A fellow mom and blogger recently emailed me and asked for tips on how I marble writing into my life with two little ones underfoot and another one on her way. The short answer: Not always very well. Frankly, I sometimes stay up way too late (a decision I usually regret come morning).
Now here’s the long and hopefully more helpful answer, based on a response I once gave to Kathy over at the The Ten Minute Writer.
• I don’t watch much TV. My husband and I try to watch 24 together, and we occasionally watch movies for date nights, but I don’t have a regular TV-viewing habit. (Since recently splurging on cable television, I have periodically started watching the Food Network, but I usually combine this time with exercise.) I’m determined to not get hooked on any other series (24 is a staple) because resisting the urge to zone out in front of the boob tube in the evenings goes a long way in freeing up writing time.
• I block out computer time for writing only. When it’s time to write, I make a rule of closing my browser and staying in MS Word to prevent me from Googling when I’m supposed to be writing. The Internet – even more so than TV – is a huge devourer of time. I often wonder what I did before Al Gore invented this amazing portal of limitless information that’s just a few key strokes away. (Write more, perhaps?) The Dewey Decimal System does sound vaguely familiar.
• I write on the go. I stash journals everywhere and squeeze in short spurts of writing when I can. I have one in my purse, downstairs, and several upstairs in my bedroom. I also have a prayer journal and notebooks devoted to each child where I scribble down cute anecdotes, etc. I guess I’m sort of a journal addict. Jotting down ideas in journals is important because I often only have small pockets of time between diaper changes, crafts with a big mess-factor, meals and snacks (also with big mess factors), naps, and trips to the zoo. Inspiration can strike at any time. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird (one of my fave writing books) uses a notecard system. She always has notecards on hand and puts down ideas, quotes she overhears, anything embryonic thought that might develop into something more in the future. When I’m really in a time crunch, I sometimes say my ideas aloud into a small tape recorder (the same one I use for interviews) to be transcribed later – like in 20 years when all my kids are almost completely self-sufficient.
• I ask for help. I didn’t use to be too good at this, but I’m getting better. I have a wonderful father-in-law who is retired and loves to play with the girls, so I let him. He stops by about twice month and plays with the girls for a few hours, and this is one chunk of time I often devote to writing. After the kiddos are asleep, I occasionally bail ship (armed with my laptop) and leave Daddy in charge and treat myself to a latte at a coffee shop. Speaking of Dad, I’ve turned one of the downsides to being marrying to a busy medical resident to my writing advantage. Dave works a lot of crazy hours – sometimes nights and many weekends. When he’s around, I often put writing on the backburner (unless I have a pressing freelance deadline) so we can spend time together. But since he is MIA so much, I do have more time alone to clobber away at the keyboard. (I’m often more “vocal” in Blogville when he’s working long hours since “talking” with other bloggers gets me my fix for adult interaction.)
• I try to get up early before my kids wake up. TRY is the operative word. As a very-pregnant mom, it’s not always easy for me to drag myself out of bed and I don’t beat myself up if I decide to be lazy. Likewise, I’ve found my kids often can sense when Mom’s up, so I don’t often have much alone time in the morning. That’s why I make it a habit to pray first before turning on the computer or picking up a journal. If I have time to write before the kids find me, great. If not, then it will just have to wait. Starting my morning in prayer sets the tone for my entire day – and it’s a more peaceful tone than if this quiet time with God falls by the wayside.
• Quiet time and nap time for my kids are non-negotiable. My toddler still naps; the preschooler rarely does (and never really did), but she still has to have quiet time. I try to catch up on many things during this mommy break, including writing. However, lately I’ve had to forgo writing to rest myself. I’ve definitely hit the tired phase of pregnancy.
• I’m a realist. I try to not put pressure on myself to produce great tomes or award-worthy journalism. I don’t devote nearly as much time to shooting off queries or landing assignments that require extensive research or lengthy interviews since child #2 came along. I still write occasional features, but these days I try to stick to personal essays or work that is easier on a tired mommy (and her children). I’ve found faith-based publications to be very parent-friendly as a general rule. (My dream job would be a regular and paid blogging gig. If you know of anyone who’s hiring, drop me an email!)
• I set small, reasonable writing goals. Along the same vein as the tip above, even if I don’t have any assignments brewing, I’ve got to write. When I don’t have any time to write, I feel out of sorts. On the flip side, if I start skimp on sleep in order to make time for writing or I get overly ambitious with my writing goals, then I start to feel overwhelmed, and writing begins to feel more like a chore or a stressor than a diversion. Generally, I aim to write for at least 20 minutes every day (many writers recommend writing around 300 words a day – I prefer setting a time limit over a word count). Even if I churn out garbage or simply a recount of the dance party the girls and I had in the living room, I keep writing. I have to; I have a compulsion to communicate. But that Great American Novel can wait; my kids sometimes can’t. They need a mom even when it’s not exactly convenient.
Finally, this isn’t really a tip for finding more time to write, but I feel it needs to be mentioned all the same. I’m often tempted to compare myself to other bloggers/freelance writers/moms, and the Internet makes it that much easier to do this. In just one click, I can enter the world of moms who seem to do so much better of a job than me at balancing motherhood and the writing and/or blogging life. They write eloquent, typo-free daily blog posts often while homeschooling a gaggle of kids and occasionally publishing an essay in a big media outlet. How do they do it? I might wonder. Or more often, what am I doing wrong?
But the truth is the only one we should be worrying about is ourselves. Likewise, we should be regularly assessing whether our writing (or whatever hobby/”side job” we pursue on top of mothering) is having any detrimental effect on our own or our family’s well-being.
Personally, I’ve always had an easier time with an “all or nothing” kind of approach to life. I like to pour myself into a project and be done with it; yet, I’ve found this is extremely difficult once you become a mom. Sometimes you have to stop your lovely prose mid-sentence to prevent your mobile baby from killing herself by shoving her fingers in the one electric socket you missed during Operation Childproof. I have a hard time doing anything without committing my life to it, but really, the only thing I should committing my life to is God and my family.
Some would say moms have to find a happy medium – or achieve balance, if you will. However, I resist applying that popular buzzword to my own life. Do we ever really find balance? Life is a constant seesawing between joy and sorrow, living in the present and looking toward the future, meeting our family’s needs and finding some time to feed our own souls, etc., etc. What I need, above all, is the graces to deal with being unbalanced. And I’m not going to find that by reading another woman’s blog who makes me feel like a lousy mom and/or writer/blogger.
The Cliffs Notes version to all this verbosity? Write when you can (and you’ll have a lot more time if you stop obsessing over Flawless Uber Writer/Mom’s blog), and don’t beat yourself up or despair when you can’t or when what you do write is a jumbled mess.
Now I want to know: How do you find time to write and/or pursue another hobby or job amidst your life as a wife and mom?