‘The pram in the hallway is the enemy of creation’
As everyone who has children knows, they have a way of taking up your time, attention and energy that is disproportionate to their size. Whether you have a three-month old who won’t sleep for longer than a couple of hours or a toddler who’s sporadically possessed by a demon (I raise my hand to that one – or, worse, both at the same time – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that your time for writing anything is going to be hard-pressed and short. (Even when you have older children, life can still throw a spanner into your writing-time works, I find).
However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’d also like to point out that even if you get only fifteen minutes a day to write, once you’ve had a bit of practice under your belt, you could write 500 words in that quarter of an hour. 500 words 7 days a week is 3,500 words a week. Keep that up for fourteen weeks and you’ll have a 50,000 word novel under your belt. A novel in less than 4 months? That doesn’t sound so daunting, does it?
Even writing a little adds up over time
You might also be inspired by the fact that the majority of indie authors write fast. There are some I know who can put out a novel a month! That might seem like a ridiculous speed, but I can testify from my own experience that the more you write, the faster and easier it gets. If I remember correctly, my first novel took several years to write. My second was quicker. Now, more than twenty later, I can write a novel in six weeks. To be honest, if I pushed myself a bit harder, I could probably write one even quicker than that.
This isn’t the book to discuss the merits of writing faster, or to have a debate on whether that impacts on quality (hint: as my many happy readers would testify, I’m firmly in the camp of writing fast doesn’t necessarily equal writing badly). But I just wanted to put the idea out there that, even if you only have few minutes a day, if you keep plugging away, sooner than you’ll think, you’ll have a finished novel. Hopefully the first of many!
Writing when you have tiny babies
When I first sat down to write this part of the blog post, in my mind’s eye, it was going to be very short. Essentially, it was going to say ‘Writing a novel when you have a tiny baby? Don’t bother!’
Seriously, don’t try and do anything at least for the first three months. Particularly if this is your first baby. I don’t think you can overestimate the sheer exhaustion you feel after the birth, not to mention the hormonal mess you find yourself in (obviously I’m referring to mothers here, but fathers will be knackered too!).
And don’t get me started on the sleep deprivation. It’s hard enough just trying to survive sometimes – by that I mean the basics like eating and washing – in the first few months, let alone trying to do anything that involves the slightest bit of mental effort. The crushing weight of responsibility for the tiny, bawling scrap of a human being you’ve created is enough to be going on with.
This time goes so fast (it won’t seem like it, but it does). At the very worst points, it’s just a case of hunkering down, gritting your teeth and thinking ‘this too shall pass’. Novel? What novel? Who gives a toss about that? Seriously, don’t worry about writing anything at this stage. Rest, relax and rest some more. Novels can be written at any time, but your baby will only be tiny for a little while, so try and enjoy the moment – or at least, get through it with your sanity intact!
Some tips for writing when you have young babies
You might get lucky and have a baby that sleeps well, or feeds well, or is happy to amuse themselves for a while. You might also want to try some of the following time saving tips.
Set up ‘changing stations’ in the rooms of the house that you spend most time in. Buy a nice box or basket and stock it with nappies, wipes, Sudocreme, a changing mat, muslins and perhaps a change of clothes. You’ll save time and energy because you won’t have to lug your baby upstairs to the changing table every time you need to change a nappy. Better yet, buy a basket with a handle and you can move the changing station from room to room.
In the same vein, have a pre-packed baby bag. Put in nappies, wipes, a changing mat, a bib, muslin, a change of clothes (and, when you’re weaning, a spoon and a jar of food). You can add bottles and drinks as necessary. Keep the bag in the car, or hung on the pushchair: whatever form of transport you use most. You can then simply leave the house with all eventualities covered.
When weaning, pre-cook suitable dishes, puree and then freeze in ice cube trays. When you need to, simply pop out a couple of cubes and heat in the microwave (be sure to stir thoroughly and test for heat – try touching some to your lip – before giving it to your baby). Pasta, stew and cottage pie are all worth a go.
Writing-wise, as your baby begins to settle into more of a routine, you may find yourself with a little time to get some work done. Try writing during their naps, use a sling and learn to type one handed while breast-feeding! But seriously, don’t go overboard. You’ll have plenty of time to worry about your novel when the baby gets older. Enjoy the time you have together – it goes by so fast.
Writing with older babies and toddlers
Now, this is where it can get interesting. Your baby might not be quite so dependent on you but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have more time (sorry). In fact, once your little bundle of joy is mobile, life becomes a daily struggle to ensure they don’t scale the stairs, pull furniture over onto their heads, empty cupboards and climb into washing machines. If you haven’t done so already, childproof your house now.
Writing is one of those jobs that you can do from home but don’t think that because you can work at home, you won’t need childcare. Unless you can write exclusively during the hours your children are asleep (and even if you can, when are you going to get a break yourself?), you will have to have someone else to help out with the children. You cannot create sparkling dialogue, write breathlessly exciting action scenes, and work out a tortuous plot twist when you’ve got a toddler hammering on the office door yelling ‘Mummy – play! MUMMY – PLAY!’ Take it from me! And try typing anything when said toddler wants to sit on your lap, pull the keyboard from the computer and hurl your mouse across the room.
Relatives and friends
If you have family living nearby, who are willing and able to look after your children while you work, then this can be a lovely option. It won’t cost you anything, and you’ll know your kids are being looked after by people who care about them. However, if you have differing ideas on what constitutes good childcare, then you could be heading for trouble. You’ll also, essentially, be asking a big favour, and have nothing in place for when your writing hours don’t suit your babysitter.
Nurseries can be a great place for your child to socialise with other children and join in with activities that you might not be able to do at home (messy play or petting zoo visits, for example). Your child will not get a lot of one-to-one attention and, of course, nurseries can also be very expensive. They may also not be suitable for (and may not take) children under a certain age.
Childminders look after a small number of children in their own home. It can be a lovely home-from-home experience for your child and not quite as noisy and intimidating as a whole nursery full of other children. But you’ll have to find someone you’re comfortable leaving your child with, and be aware that you’ll need a back-up option for when your childminder is ill or on holiday.
An expensive option (you will essentially become your nanny’s employer, so will have to pay tax, national insurance and benefits, and in some cases provide accommodation) but your child will have one-to-one consistent care. It might be possible to do a ‘nanny share’ with another family or parent that you know, which can cut the cost considerably. Again, you’ll need a back-up option for when your nanny is ill or on holiday.
When you don’t have childcare
Accept that you’re not going to get much done. You may find little pockets of time here and there, where you’ll be able to write a little, do some light editing, or schedule a promotion. Keep your ‘to do’ list close to you and if your baby or toddler is happy to amuse themselves for ten minutes or so, perhaps you can get on with a few of the more easily achieved tasks while they play (still under your supervision, of course!).
If all else fails, you can always try sticking on a children’s DVD, tuning into CBeebies (God bless CBeebies!) or letting them have half an hour on your iPad or tablet.
So, to quickly recap (‘cos we don’t have much time, do we?!)
- If your children are tiny, accept that you’re not going to get much done – this will pass!
- Look into childcare options – if you can’t afford to pay for professional care, can you swap babysitting sessions with a friend?
- Keep a writing ‘to do’ list so when you do have a spare 10 minutes, you might be able to get a quick task done.
- Even if you only write a few words a day/week, over time this will add up to a book, I promise.