Writing as a full-time parent

(This article was first published on writing.ie)

This time last year I gave up my job to mind my kids full time. I had a pensionable permanent (and rather manic) nursing job; a job for life. People frowned at me, groaned at me, quivered as they experienced the spine shivers that I didn’t. People that knew me and my kids properly, patted me on the back and told me I was making the right decision. A large and very excited part of me thought, naïvely, that I’d have more time and freedom to write. And while I do have more time in the vicinity of my laptop, that doesn’t mean that I write more. Finding the time to write is now more challenging than ever.

I used to write in the evening, when the kids went to bed. But minding young kids all day leaves me mentally exhausted (let’s face it, conversations aren’t always stimulating with a three year old). By evening, all I want to do is curl up on the sofa with a book or the T.V, with no demands on me. When I worked 13 hour shifts, I often came home physically exhausted, but mentally fuelled with stories and interaction. I wrote every night, no matter how tired. Now I get up early to write, which is often impossible if the kids have been unwell or awake in the night, and my eyes hang from my head like someone snapped their strings.

I also try and snatch moments; ten minutes here, ten minutes there. I don’t allow myself get into episodes of extreme flow around my children, because it’s not fair on myself or the child that receives the blunt edge of my frustration when they interrupt me. Why would I create a situation that I know will lead me to fail, and get angry at myself and the kids? Young children have endless and constant needs, and they are my priority, no matter what.

But that doesn’t mean I must neglect my love affair with words and stories. In the stolen ten minute bursts, I have endless options. I can write a character sheet. A thought process. I draw graphs and charts, blasting out ideas of what might happen. I figure out plot problems in the shower. I string words together in the woods behind the house, while I walk the dog. I read articles, research my topic. I think, what would my character do in this situation? Would she like this dinner that I’m cooking? Keeping my writing at the forefront of my mind, makes my day run smoother. It also means that I know where to pick up the next time I get a solid chunk of un-interrupted writing time.

An unexpected issue that cropped up when I stopped working, was the lack of ideas. I didn’t realise how many ideas I got from working. Ideas and stories come from real life. From getting out there and interacting; from listening, seeing and feeling. Not from doing dishes, school runs and arguing over homework. I found that the routine of mundane tasks stifled my thoughts, and dampened my ideas. Particularly in winter, where I tend to spend weeks on end stuck indoors with asthmatic children. So 5 months after quitting work, I took on another small job; one or two shifts a month in a local nursing home. It gave me the small break I needed from the house. It’s often when I stop trying to think of ideas, that I get ideas. And there are few places better than a room full of people with a whole life behind them, to find stories.

I stopped waiting for inspiration to come to me, and started looking for it myself. I gave up the notion that a writer’s mind should brim with constant stories and perfect sentences. I refused to let myself feel like a failure because I didn’t always know what to write next, and instead I thought methodically about how to create ideas. Between reading, nature, film, the internet, people, art, I started finding creative beauty hiding all around me. I just had to learn how to find it, and trust that the days I don’t find it do pass.

The biggest challenge for me, as a writer and parent, is editing. While I have learnt to write surrounded by people and bustle, I still need silence to edit. I need to allow myself get completely absorbed to see the flaws. So I plan when to edit. I ask for help. I tell people how important it is to me, and I lock the door. I am strict with myself, and I am disciplined. But having children means that even if I do plan time to edit, I can’t always carry out that plan. One gets sick. One gets frightened. One hurts themselves. One needs me.

So I try, and try again, not to chastise myself if life gets in the way, and the story takes longer than I wanted. You need endless patience to be a writer; most of all with yourself.

Right now, I write this final paragraph with my daughter serving me a tea party. I drink from imaginary cups and type words in between sips. And look, I’ve got to the end of the article despite the lack of real tea. In a minute I’ll shut my laptop, so I can be fully present with my child, my priority. Tonight, when they sleep, or tomorrow morning if I’m too tired tonight, I’ll edit it in silence.

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