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You know how it is, you're plodding along, writing three pages one day, five the next, ten on a great day. You complete a story here and a novel there. Then all of a sudden a baby comes along. Whoa. Before you’ve even figured out what the hell you’re supposed to be doing with this wonderful little human being who has taken over your entire life, you have another one. Next thing you know you’re buried under an avalanche of diapers, glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, Playmobil figures and Moomintroll DVDs; you haven´t slept through the night since 2007 -- and one day you realize you haven’t written for, oh, four years…?
To take a completely random non-personal example, of course...
It´s not easy to find time to write when you have young children. Your free time is no longer your free time: it’s family time, household time, heck, in those early years it’s too-tired-to-think time.
And now, you know, because I’ve figured it all out, I’m going to tell you how to write anyway.
Time – what time?
You may feel you have no extra time to write. And I totally get the feeling. But there is no way around it, if you’re going to write, you will need to carve out some time. A good first step is to catalogue the time you do have. Get a time table, divide it into half an hour chunks (if you are ambitious, go for 15 minutes…). Get a black marker and cross out all the time slots you absolutely cannot devote to writing. This may be the time you are at work, taking a class, being in charge of a wide awake toddler, getting the kids ready for school and attempting to sleep...
Then take a look hard look at the remaining slots. There will probably be more time there than you anticipated, because, let’s face it, even the busiest of us are masters at wasting time. Pick slots when you will be writing, no matter what. This can be during naptime, during a time when your spouse will be looking after the kids, in the evenings after the kids are asleep – find some slots of time which will be dedicated to writing.
Then cross out at least half of them.
I mean it. You will aim too high when you start carving out time for yourself. When you have committed to writing half an hour a week (I told you we were aiming low), THEN you can increase the time to an hour. And when you’ve been successful at using that hour, make it two. It’s important to start so slow that you can’t possibly fail, leaving the only available path leading up.
Some ideas for carving out time and making family and fiction writing mesh:
Working on your story when you’re not writing.
Some of us have developed elaborate rituals before settling down to work. We need to straighten up our desk. We must water the plants in the window next to our desk. We need to clean our laptop screen and run the anti-virus software and play one game of Mahjong. We need to search our cabinet for that bag of Tibetan rosemary tea and brew it with double-boiled water and sprinkle it with fresh mint, sharpen the pencils we never use, and then, only then, can we get down to the serious business of opening the word processor and hunting down our document (yes, again completely random non-personal examples....).
Those rituals are called procrastination, and you can’t afford them anymore. Now that time is a rare and precious commodity you need to hit the ground running every time you sit down to write. You have carved out a few hours dedicated to writing. What you can’t do is waste this precious time on organizing your pencil mug or brewing the perfect up of coffee or checking if your favorite web comic has been updated.
You need to be prepared. You need to be involved in your story.
You need to know which keys your fingers will be hitting the moment your butt hits that chair.
There are some tricks you can use.
Stop when the going is good. You may have heard of Hemingway’s trick of always stopping when the writing is going great and you know what’s going to happen next. This works! It can be frustrating as hell to stop when things are finally flowing, but this trick does work. You will come back to that half-finished sentence that next day, and you can start typing as soon as you open the document. If you don’t even get to that wonderful place where ideas are flowing like a cheerful mountain stream, try erasing some of a favorite paragraph before quitting for the day. It will help too, you will start typing to rewrite that paragraph, and once your fingers are hitting those keys, they are more likely to continue doing so.
Record your thoughts. Keep your story in mind throughout your day. Make notes, however minuscule, because we all know what happens to brilliant thoughts if we don’t. Use a recorder as well as a notebook or a computer, it may be easier to click a button and speak into a recorder when you’re in the middle of a busy day and having trouble getting even one hand free. Most cell phones have a recorder function.
Make sure you get a change of scenery. Go for walks with your baby, see new things, talk to people. Ideas will pass by, catch them, make notes, record your thoughts, apply what you see and hear to your story.
Keep your story in mind. Try not to let it sink beneath the surface of everyday life. Changing a diaper? How would your character approach this task? Has your character ever had to wash baby puke off her favorite shoes? Look at your kid: when she is grown up, which character in your story do you think she’ll identify with?
Use lost time. Carpooling? Waiting to pick up the kids? Those are precious minutes. Never forget your notebook or recorder, or a printout of a scene. Get used to making the most of even five minutes.
Now, print out a reward chart and go buy yourself some cute stickers. You know you want to. As for me – I smell a stinky diaper. Although after only three hours of sleep last night, I may be hallucinating …
Are you a busy parent? What are some of the tricks you use to keep writing through the chaos?
Rune Michaels is the award-winning author of Genesis Alpha and other novels for young adults. Visit her website at http://www.runemichaels.com