The Writer Who Is Also A Parent

As you may know, I’ve a novel due in the next couple weeks. By the time you read this I may already be done said novel, but I still want some padding during these days to give it a once over and make sure it’s in tip-top shape before it leaps forthwith into the publisher’s open, loving arms. That means, over the next two weeks, you’re going to see a bunch — nay, a bushel — of guest posts here at Ye Olde Terryblemyndes bloggery hut (“Where the Elite Meet to Delete Deceit”). Friday’s flash fiction will remain ongoing, however. Anywho, here then is a guest post from Penmonkey and Munchkin Wrangler, Marko Kloos. His website is here. And don’t forget to follow him on the Twitters.

Somewhere out there, there’s a writer — let’s call him Buck.

Buck likes to write in his special space, a quiet office with view of the garden and the squirrels cavorting therein. He has a certain time for writing — the sacred slot from eight in the morning to noon, when Buck takes the phone line out of the wall and doesn’t answer the door. When Buck sits down to write, he likes to drink his special coffee blend, listen to his special writing music, wear his special writing jacket, and write with his special pen in custom-made notebooks. If even one of those conditions isn’t met, the muse will stay away, because Buck can only work the prose magic when everything is Just Right.

Right now, while Buck is finishing Chapter Two of his SF epic SPACESHIPS WITH LASERS (Volume One of the GALACTIC KABLOOIE tetralogy), his wife is in the bathroom, looking at a pregnancy test that’s showing a friendly little plus sign.

Right now, Buck is completely and utterly fucked.

Being a full-time parent and being a writer aren’t incompatible. Hell, if you truly want to write, there’s no job so time-consuming or tedious that you can’t scribble down 250 words a day in your lunch break or on the subway ride home. Where there’s a will, there’s a word count, and all that.

That said, there’s one thing you need to kiss good-bye when preparing for the job of stay-at-home parent, and that’s the lofty notion that your word count is the primary concern of your day. Your new job description is “Parent and Writer,” not the other way around. Your primary concern in life is now the naturally self-centered little thing snoozing in the bassinet nearby — the one who wants to be fed or changed or snuggled exactly thirty seconds after you’ve opened the laptop to tack some more words onto the first draft of ELVES IN CHAIN MAIL BIKINIS. If your muse needs seclusion, silence, and a predictable schedule to come visit, you won’t see the flighty little bitch again until your kid goes off to college. That’s why you have to flag her down for a little chat the moment you know you’re going to be a stay-at-home parent. You need to convince her to switch to an on-call schedule. If that means pulling the old trick where you offer her a smoke, quickly handcuff her to your own wrist, and then flush the key down the toilet, then so be it. Because from the day you bring your baby home from the hospital, your schedule has been switched to “on-call,” too.

My kids are now six and four. I have been a stay-at-home parent for every day of the last six years. Here’s where I have written in those six years: on a park bench, in the playground, in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office, on the couch in the playroom, in the bathroom (that last desperate quiet refuge of the parent), out in the backyard on a TV dinner tray, at the kitchen counter while waiting for milk to heat up, and even–occasionally — at my desk in the office. You will quickly learn to steal your writing time wherever and whenever you can get it, or you will see your word count plummet faster than Borders stock.

(It helps to have a writing tool that’s portable and easy to drag into the playroom or to the park with you. Laptops are great, paper notebooks are even better. A composition book with a pen clipped to the spine is less attractive to thieves when you’re out and about, and a spilled sippy cup won’t mean a thousand-dollar write-off.)

Combining a writing job with a parenting gig is tough work, mentally speaking. That kid is a smelly little wrecking ball that will smash your comfortable and self-centered little writing schedule into tiny bits, and then swing around and pound your brain into pudding on the rebound. If you are going down that route, you will need a lot of determination, and a substantial booze supply. That way, my friend, lies madness.

I’m exaggerating just a bit here, because giving new parents the pre-natal heebie-jeebies is one of the joys and perks of being a veteran parent. Sure, a child will screw up your writing schedule, and you will have to adapt to some degree, no matter how docile the little tyke turns out. But in the end, you’ll find that having to do so will make you a better writer.  There’s simply no time for lollygagging anymore. If you have to carve your writing time out of the day in ten- and twenty-minute slices, you’ll learn to pound out the words at a moment’s notice. And if you can manage the brain work that goes into novel-writing while a little kid runs around the room going “OOOWEEE OOOWEEE” for an hour straight, there won’t be much left in this world that can derail your mental train. A veteran writer-parent can crank out prose in the middle of an artillery bombardment, or while sitting in the first row at a Justin Bieber concert.

(There are also the other fringe benefits of the Daddy/Mommy-Wordsmith job. Those puke stains on your t-shirt, and your general hobo-like appearance? Those are a legitimate, respected work uniform when accompanied by a kid in a Snugli. The two cocktails you usually have with lunch? Those are mental health medication now.)

Just don’t get the bright idea of having two kids, and then deciding to home-school them. There’s simply not enough liquor in the world.

14 responses to “The Writer Who Is Also A Parent”

  1. “Just don’t get the bright idea of having two kids, and then deciding to home-school them.”

    Uh…too late. Yeah. Two kids, check, homeschool, you betcha, writing, like a trained spider monkey pounding away with one hand while I do a million other kid things with the other. I’ve gotten so good, I actually completed a book by writing it at Monkey Joe’s (an indoor screaming kid bouncy blow-up fest) and a McDonald’s Play Land. No, I am absolutely not joking. Heck, once you’ve learned to tune Noggin out while you write sexy scenes dressed in sweet potato stained pants and a shirt saturated with Juicy Juice…well, let’s just say it borders on epic.

  2. Whew. You convinced me that I don’t want to be a parent *and* a writer. Guess it’s time to give up.

    The kid, I mean. Come some ambiguous date in June, you can swing by my house and look for a bassinet on the curb. FREE TO GOOD HOME, it’ll say. Maybe I should do a Craigslist ad.

    — c.

  3. Love this post. My friend Tasha banged out her first novel in the spaces where her son, then a toddler, was napping or playing with his trains or otherwise not hanging all over her. It really does force you to write quickly, cleanly and concisely. Maybe all editors stuck with windy and verbose writers should issue them a small child.

  4. There is another option, which is never sleep. I think about what I’m going to write all day, then write when the kids go to bed. As long as you can survive on four hours of sleep, you should be fine! 😉

  5. Preach on, Preacher. Three. I have three. One with special needs, oh, and he’s a teenager with the faint shadow of manhood on his lip. It took 2 years to write the first draft of a book, and I’d say a good third was written in dr.s waiting rooms and while sitting outside the principal’s office.

    We have Mom-Imposed reading/writing time in the afternoon where we ALL go to our quiet places for one hour and read, write stories, etc. Bonus, we all talk about what we wrote/read at dinner.

    Also, mommy drinks because they won’t shut up. Lovingly drinks, I should add. I down my wine with love.

  6. So true, all of it. The worst is when you finally get into a ‘groove’ and are just getting to a good part and you suddenly have to change a shitty diaper or, damn, it’s lunch time and the kid has to eat, but God, if only you could just postpone lunch because you would have before kids, and you could just continue to write but now you can’t because the kid has to eat and diapers have to be changed and God forbid you turn your back for one second once they’re walking and causing mayhem and…


    The explosion in the book is actually an explosion in your house, the kid pulling on the table cloth and a vase comes smashing down and the gunshots is actually the cupboard door slamming open and shut every two seconds.

    But anyway. It’s still do-able. Really, it is…

  7. I really like this, but as the adult most capable of finding/holding a day job job, I was always running out the door.

    Then my employers would demand I work longer hours, weekends and holidays. There were still endless duties with the family. If I stopped moving I fell asleep.

    Now I’m in a Murder She Wrote situation; older person finally finding the time to write, and I’m loving it.

  8. ha, Stoney, gotcha beat! I worked at home around FOUR kids (single mom, job as a consulting writer, fiction in the off-moments). Cannot tell you what a blessing it was when they were finally all in school 🙂
    Of course, even after I remarried and was no longer the only income-source for the household, I was still doing the work-from-home/mom-of-four juggle. I learned to write quickly anywhere and on any medium (laptop, notebook, back of envelope, napkin, you name it). I kept my office door open so I could monitor the chaos in the rest of the house – you get to know what noises you can ignore and which you need to pay attention to pretty quickly.
    And the kids learned too (yes, Chuck, there is hope for you yet!). If one of them came to my office door and I held my hand up for them to wait, they did. If, for some reason, I’d closed the door (to take a phone call, to better concentrate while Full Metal Jacket was shouting [louder than my boys – how was that even possible??] in the next room), the kids learned to knock. That or face The Wrath of the Interrupted Writer.
    Yeah, they’re all in college now. I survived (and didn’t kill any of them), and even have a novel out to prove it (and, like Lindsay says, there are scenes in the book that are just twisted variations of what was going on around me as I wrote it!). Now I’m writing as fast as I can to fund their explorations into higher ed, and I’m having a great time! But you know what? Sometimes it’s a little strange, having a quiet place to work again…

  9. There was a newer Mickey Mouse Clubhouse movie deal on today. Last night I wrote the first draft of an article before bed, and like everything I do before bed it sucked. Today I started working draft two at the first “Meeska! Mooska! Mickey MOUSE!” as the kids settled themselves, and as the show wrapped up and the last note of The Hotdog Dance rang out I finished and hit, “Save,” for the last time.


    By the way, I would absolutely read something called GALACTIC KABLOOIE.

  10. Although blessedly childless, whenever I’m scrounging for an excuse to not write (an endless list, redolent of bullshit), I think of writers who have published volumes while rearing kids. Nancy Kress comes to mind, who was divorced with two tots and could balance her notebook on a shopping cart and write.

    Suddenly, I’ve found oodles of time like I picked it up at a trans-dimensional Costco. DINK 4 LIFE!!

  11. Very, very good advice. I’m not a parent, but I think the heart of this rings true for every writer — find the time, even if it’s not “ideal.” Life doesn’t stop, just because you’re a writer.

    Great post. I’m going to show this to a few parent-writers I know. 🙂

  12. I’ve a 5 month-old daughter. Light of my life. But, everything you say resonates and how . . . I’m behind on a freelance project for the first time, and though the publisher is very cool with that, it eats at me.

    Relearning writing habits has been rough going for me . . . your post puts what is important into perspective though. Where there’s a will, there’s a word count.

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