Writing with children

  • I'm a parent and a writer.

    When I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2010, I had a supportive spouse and she watched the kid and gave me time to write. I won that year.

    When I did my second NaNoWriMo in 2011, she wasn't particularly supportive. Our second child was a few months old, the eldest was still in diapers. I had a full-time (40 hr/wk) job, and during my non-work hours, I was the primary caretaker of the children to give her time off. I also won that year.

    It is possible to do. It's easier when they're old enough that they can work on their own projects in the same room (whether that's art, music, reading or writing). It is possible to write even when they're very young.

    Words of advice:

    • find something to use as a standing station: Consider using the top of a dresser or small shelf in their play area when they're small. They're happier when they can see you. It's possible for them to literally play at your feet and not bother your writing. They can't smash your keyboard, and they can clearly see there is no lap for them to sit upon.

    • consider word sprints, even when alone: Speed-writing helps shut up the inner editor and can allow you to stay focused. The difference in my writing speed when I sprint versus when I "just type" is significant, like 20 WPM different. If you do 10 minutes at your top typing speed with freewriting, you know your top theoretical speed for writing. Do another 10 minutes sprinting a story and you'll likely see a dip between the two due to needing to hold the story in your head. The difference between those two speeds is something you can work on.

    • consider a cycle of 20 minute sprints and 10 minute breaks: Specifically look at the 20 minute on and 10 minute off writing cycle. In your 10 minute breaks, explicitly see to the needs of the children/spouse/elderly. Is someone poopy? Will someone be hungry in 30 minutes? Catch it now and they won't interrupt you. Explicitly tell them you will check on them in 20 minutes, and when the 20 minutes is up do so. When they find this becomes annoying to them, perhaps they'll be able to learn that "closed door means I'm sprinting, I'll open it in 20 minutes." Be honest and consistent.

    • screens can make things worse: You might be tempted to "just put on a show". The problem then, becomes you have additional noise to contend with -- annoying noise that may mask the children getting in to things and be insufficiently distracting to them. When there are multiple children it can keep the children near each other where conflict can erupt, instead of quietly and independently playing in different parts of the play area. Particularly when my children were small, I had more screaming interruptions if I tried to put a show on than when I kept the TV off and let them amuse themselves. They need to practice social skills and/or independent play. Use this to your advantage.

    • consider writing while baby wearing: I mentioned using a standing station. If you have an infant you can wear a baby while typing. They can see you, feel you, and you're both happily occupied. Again, sprinting for 20 minutes and spending 10 minutes focused on them will keep you both happy.

    • remember the Young Writer's Program: The NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Program -- http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/ -- starts in Kindergarten. People love writing for lots of different reasons, and your kids may love it for a different reason than you. Still, if they see that you love writing, they may want to try it themselves. If your children want to try it, help them. I act as my children's typist in Kindergarten and first grade. It's a great way to spend time with them. More so, if you successfully foster a love of writing in them you open the door to a house that is quietly, yet furiously writing. Short-term distraction, long-term gain. (Plus, teenage writers can engage in literary risky behavior. Real emotional risk, but zero physical risk.)

    • use the 20 minute on / 10 minute off cycle while editing: There's this concept of "time-boxing", and there's this explicit time management process called "The Pomodoro Method." Having a break every 20/25 minutes can help you stay fresh, focused, and able to do your best. But, really, with kids (or adults who sometimes behave like kids), it's the only way to make sure that you're not interrupted. It's planned breaks versus unplanned interruptions. With a planned break, you know you're making progress -- you can track it in the number of sprints -- and it doesn't negatively impact your mood the way that unplanned interruptions can. Plus, taking a break every 20/25 minutes helps reduce the chance of repetitive strain injury.

    This past NaNoWriMo, I tried to get four to five 20 minute sprints a day. Two to two and a half hours of writing, with breaks. One weekend, I managed to repeat the four/five sprints three separate times. It helped raise my average, as there were a few days in which work and family obligations prevented any writing from happening.

    You can do it. Having kids doesn't need to prevent you from writing.

  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    It's kind of interesting. When we did our live stream for NaNoWriMo to have an International Night of Writing Dangerously, we did exactly what you're talking about to a point. We had sprints, then breaks, with some chatter, then more sprints, and we noticed some fun numbers from everyone. Like getting 1600+ works in a 20 minute sprint.

    Some of our community are members of the YWP! Which is awesome. :D

    Interesting list though. You're giving me a few ideas...

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