Here’s a riddle for you: How does a busy parent with a demanding day job and two little kids write a book?
The short answer? One word at a time.
Okay, yeah, you might be thinking. As every parent knows, making time to write is a bit more complicated than that.
In order to give you a more helpful answer, here are five tips for writing as a parent.
Tip #1: Develop the right mindset.
This is the first and hardest tip. As a parent, it can be easy to put everything else before writing, especially if you aren’t yet published or don’t see yourself as a “real writer.”
Guess what? You don’t need to be published to be a writer. You don’t need a book deal to be a writer. You don’t need to get paid for writing to be a writer. You don’t even have to be good at writing to be a writer. Do you write? Congrats. You are a writer. Start seeing yourself that way.
Think of it this way: I wasn’t published when I wrote my debut novel, Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships. So when did I “officially” become a writer? When I got the book deal? When the book came out?
That would be silly, wouldn’t it? Of course I was a writer before. How else would I have written the book?
You don’t need anyone’s permission to consider yourself a writer, but in case you still feel like you do, you have mine. I hereby declare you a writer.
It may seem silly, but having the right mindset sets the foundation for everything else. When you take yourself and your writing seriously, it’s easier to make time and space to write without guilt. When you take your writing seriously, so will other people. The sooner you see yourself as a writer, the more writing you’ll do. Trust me.
Tip #2: Do it first.
If I want to write without my kids around, it’s either happening before my kids get up in the morning or after they go to bed. My day job (teaching) is incredibly draining, and by the time my kids go to bed at 8:30pm, the only task my brain can really handle is vegging out on the couch with an episode of Bob’s Burgers.
So I wake up at 5:30 most mornings and write.
Some writers with kids and day jobs prefer writing at night. I am happy for those people, but I am not one of them.
If you’re struggling to fit writing into your life, I strongly suggest giving early morning writing a good effort, even if you’re a night owl. Why? Because by the time your kids' feet hit the floor, you’ve already checked off writing for the day. There’s no opportunity for an emergency to pop up and derail your writing plans. The demands of parenting and work haven’t yet sapped you of your creative energy.
Basically, get it over with first thing and you can go throughout the rest of your day feeling accomplished.
Yes, waking up at 5:30 was hard at first. But the more I started waking up early to write, the more I really valued and enjoyed that time for me. You don’t have to wake up as early as I do. You don’t have to do it every day (I don’t!). Even waking up 20-30 minutes before your kids two to three days a week can make a big difference in your writing life.
An added bonus? On the days I get up before my kids to write, I am a happier and more patient parent. Once the writing is done, I get to jump into my day without the anxiety of finding the time and energy to write later.
Tip #3: Set ridiculously small goals.
You don’t need to write every day to be a writer. You don’t need large swaths of time for a good writing session. My only goal on a writing day is that I must write for 10 minutes. If, after 10 minutes, I’m not feeling it, I can be done for the day without guilt.
Why have such a small and simple writing goal? Because having an easy-to-achieve goal means I am more likely to sit down and write. Usually, that 10 minutes turns into an hour or two.
Consistency matters more than anything else when it comes to writing. A writing goal of 10 minutes, five days a week is better than an eight-hour session once or twice a month, even though the latter is technically more time.
Why? Because by writing in smaller, more regular increments, you are training your brain to sit down and write. You’re getting into the creative habit. If your 10 minutes don’t go well, no pressure. You get another 10 tomorrow.
However, if you only allow yourself to write when you have huge chunks of time, you’re putting a lot of pressure on those writing sessions. We all have days when we’re distracted or not feeling it, but when you don’t write often, it is far more discouraging to have a bad writing day.
If you set a goal to write for 10 minutes five times a week, I guarantee you’ll end up writing more than those 50 minutes. And not only that, but writing will become easier, you’ll be less stressed, and your words will be better.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need large chunks of time to dedicate to your writing. Sure, that would be nice. But if you don’t have it, stop waiting for it. Work with the time you have. (And I’m pretty sure you’ve got 10 minutes somewhere in your day a couple of times a week.)
Tip #4: Train your brain to write anywhere.
I have written in many strange places. The carpool line. Parking lots. Emergency rooms. Airplanes. Sitting on the (closed) toilet while my kid takes a bath.
Is the writing amazing and wonderful when I am in these places? Not always. But the writing exists, and even if it sucks, I can make it better once I do get that quiet time.
I am constantly trying to steal a few minutes of writing here and there. That time adds up! And the more often I write in less-than-ideal contexts, the easier it becomes to write no matter what chaos is going on around me.
Tip #5: Ask for help.
How do you do it all? I get asked this question a lot. The truth is, I don’t. I am fortunate to have a partner who is supportive of my writing. If I need extra writing time, I ask for it. He gets the kids ready for school so I can have some extra time in the morning. Some afternoons, if I’m really feeling like I need to catch up on some words, I’ll ask him for 20 minutes, and more often than not, he is more than happy to give me that time.
This loops back to tip #1 on getting the right mindset. The people in my life know writing is important to me, so when I give them the chance to help, they are more than happy to do so.
This is trickier if you are a single-parent, but hopefully you have a family member or friend in your life who you can ask for a little bit of time now and then. You don’t have to do it all. There’s no shame in needing a little help.
Long story short, writing is hard. Parenting is hard. Writing as a parent is really really hard. But it isn’t impossible. Having children isn’t a death sentence to your creativity. It’s just one more way to exercise that creativity.