This piece, written by Lesley Conner, author of short story horror fiction, illustrates an issue many writers who are mothers face daily. Visit her site at http://lesleyconner.squarespace.com
I have two kids, a 7 year old and a 2 year old. That means that my life, at least at this point in time, is not my own. It’s my children’s. When they need me to make them a snack, build a tower out of blocks that they can knock over, read them a story, or just sit and cuddle and watch Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse again, then I do that.
Writing comes after that.
There are people out there that will tell you that if you truly want to be a writer, then writing comes first. Always. To them, nothing else matters but putting the words on the page and creating something wonderful.
To those people, I say bullshit. Just because I put my family first, doesn’t mean that I’m a bad writer. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a writer. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have that magical drive that makes writers write and everyone else talk about writing. It just means that I realize that my children are more important than anything that I want right now in my life. They’ll only be little for so long. They’ll only want to spend time snuggled up with me, reading Little House of the Prairie or playing Triominoes for so long before they become too cool for mommy. I’m not going to waste these years writing when I can be enjoying my kids.
So, if my time belongs to my children, when do I write? That’s a wonderful question. It’s a question that I constantly ask myself and that I have to keep coming up with new answers to.
Writing late at night, after my girls go to bed, isn’t an option for me. I know a lot of people do their best writing during those dark hours when the world is quiet and the house sleeps, but I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work for me. By the time I get both kids in bed, my brain is mush. I’m lucky if I can stay awake and focused enough to watch some stupid reality show. Most of the time, I just go to bed. If I do stay up and try to write, I find myself constantly looking at the clock, wondering if my younger daughter is going to sleep through the night or if I’m going to be up most of the night, snuggled on the couch, wavering between trying to go to sleep and wanting to get her back in her own bed so I can crawl in bed next to my husband.
For a while, I wrote while my older daughter was at school and my younger daughter napped. That worked really well for me. I finished the first draft of a novel that way, and several short stories. Then, right after Thanksgiving, my younger daughter decided that she is a big girl and she doesn’t need to nap anymore. My writing time vanished. I gave up writing for December. Between preparing for Christmas, trying to get my daughter back on a schedule, and baking about a million cookies, writing just didn’t happen and couldn’t let myself feel guilty about it. What good would that do? Instead, I focused on rearranging my thinking and finding a new writing time.
Right after New Year’s I started getting up a 5AM and working on my writing until six, when I need to get my older daughter up for school and the little girl I babysit arrives at my house. This isn’t the optimum time. On a good day, I get about 30 minutes of actual writing time, after going to the bathroom, getting the coffee started, and peeking at my email. In that time, I can get between 400 and 500 words written. Most days aren’t good. One of my kids or the other usually gets up, stealing my time, or I need to balance my checkbook so I can write a check for a bill that will be late if it doesn’t go in the mail that day. Something happens.
Even with all of these disruptions. Even with the fact that I whole heartedly believe that spending time with my children is more important than writing right now, I still keep at it. I don’t give up on writing, or submitting, or marketing the anthologies that my published stories appear in. I still do all of that, though sometimes weeks go by with very little movement on the writing front. Writing with young children underfoot is slow, at best. At times it is so slow that I feel like I’m moving backwards, but I know it will get better, and that if I keep working on it now, then when the day comes that my children no longer need me nearly constantly, I will emerge a stronger a writer with tools gleaned from years of struggling for every word put down on the page.