Writing with Children

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I love my kids. I really do. Even though I had to type that first bit about four times because my two-year-old son kept smacking the keyboard of my laptop and screaming into my chin. But they do put limits on my time and my ability to get things done. Before I had kids, I would decide to do something, and then I could do it. (I didn’t necessarily get it done right away. Just because I was single and childless didn’t mean I wasn’t also Queen of the Procrastinators.)

But once you add kids to the mix, everything changes. “Going out” before children meant getting dressed, grabbing your coat, gloves, keys, wallet, what-have-you, and walking out the door. “Going out” after children means sending two children to the potty and changing the diaper of the third one, changing their clothes, wiping the sticky stuff off their faces, combing their hair, searching for shoes (DEAR LORD HOW DO YOU HAVE SIX SHOES FOR YOUR RIGHT FOOT AND ZERO FOR YOUR LEFT???), going to the potty again because someone didn’t poop the first time, wiping hands and faces again, WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS??? I LAID OUT PANTS FOR YOU!!!, tossing snacks and juice and wipes into the diaper bag, WHY IS THERE MARKER ALL OVER YOUR FACE? WHERE DID YOU GET A MARKER???, and rinse and repeat for another thirty minutes until you finally herd all three children out to the car after managing to talk them down from bringing seventeen stuffed animals with them to only four.

Trying to write with children in the house pretty much follows the same formula. Yet every day begins with the delusion that once I’ve fed everyone breakfast and once everyone has evacuated their bowels (three times for the toddler, more often than not) they’ll go off to their corner of the living room and play with their blocks and train sets and dollhouses and leave me to my corner of the living room for a lengthy amount of writing time.

No, no, no. This almost never happens. Why? Because reality. So how do I write while three young children run circles around me. Very slowly. But here’s what I do to accomplish SOMETHING on a daily basis.

1. Work On Several Things At Once

On any given day, I add a few hundred words to two or three different stories. I have to. Gone are the days when I could sit down at the end of a long Monday and focus on one story and one story alone and allow my mind to completely immerse itself in every little detail of that world. Now, I have several books and short stories I’m working on at the same time, so that when I’m suddenly pulled away from one scene by a spilled cup of juice or a fight over a toy or WHY IS THERE CAR GREASE ON THE CARPET? WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? I can start on something else once I’ve lost my train of thought.

2. Keep Writing Implements Easy to Access at All Times

I used to keep my laptop nearby all the time and then simply pop over and jot down a few lines when I had a free minute, but then my toddler figured out how to open it and pry all the keys off the keyboard and then I cried and much chocolate and potato chips were consumed. So now I have to keep the desk shut whenever I walk away it for more then 3.2 seconds. But I also have a dry erase board on my refrigerator for when notes and lines pop into my head at random moments, notebooks and pens and crayons everywhere, and I’ve even written things on my hand. And on receipts. And coupons. And on that free weekly newspaper thing that shows up in my mailbox and I never look at it but they pile up week after week until I finally bundle them up and toss them into the recycling before I turn into one of those people who ends up buried in her own junk mail.

Wait. What was I talking about again? Oh, right. Always keep something nearby with which you can write. Even if it’s a stack of Post-Its while you’re hidden away in the bathroom for a fifteen-second pee break.

3. Sleep is for Losers

Seriously. I have given up sleep for writing time. This is just how it is. Doesn’t Martha Stewart sleep only four hours a night? Well, I’m not going to take over the world and get all the laundry sorted AND edit that penultimate chapter of my novel while getting eight hours of rest a night.

4. Set a Timer

But then, for those magical times when my children do ensconce themselves in playtime, and no one is grabbing for my time or grinding purple chalk into the living room carpet, it’s often too easy to slip away into writing and forget that I do have to eat and use the bathroom and feed my children and change that diaper before it becomes something I need to burn in order to cleanse the world of its existence. So set a timer, or you’ll look up an hour later to find your daughter painting your toddler with red nail polish in order to make him look like Iron Man. (True story.)

5. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

Oh, the husband is driving to church today? Bring along a notebook or a netbook and type away in the passenger seat. Grandma is playing with the kids? Jog upstairs and write for ten minutes. You somehow managed to go to the grocery store on your own as if you were your own person and not a marsupial with multiple babies crawling around in your pouch? Sit in the car for fifteen minutes afterwards and munch your spoils while working out the tangle of that tricky paragraph.

Because here’s what I’ve learned having three kids: Time does not exist as it used to. It jumps in huge leaps and bounds, and clocks and planners and scheduling don’t mean a thing when your child is flipping out because their favorite blanket is going on a much-needed tumble through the wash. So grasp at every moment to write and to read and to create.

But I’ve also learned that when my child needs me, or when all three of them need me at once, the laptop and the papers and the red pen are put away for a time. Because they’ll grow up, and all too soon. But the stories that are stashed away inside my head? They’ll still be there. Maybe some of the details will change, but they’ll stick around, even after my children have grown up and gone away.

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