April 6th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
When Life Has Other Plans

HelenKay’s post from yesterday hit home for me. 2012 has already, a little more than three months in, been a tough one for me. Sicknesses, inconsistent childcare, and a variety of home/life issues have conspired to make it nearly impossible for me to work on anything like a regular schedule. According to the schedule I laid out for myself at the beginning of the year, by this time I was supposed to have written two short stories, be finishing up the final round of edits for my latest manuscript (which I was supposed to have finished in January) and be well on my way with a new one. Instead, I’ve written two short stories and am in the middle of rewrites for my manuscript, which didn’t get finished until March.

This also happened in 2010. I was pregnant, and very sick, and unable to finish my manuscript. Thus the book that was originally scheduled for a 2011 fall release is going to be out this June. I established my writing habits at a much different time in my life, when I was single and childless, and could easily put all other aspects of my life on hold while I hunkered down over my keyboard. HelenKay’s depiction of unwashed hair and sweats is an accurate one for a writer on deadline, but it’s one that applies to this harried mother of a toddler on a normal day right now. I can’t ignore her for days (or even minutes) on end while I try to work. And it’s not just a matter of feeding/dressing/changing/rocking/reading books, either. There’s an emotional energy component. I know a writer with kids who used to argue “I’m not a faucet. I can’t just turn on and off.” Just because I have fifteen minutes to myself doesn’t mean I’ll be able to concentrate for that time.

Or does it? I used to swear by the power of what I could get done in fifteen minutes. Back when I had a day job, it would be “write on the subway, write during lunch hour, write on the subway, write while dinner was in the oven…” I wrote six books that way, fifteen stolen minutes at a time. Am I just getting older, or is it something else?

During times like these, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the latter. Even back in the day, when I wasn’t writing, I didn’t have a lot of other concerns. My brain space was still very much in the world of my book. But now, even as I type this blog entry, I’m thinking about whether I need to go grocery shopping or if my daughter is still too young for an Easter basket. This morning, I spent twenty minutes trying to arrange childcare for next Tuesday. While driving to and from daycare, instead of thinking about my book, I was singing songs and trying to distract my daughter from the apparently all-important fact that she’d dropped her hairband in between the car seats.

Clearly, I’m losing “mental” time that I didn’t used to account for during my “fifteen minutes.” I know, I know, welcome to motherhood. I also know life will get easier as my daughter gets a bit older and can deal with her own darn hairbands. But this is my job — I can’t put it on hold. If anyone has some tips for how to get my head in the game, even while reading “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie” for the thirteenth time that day, I’m all ears.

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4 comments to “When Life Has Other Plans”

  1. Laura Lee Nutt
     · April 6th, 2012 at 10:57 am · Link

    I completely sympathize, Diana. I have two boys only 14 months apart, and they’re not that far out of the toddler phase. It’s hard, really hard. Honestly, after I had children, children started appearing in greater numbers in my stories just because they consumed so much of my thoughts.

    But about the problem of having time to focus and write. I think it’s a skill you have to learn. But that’s easier said than done. While my sons were still nursing, I hardly wrote at all, though I know some who do. Of course, I hadn’t established good writing habits at that point, but even if I’d had them, I think I would have had to cut back drastically. But once they got old enough to entertain themselves for brief periods of time, I got back into it. I’m nowhere near where I used to be, where I could sit down in the morning, forget to eat lunch, and look up from writing when it got dark and my stomach rumbled too loudly to ignore.

    Now, I catch a few minutes here and there. I literally may only write a few sentences or a couple paragraphs before I’m off handling something for the boys. It’s like my writer mind learned how to pause itself, like when you rarely have time to sleep and your body learns to sleep hard, fast, and efficiently when it has the chance. You can train yourself that way just by practicing.

    I write on a laptop now. I carry it with me almost everywhere so I can snatch those moments. I also taught my boys how to entertain themselves. They know they can come get me, interrupt my writing (They’re always first.), and demand my time, but they also know how to do a puzzle, play a game, or set up their train tracks on their own. If I have to help for a minute, I’m right there, but this technique seems to work for all of us. They get mommy when they need me and I get a little extra time to write.

    Also, I work on my mental planning for writing whenever my attention isn’t immediately taken up by the kids. The shower, waiting for the water to boil for dinner, walking back from dropping them off at school, etc. (School will be a wonderful change. I only have one in now, but next year, I’ll have a lot more time to spare. It’s hard to imagine.)

    Also, we keep to a schedule. The boys have a specific bedtime and time with me built in. They know the routine. Not that this isn’t destroyed sometimes—well, more often than I’d like to admit—but it gives me some stability and helps them know what to expect. Plus, once they’re in bed, I usually have an hour or two of uninterrupted time a few times a week.

    And lastly, since I do take time for writing, I try to make the times I spend away from it with my children count as best I can. I make a concerted effort to let them know I listen to them, to get into the things they’re into, and to show them love. It is a difficult balance sometimes, and I use my boys as my meter for how well I’m doing, but it can be done. It just takes a lot of focus, effort, and learning to multitask to the extreme and switch your attention from one subject to another swiftly.

    Really, truly, you can do it. Just be patient with yourself and experiment until you find the right balance for you and your daughter. Good luck!

  2. Sasha White
     · April 6th, 2012 at 11:25 am · Link

    Seems like it’s that time of the year, isn’t it? I don’t have kids, but other things in life seem to be getting top priority for the last little while. It’s going to change though. I’ve decided that they way to ind my balance is exactly what you’ve said, be patient, and stick to it until I find the right mix/schedule that works best for all my needs. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. A. McKay
     · April 6th, 2012 at 3:31 pm · Link

    I don’t have kid either, and just now figuring how to manage my writing time. I work as security and am on a special team that takes time from me. I also manage and run a writers group that eats at my actual writing time. Then there is the regular day stuff that everyone has.
    Right now I am in my uniform taking the ten minutes before work to write and read this, so I sneak the time in also. I also taught myself, by strictly at first just writing in a notebook so I wouldn’t be afraid to write long handed if I needed too.
    I found out if I just grab the time, instead of watching GAME of Thrones (love the show too,) I write. I deadicated time later to watch shows, like one or two after work before bed.
    THe only thing I find hard is sticking to my time schedule. If you want inspiration for this i highly recommend googling interviews with Nora Roberts, she has some strict rules she follows. It inspired me

  4. LM Preston
     · April 8th, 2012 at 8:59 am · Link

    I understand the space you are in right now. I have four kids and when I started having them, writing for me actually stopped. I stayed home with the first one for only 9 months while in school then went to work through raising all of them. I have to admit working gave me a bit of a break to write during my lunch. Now I squeeze it in before they wake up and after they go to bed. However, writing will always be there, my kids will not always be children. Now though they support my writing, even write with me and go on my signing tours. It’s become a family business. You just have to find the right mix for your family.

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