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Ten Steps to Balance Writing, Working, and Raising Kids—While Staying Sane

I started writing this article by staring at the screen for five minutes, trying to think of a good comparison for my life, so I could be witty and demonstrate my writing chops. But you know what? I’m too tired, because my 17-month-old was up in the middle of the night, suddenly terrified of his baby monitor.


Column by Brigid Kemmerer is the author of THICKER THAN WATER
(Dec. 29, 2015 Kensington Teen) as well as the YALSA-nominated
Elemental Series, available wherever books are sold. She lives and
works in the Baltimore area with her husband, their four boys, and a
well-used coffee pot. Follow her on Twitter

And you know what else? You don’t need me to tell you how busy I am. If you’re a mother or a father, you’re busy too. We’re all busy.

But just so you have a frame of reference, here’s my life:

  • Four kids ranging in age from 1 to 18.
  • A wonderful husband who likes to set eyes on me every once in a while.
  • An active writing career, with five full length novels published since 2012 (and more to come!)
  • A full time job (40 hours per week) in the financial services industry.
  • A caffeine addiction. Seriously. Someone pass the coffee.

If you’re an aspiring or published author in the same boat (or even if you’re just a parent who loves reading checklists), I’d like to share some of what works in the Kemmerer house to keep everything running smoothly.

1. Get your significant other to buy in.

I couldn’t do this without my husband’s support. I just couldn’t. Of course, it’s easier now that I’m making money from the writing career, but that wasn’t always the case. Make a schedule, make it a job, and respect that chasing your dream isn’t something you’re doing on your own if you have a family. Everyone is involved, even if you’re the only one putting words on the page.

(Learn how to start your novel strong.)

2. Get out of the house to write.

I go to Starbucks to get the bulk of my drafting done. I know it’s time borrowed from my husband’s sanity, but it’s important, because it allows me to focus. I can get a chapter written in two or three hours at Starbucks, but if I try to write a chapter at home, it can take upwards of six. When Mommy is home, she’s fair game.

I also think that being out of the house allows you and your spouse to treat writing more like a job. I worked out a schedule with my husband to write on Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights from 7 – 10 (or later), and Sunday afternoons from 1 - 5. This accomplishes two goals: During all other times with my family, I can be mentally present, not worrying about deadlines or emails or my writing career. When I get to Starbucks, I can sit down and write, because it’s my job, and I know I’ve spent quality time with my kids during the rest of the week.

3. Live in the moment.

People always used to say this, and my reaction was basically WTF. Live in the moment? What the hell does that mean?

It means exactly that. To be mentally present in the moment you’re experiencing right that second. When I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m with my kids, I’m with my kids. This is where number 2 comes in handy. This also takes practice to get it right. If you’re writing and you’re feeling guilty about your kids, you have to force yourself to put that out of your head. And when you’re with your kids and you want to jot down a quick chapter, resist the urge. Take a quick voice memo or put something in a notes app so you don’t forget, and then let it go.

4. Multitask.

But not in the way you think. Combine duties and family time. On Sunday mornings, we go to the grocery store as a family. I know, it sounds like the seventh circle of hell—and sometimes it can be—but it’s a chance for the family to do something together. We stop for donuts, we use two carts and take turns pushing the little ones, and we all contribute to the effort. My husband and I have quiet time to talk when we’re driving. The kids help put away groceries. It also wears everyone out for nap time. WIN. Look at your life and see where everyone’s help could make a family event out of a chore. Yard work? Blast music and order pizza and root beer. Morning housework? Everyone picks a room and whoever straightens it most quickly gets to pick that night’s dessert.

5. Prep, prep, prep.

I’m a freak about making sure my family eats real food, so we don’t buy a lot of processed crap. (That’s a topic for another article.) After the Sunday morning shopping trip, I prep everything for the week so packing lunches is a snap. If I buy two bags of grapes and put them in the refrigerator, no one will eat them. If I clean all the grapes and put them in individual snack bags, we’ll run out before the end of the week. I slice all the fruit and put snacks in individual bags. I put hummus in small containers and stack them in the refrigerator. I open everything and divvy it all up. This can take me an hour or two, but the time it saves during the week is immeasurable. When it’s time to pack lunches or offer a snack, I can grab, grab, grab and then I’m done—and I know my kids are eating something healthy, not pouring a can of Pringles down their throat.

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6. Make time for your significant other.

This is important. I feel like I should put that in capital letters. THIS IS IMPORTANT. It can be easy to fall into the trap of spending so much energy on kids, writing, and work that you don’t have anything left for your spouse (or yourself), but you need to find a way to make this a priority. Even if you can only afford a babysitter for enough time to run to McDonald’s for a 30 minute break with your partner, do it. Sit down, make eye contact, and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around poop or Thomas the Tank Engine. Or, god forbid, both.

7. Ask for help.

This is a tough one for me. I think it’s a tough one for all women. When you spend your younger years hearing, “Women can do anything!” it can make it challenging to get to your thirties and find that yes, you can do anything, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little assistance. I don’t like to inconvenience people, so if my husband is playing Diner Dash on his iPad, I’ll pull out a ladder to get things down from a high shelf—and he’ll say, “Why didn’t you ask me to get that?” It’s okay to ask, even when it’s bigger than just getting a stepstool. I still vividly remember a fight with my husband when the baby was colicky and the toddler wasn’t sleeping and I was on deadline, and I screamed at him, “I can’t do everything by myself!” He looked at me, somewhat bewildered, somewhat pissed off, and calmly said, “No one is asking you to.”

It was an eye-opening moment for me. Ask for help. It doesn’t put you in a position of weakness. I promise.

(What types of novel beginnings get an agent or editor to keep reading?)

8. Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Social media is awesome, but it will also suck the life out of you quicker than anything else. I might be finishing up a writing sprint at Starbucks, feeling so accomplished because I wrote 2,500 words one day, and then I’ll see a tweet come across my feed that someone has written 8,000 words. And then I’ll want to stab my MacBook.

What other writers accomplish (or don’t) means nothing to your career. NOTHING. If someone is a bestselling author it doesn’t mean you can’t be a bestselling author. Books are not vacuums or toaster ovens. Someone doesn’t just buy one for their house and not buy another for five years.

9. When you’re writing, WRITE.

I can fall down an internet hole so quickly that it’s a miracle I don’t get a concussion when I hit the bottom. It’s easy to make yourself feel productive. It’s research! It’s brand-building! I’m fostering relationships with readers!

But if you’re not getting words on paper, all of that is worthless. All the branding and blogging and social media exposure in the world isn’t going to help you if those people don’t have a book to read.

10. Be good to yourself.

When you’re a mom, it’s easy to get caught up in how awesome other moms are based on what you see scrolling through Facebook. I have one friend who makes amazingly detailed cakes for her kids on their birthdays, another mom who makes the most intricate Bento boxes for lunchtime (both are working mothers, by the way), and a dozen more who are amazing in their own way. These posts always used to poke at my self-confidence and made me feel like a lesser mother. Then one night I decided to take my older kids snow tubing with some other moms from school. It was a school night, it was 2 hours away, and it was exhausting, but it was AWESOME. We made some really cool memories.

The next day, another mom at work said, “I saw your photos of snow tubing on Facebook. You’re such a good mom. I never do things like that for my kids.” (Meanwhile, she’s the most dedicated sports mom I know, and she spends every evening and weekend driving her kids to this or that practice or tournament.)

You don’t have to be as good as anyone else. You just have to be yourself and do the best you can.


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