“…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.” ~ Anne Lamott
The local library where I live brings to town many well-known and accomplished authors. A few years ago, I was one of many in the crowded auditorium at the central high school mere miles from my neighborhood where these literary events are held and the author of a favorite novel was the guest speaker. My memory serves that this author’s talk on writing was exceptional, especially the bits about how her stories came to life and how her writing life came to fruition. She was gracious in her answers during the Q & A, one of which I posed, a version of, “How did she find the time to write with children underfoot?” In so many words, she prescribed that you must write any chance you can get, master writing to the background noise and chaos, scrawl away during short spurts of free time, and urged not to wait for the ‘perfect’ conditions conducive to writing because they will rarely appear and the writing will never happen. What I took from her eloquent answer (more precisely delivered than I am reiterating to you) is that if you are a mother longing to write (or create in any artistic endeavor) then you must accept that you must write to the cadence of the season you are in, and weave the craft into the fabric of your daily life, willing to adjust and change your writing tempo as your children change and grow along side of you.
If you are a mother-writer and struggling to find the time to write, here are a few simple suggestions to help you carve out more time for your writing and that have worked for me:
Take a break, and give yourself a break.
There will be days, weeks, and even months that you won’t be able to carve out one minute for writing, and that’s alright. Don’t berate yourself. Embrace the peaks and valleys. Invite the rest in and allow the time off to invigorate your senses. It’s quite allowable to take time off from writing, and preferred, if I might add. After all, living your life and experiencing the world around you will only improve your creative abilities.
Quite by choice, summers are the most challenging time in my writing calendar. Since I don’t employ a daycare facility, a part-time sitter or nanny, the warm summer months around my house are full and well-enjoyed, even on days when camps and classes aren’t on the schedule. Along with my children, I prefer to soak up as much sun as possible while we are blessed with the Vitamin D producer, and the vibrancy of kids enjoying their months of freedom is something I don’t want to miss out on–especially while they are still so young. This is where personal journaling and keeping notebooks nearby come in handy. When there are chunks of time that I don’t feel like powering up the laptop, though want to record my thoughts, ideas, recollections, observations, and experiences, then I journal. I find that the break from typing also helps to refuel my creativity in pertinent ways. Never once have I felt regret for relishing in the days off.
Write at a time of day that works for you.
Although I would love to tell you to set your alarm an hour earlier than your first child wakes up, this has never worked for me. I’m not now, and doubtful ever will be, a morning person. When I was on a writer’s retreat, I insisted I wake up at 5:00 AM every morning to start writing, and I did. However, I did not have the pressing urgency of a child to attend to that week, either. I was there for myself and had only myself to take care of during five, blissful, writing-centered days. It was my opportunity to utilize as much time to write–and I took the gift of being there seriously, not wanting to waste the opportunity. That was three years ago, and I have yet to replicate that early morning habit so easily enacted on an island miles and miles away surrounded by other women-mother-writers. What I have continued is the discipline and confidence earned, and the ability to be flexible with both myself and my writing process.
Please, do not feel obligated to wake an hour earlier than your family does if the extra sleep is vital to your emotional, physical, and mental well-being–especially if you have young toddlers or school-aged children as I do. In this time of my life, it is more important that I sleep in after nursing Baby Boy in the early morning hours. After we rise and ready for the day, eat our breakfast and clear up, then I can think about some writing if our schedule permits. Don’t neglect your health and essential needs, nor those of your children, for the sake of your craft. It’s a recipe for failure. Instead, take care of yourself and children first, and pockets of writing time will appear, I promise. (Just my two cents.)
Let them see you write.
If you have young children at home able to entertain themselves for a while, take advantage of late morning play time and make that your daily writing time. After I have finished in the kitchen, and perhaps have even started a load of laundry, I set my toddler up nearby with some favorite toys and I write in my journal while sipping my first cup of tea of the day. This has become my almost-daily practice of emptying my head of the noise and clutter inside, or when I may flesh-out ideas for the book I’m working on, conceptualize upcoming blog posts, or even free-write. I keep my journal nearby for reference, and it’s a daily practice I’ll never reject. (By the way, these are my favorite ones.)
Cultivate ideas during their nap time.
If you’re lucky enough to have a child that still naps, I’d love to know your secret! When The Boy was younger, he was a champion napper. It gave me ample time for freelance projects and personal, creative pursuits. Baby Boy is rejecting his nap time most days, I’m sad to say. So for now, I take a midday walk with him and use this time to commune with nature and let my thoughts run free. I highly recommend an afternoon walk for some fresh air and the chance to gather eclectic ideas for your creative endeavors. During most of these walks, my son will doze off for a short time. By the time I return home and transfer him out of the stroller and back inside, I have only a brief time for writing before the older children arrive at their bus stop at the end of the school day. This is the toughest time for me to write. Nevertheless, I strive to utilize that time for me and my writing, if even for thirty minutes, or less. Thirty minutes spent writing is better than writing nothing at all.
Burn the midnight oil, but only if that works for you.
During my younger days, I was a night owl. In my forties, though, I am slowing down in the evening and feel that my writing time is wasted after a certain hour. My wonderful husband will handle baths and the nighttime routine. If given the choice, I honestly choose to exercise most evenings rather than write because a brisk walk or fitness class helps me to decompress in a healthier way. Though, if the weather is uncooperative, or I’ve had ample time to exercise during the day (which is rare), I will plant myself at my desk to scrawl or type away. On the nights I write (like tonight), it’s usually time well-spent. Anymore, I like to have my computer turned off by 8:00 PM so that I can unwind with my husband and rest my mind. I am confident that the writing pieces swirling around my head after hours won’t flitter away into the abyss of forgetfulness, and this schedule helps me to acquire the essential sleep I need to meet, God-willing, another full and challenging day of motherhood.
Designate and schedule one, non-negotiable chunk of time per week for creating.
Lastly, I have declared the mid-week morning that Baby Boy attends nursery school for two-and-a-half-hours as “Sacred Writing Time.” Sacred Writing Time is designated and guaranteed; the only moments in my week that are non-negotiable, set aside for writing and only writing. During these couple of hours, I do not take phone calls (except from my children’s schools), nor do I read, shop, set appointments, clean, etc… Making this time a priority and only for writing has been a gift and game-changer in my life as a mother-writer. Knowing I will write at least two hours a week takes the pressure off during my busiest weeks taking care of all the essential motherhood tasks, caring for sick kids, running to and from appointments, and more. “Sacred Writing Time” is just that, sacred, and I take it quite seriously. Once I return home from preschool drop-off, I am eagerly at my computer without delay.
For further inspiration about how to carve out the time to write while entrenched in the glories of motherhood, or distracted by your presently busy life, please look no further than to these, more seasoned and reliable writers than I:
http://www.sunset.com/travel/anne-lamott-how-to-find-time by Anne Lamott
https://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers by James Clear
http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-menkedick-literary-value-of-motherhood-20170416-story.html by Sarah Menkedick
https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/writing-motherhood by Marcelle Soviero
If inspired to, please comment on how you carve out time in your week for your creative pursuits. As always, thank you for reading and happy writing!
“We are all carrying so many things in our life and inside ourselves. Often it feels there is no place to put them down. Where do you place the questions you carry” ~ Sabrina Ward Harrison, Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself