Caution: Parent at Work

I’m writing in my office when my kids start chasing one another through the house. Within minutes, the game turns into karate kicks and slugging, with the 2-year-old yelling, “Cut it out!” from the sidelines. I know what comes next. Someone will start crying and come running to me, a tattle tumbling from his lips.

I have two choices: I could stop writing until the kids grow up, or I can deal with their interruptions right now so I can get back to work. Since I’ve never been one to wait, I choose the second option. If you’re attempting to juggle a home writing career and parenting responsibilities, try these tricks so you can get back to work.

Tell them, “Writing is my job, and I go to work like anyone else.”
This advice comes from author Ann Rule, who managed to support her family by writing from home. Adds freelance writer Carla Charter, “My kids know they have two working parents. They try not to interrupt because they know my job allows me to be there when they need me.”

Divide your labors.
Children’s author Rick Walton divides his writing tasks into those he can do with kids running wild and those he can’t. For the latter, Walton schedules time to write, hangs up a “Dad at Work” sign and locks the door. He also sets time aside specifically for “dealing with the kids and their issues, demands and needs.”

Set a goal.
When your family attempts to derail your train of thought, having a figurative writing destination—a time limit, word count or page quota—can help them to understand that eventually you will stop working.

“I can’t stop until I’ve written five pages” is more concrete than “Leave me alone. I’ve got work to do!”

If you have preschoolers, use a timer. Set the timer for no more than 30 minutes. Put it where they can watch the minutes tick by and let them know that when the bell rings, you’ll be available. Then follow through. “I sometimes have to stop and play a game with my son,” says novelist Rachel Nuñes. “But then he’ll let me go back to work.”

Ask if it’s an emergency.
“Sometimes kids just want a little commiseration,” Nuñes points out. “I listen for a minute, then tell them I’ll help when I’m finished.”

“But it’s an emergency!” your kids might answer. Fire, choking, vomit—these are real emergencies. Needing a ride to the mall isn’t. Establish what you consider a valid interruption and don’t get up for anything less.

Threaten.
If all else fails, follow Nuñes’ example and tell the perpetrators they’ll owe you a chore if they don’t leave you alone. Then watch them run.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. But do get going, even if you know you’ll be interrupted. As business writer Kevin Nunley says, it’s always easier to come back to something you’ve already started. And that includes your career as a writer.

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