Writing With Kids (Without Losing Your Marbles)
You're writing the best love scene ever to sizzle off a computer screen. The artful amalgamation of words will undoubtedly dazzle editors, agents, contest judges, and then--
"Mom! Maggie spit on me! I left my spelling words at school! Trooper barfed on the kitchen floor!"
Talk about a proverbial bucket of cold water! Welcome to my ever-exciting world of writing with four children.
With my first manuscript, I sequestered myself in the study, a creative haven. Initially, my children respected Mommy's "work time." Chubby fingers would scooch polite notes under the door. "If you don't mind, we'd like to eat lunch before supper."
This mannerly approach lasted for almost a week. My offspring, all brilliant like their parents, soon deduced the obvious. Mom wasn't ever coming out. They lost all respect for that locked door. Everything became an emergency warranting the determined pounding of eight tiny fists.
I persevered. You will, too!
After completing four manuscripts, I haven't yet been lodged at the local funny farm. (Although I hear my hubby has brochures.) Therefore, I consider myself qualified to pass along a few hard won pieces of advice on how to maximize writing time, while maintaining a trace of sanity.
Writing is an art. However, writing is also a job. Thus began my quest of how to punch forty hours into the time clock.
Since I've never been one to spend two hundred dollars on thirty-five Rubbermaid containers for compartmentalizing life, I opted for a simpler approach. I divided my writing time into three segments based on the noise level, and then assigned writing tasks to each.
Uninterrupted Creative Time (Miracles Can Happen!)
While it would be heavenly to have a Virginia Woolf "room of one's own" for the entire work day, that isn't realistic. Decide which part of the creative process must be accomplished without interruption. Are first drafts tougher? Or does the revision process strike terror in your heart?
Analyze the day or week and pinpoint guaranteed segments of silence: preschool mornings, a stolen moment before the children wake, an hour after they go to bed, baby's nap, weekends, an hour's worth of Barney video bribe. Those are the times to reserve for the intense levels of writing.
Set reasonable page quotas for the week. Reward yourself for accomplishing them. Rejoice in the accomplishment and up the ante. My critique partners and I set writing goals, then celebrate with lunch out during a precious hour of kid free time. Refreshed, I'm ready to tackle a new chapter.
On occasion, those blessed hours aren't enough and the locked door policy must be invoked. For when the fists come pounding, keep a goody stash available to toss out as a sacrifice. Rings pops, a clearanced dot-to-dot book, or a bag of gummy worms will tame the rioting masses. However, once I began reserving the locked door policy for my emergency writing times, the children began respecting it, only knocking in the event of a true emergency of their own.
Quiet Time (Interspersed With Sporadic Gunfire!)
Next, we have the open door policy. Mom's at the computer, but the door's open. The children may be cavorting in the sprinkler as I watch through the window over my computer. Suddenly, they disappear from sight, only moments later tromping soaking wet into the office to gift me with a precious, soggy hug.
Writing consists of more than that first creative blast on paper. Consider using this time for tasks better suited for stopping midway through - typing in revisions, critiquing, writing newsletter articles, judging contest entries, e-mail networking, outlining, internet research, printing manuscript copies, even hammering out a less complex scene.
Add more time to this section by analyzing the day and shaving minutes off household tasks. Run the washer while working to buy extra time later. Take a quick stretch every half hour to change loads and refill a glass of tea.
The hobbies have to go. I enjoy cooking, but realized I was spending three hours a day in front of the stove. I love writing more. Simplifying meals added two hours to my writing time.
Be flexible. Have children do their homework next to the computer. My preschooler has become quite adept at dragging her bag of art supplies down the hall to my office.
Full Scale Chaos (Working Through the Mayhem!)
Life and fanny fatigue demand some time away from the computer. Print out a scene for revision and take it to the junior high basketball practice. (Consider double siding and single spacing to save paper.) Bring a notebook to the Christmas pageant rehearsal and outline a synopsis. Read a chapter of Bickham's Scene and Structure during the half hour spent in the piano teacher's driveway.
Make the most of every moment. During the fifty plus miles a day carpooling, scout for book ideas. My OSI hero emerged from watching a cop direct traffic during a roadblock. Meet a critique partner at the park and brainstorm through a plot while the kids play.
Compile a master list of tasks to accomplish. Post it by the computer. When the dog barfs, glance to see what you can accomplish while mopping.
And don't forget the most important element of writing romance. Reading it. Keep a good book in your purse. Study as you read. Fifteen minutes waiting for a train to pass can bring a chapter's worth of joy and insight.
Conclusion (Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!)
These flexible three steps of delegating time adjust themselves to the ever-changing needs of family life. I've tried to be more organized, but my daughter colored on my goals chart. I have a Barbie house in my office, and the kids used my file folders to make army hats.
Work with what you have. Don't sweat the small stuff. Above all, don't let a day pass without devoting time to your family and your job. Maybe you'll put fresh words on the page. But don't forget to give yourself credit for creating a stellar new story idea from chaperoning the preschool field trip to the fire station.
RITA Award winning author Catherine Mann writes military romances, a natural fit since she's married to her very own Air Force aviator research source. To learn more about Catherine's work and updates on her best-selling Wingmen Warriors series, visit her website at www.catherinemann.com
(Article first appeared in the NOLA News, North Louisiana Story Tellers and Authors of Romance, March 1999.)