep missing your goals. Other stay-at-home-parents will even encourage you to give up. They’ll say things like, “Maybe it’s not the right time in your life to start a career,” or, “You can alway do it when your youngest is X-years old.”
I almost listened to them.
But then, I didn’t.
It took me a good long time, but I realized that there was more than one way to fashion a writing career around parenting. Hard rules about work hours were not going to work in my situation. I had to get flexible. If all the kids in my house get sick, one after the other, and it lasts for two weeks (yes, this happens), then I had to be okay with the fact that I didn’t do very much writing during that time. When I had planned for Wednesday to be a writing day, but then a really exciting opportunity came up to take the kids to the water park, I had to be okay with the idea that I would find time to write a different day. And when my husband had a particularly busy work week, with double the number of projects he normally works on, again I had to be ready to work at an alternate time. Being flexible also meant that when hubby or the kids suddenly left me alone in the house, I had to learn to spring into action and use the time wisely.
One of the first things you hear about when writer-parents talk about their career is how messy their house gets while they are writing and how the meals start getting terrible/scarce/fast-foodie. All that is fine and good…for awhile. But not forever. I’m not sure if other people feel this way also, but when my house has been cluttered for a long time, it starts to grate on me. It begins to make me feel unsettled and angry inside over time. For me, putting up with a messy chaotic house was doable for a few weeks at a time, but when it lasted too long I literally went batty. Not good. It’s important to pay attention to both your own feelings and the big picture. More importantly, be honest with your family about how things are going and what you need from them. If the house is getting too crazy, it’s fine to take a few days off and solicit family members to cooperate with you on an overhaul. It’ll relieve your stress and allow you to get back to work with a positive outlook.
I hope some of my idea will help the other writer-parents who I know are out there. Juggling a career and family life isn’t easy, that’s for sure. We need all the help we can get.