The Difficult Truth About Writing When You Have Kids

The Difficult Truth About Writing When You Have Kids

Five and a half years ago, my writing career finally seemed on the verge of taking off. I’d just published my first novel, I’d finished writing Publishing E-Books For Dummies, which was to be published by Wiley, and I’d launched an online membership site for writers.

Then I got pregnant.

This was, of course, a lovely and joyous occasion. It was also – as you might imagine – the start of my writing career grinding to a halt.

A couple of years on, with a nearly two year old daughter and a newborn son, a great writing day involved 15 minutes of writing while their naps (briefly) overlapped.

If you have young children, I’m sure you know what it’s like. Kids take up a huge amount of your time and energy – not just with feeding, changing and playing, but also all the extra laundry and food prep. Not to mention the broken nights.

You might well wonder if you should just give up on writing all together, at least until they’re in school.

Some writers do: For them, it may well be the right choice.

But the majority, I think, want to keep up at least a bit of writing.

writing with kidsThe hard truth about being a writer with children

Becoming a parent is probably the biggest change you’ll ever go through in your life.

When my daughter was born, I had the vague idea in my head that (after a brief spell of maternity leave), life would just…carry on as normal.

But of course, once you become a parent, you simply won’t be able to carry on working at the same pace as before. A great deal of your formerly free time is taken up by caring for your child – and doing all the extra chores that children create.

I’m someone who likes to move fast, and it’s been hard to realize that I simply can’t write and work in the same way as I could pre-kids. It’s also been tough to watch other writers, without kids, zoom on ahead of me in their careers.

If you’re fairly new to parenthood, I’m sure you’ll have been through many of the same emotions. Some well-meaning friends or family members may tell you to “enjoy every moment” of your kids being young, or that the most important thing is to just focus on your children right now.

Please don’t let that sort of advice become a massive guilt trip.

Don’t give in to writers’ guilt

When I’ve surveyed the writers I know, or looked at the discussions cropping up in writing-related Facebook groups and forums, there’s often a lot of guilt associated with writing.

Writers feel guilty for taking the time to write…and parent writers can be particularly prone to this. It may seem self-indulgent, even selfish, to take the time to write when you could be playing with your kids (or putting on the third load of laundry that day).

On the other hand, many writers also feel guilty for not writing – even when things are really hectic. They feel that they should be writing a certain amount per day, or per week, and they berate themselves for not achieving that.

Today, let go of the guilt. You’re not just a parent – you’re a person in your own right, and there’s nothing at all wrong with taking some time for yourself to do something that you find fulfilling.

At the same time…if you need a break from writing, don’t feel at all bad about taking one. There’s honestly no “rule” that says you should write every day, or write a certain amount each week.  

Three crucial steps for carrying on writing when you have kids

If you do want to keep up at least some writing while your children are young, here are three crucial things to do:

1. Negotiate with your partner

Unless your partner is also a writer, they won’t automatically know what you need. Tell them!

Be explicit about what you want: “I’d like to spend two hours every Saturday afternoon writing. Could you take the kiddo out to the park?”

(In return, of course, you might make sure that your partner gets a couple of hours every week to focus on something they really want to do.)

If you’re parenting on your own – first, I salute you; I can’t imagine how hard it must be. Can you rope in a friend or family member to help, even once a week, so you can get some time to write?

2. Make the most of the writing time you do have

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve actually written more fiction since having kids than I did before!  

Because I now have to schedule in my writing time, I find that I’m more likely to actually do it – before kids, it was easy to wait for “a free Saturday” or “a whole afternoon” to write.

When you sit down to write, write. You might want to switch off your internet connection and silence your phone.

Short writing sessions can actually be an advantage here: most of my fiction writing happens in 30 minute chunks, and it’s easy to tell myself I can focus for 30 minutes!

3. Don’t be a perfectionist

Writers, I’ve noticed, can have a tendency towards perfectionism. While this can be helpful at times (like when editing), it can also be seriously detrimental.

A couple of sayings that I find useful are, “Good enough is good enough” and “Finished is better than perfect.”

This doesn’t just apply to writing. If you’re struggling to find enough time to write, maybe you need to lower your standards when it comes to chores – or your children.

It won’t do any harm to use ready-made meals or to let them watch a bit of extra TV, if that means you can free up some more time to write.

If you’re about to start a family, or if you have young children, you can absolutely keep writing. You may even find, like I did, that you’re more efficient now that you have less time available.

If, however, you want to take a break from writing while your children are young – then do. It doesn’t have to be one-time decision, either: you might decide to have a year off, but if you change your mind, you can always pick up writing again.

Whatever you decide, remember that you are an important part of your family (just as much as your kids are) and you are absolutely entitled to arrange family life in a way that makes you happy too.

Filed Under: Craft
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9 comments

  • Howard Mills says:

    Loved your words – they reminded me to stop making excuses and just do what has to be done.
    My biggest hurdle is the “getting into the rhythm”, which in the past took up to an hour. My young family has made that hard..
    I know what needs to be done i just need to do it – ADJUST..
    Thanks

  • Anthony says:

    2 and 3 are things to live by as a writer with kids. I blog in my down time. It helps to keep me sharp. Great post.

  • I find it interesting that the assumption here is that “of course” you will be your children’s full-time caregiver. Would an article entitled “The Difficult Truth of Running a Plumbing Company When You Have Kids” have ever made this assumption?

    The reality is that being a full-time freelancer and being a full-time parent are both, well, full time jobs. It is unrealistic to think you can really do both of them full time. Just because your workplace as a writer is at home does not mean you are available for other work at home. It’s important, therefore, to make an intentional choice that is right for you and your family.

    If you choose to cut your writing career to part-time or even totally suspend it while your children are young, that is much like the decision many other working parents in all kinds of jobs make. If you instead choose to put your children in daycare from an early age and keep working full-time, well, that’s a decision many make, as well. The important thing is that you make the choice that’s right for your family.

    Whichever choice you make, don’t feel guilty for not being able to “do it all.”

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    epiclesisconsulting.com

  • First, congrats on your little blessings! And congrats in finding a way to keep writing. I raised six kids (and homeschooled them) and I only regret not trying harder in the early years to keep writing, both personal and business. For one thing, you actually forget some of those amazing moments with them you think are etched into your brain. And the punctuation/grammar rules that haven’t changed are now a bit fuzzy in my brain.

    Children cause the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows. You may struggle to find time to write, but you will write on a deeper level, especially as you pass through each stage with its own challenges.

    I only have one left in the home. I don’t look back and wish my house had been cleaner or I’d made more homemade meals. I only wonder if I held them enough, played with them enough, and loved them enough.

    I’m happy that you are doing both. Writing a little, without guilt, and loving a lot. Blessings to you in both your journeys!

  • This is literally my life right now!

  • Elizabeth Westra says:

    I found that I did more writing when my kids were home, because they supplied me with tons of writing ideas. I used the time after they left for school (around 8) until they came home again( around 3). Of course didn’t write all of this time, but this was my writing time, my job. Now that they are no longer home I find I don’t have as many ideas and don’t write as much. I often wish I had the steady stream of ideas my children’s lives afforded me. So, use what little time you have to write, because you have ideas living right with you. Just listen to them talk about their day and what went on, and you’ll have ideas galore.

    Also, don’t be like a friend of mine who couldn’t write until her house was clean and her dishes done, etc. I wrote with dust on my tables and dishes in the sink. There was always time to do those things once they were home or in bed.

  • Susan Cunningham says:

    Great article. I have a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old and work part-time. I did NaNoWriMo in November and won it but have only picked up my novel once since then as I haven’t had time. Your 30-minute chunk idea (I know it’s not new, and lots of people use the Pomodoro technique too) has made me realise I need to take 30-minute chunks for me. Spot on with the guilt too. Happy writing and I shall be tackling my novel again tonight – thanks!

  • Robintvale says:

    I have an eight-year-old that still wants all of my time if he can get it, I work on my book mostly when he’s at school if I’m not busy doing other stuff. During summer vacation I stay up really late or get up 4-5 am that gives me a couple of hours. 🙂

  • Robin says:

    That is assuming you have a partner if no partner forget all that, I’ve learned to write between stolen moments of quiet and when my little boy is asleep This often means skipping sleep together along some writing is done or when my boy is at school. As for skipping sleep, it’s necessary when summer vacation starts. ;-;