Design your writing life as a mom (or dad!)

If you’re a parent, having a regular writing routine takes on an additional layer of complexity — especially in the early years. It’s hard enough to handle being a parent (and even more so if you’re ALSO highly sensitive or introverted as many writers are), and if you’ve got a career on top of it, it’s easy to let writing take a back seat to the more pressing day-to-day demands.

The funny thing is that in some ways it’s EASIER to design your writing life as a parent because it requires quite deliberate attention and focus, or it simply won’t happen at all.

Many writers — parents or not — tend to dream of having long, uninterrupted blocks of time to write. What’s fascinating to me about this dream is that 1) it often stops people from writing if they DON’T have it, and 2) it often stops people from writing if they DO have it.

For those you fondly cherishing the dream of long stretches of time to write you might be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”

But here’s the thing. What we see quite consistently in the Writer’s Circle is that writers who aren’t writing regularly don’t tend to benefit from having MORE time to write. If anything, they just tend to go into greater paralysis and procrastination.

Why on earth would something like this happen?

We’ve talked about this a lot here, but it’s worth saying again. (And again.) Fear is why writing doesn’t happen.

Big blocks of time simply INCREASE the pressure on writing. Which increases the fear. Which increases the resistance and procrastination. Entire days and weeks can go by and no writing happens.

Looking for big blocks of time is one of the fastest ways into paralysis I’ve seen.

So, writers, and particularly parent writers, let’s just give up that fantasy for now, shall we? At least until your writing habit is so firmly ensconced in your daily routine that expanding your time won’t send you into fits of terror. Or procrastination. (On a side note, that still happens even with the most experienced of writers, so don’t worry too much if it crops up. Just find a way to get back to the writing as quickly as possible.)

The bottom line for all writers — and particularly for parents — is that creating some kind of routine around your writing is key. Reduce the variables, reduce the amount of time available, and create parameters around your writing so that it HAS TO GET DONE at a certain time or it won’t get done at all.

The reason that this is easier for parents, in my opinion, is that it is actually TRUE. It isn’t fabricated quite as artificially for non-parents. For writers who aren’t parents, it’s easier to tell ourselves we’ll just write before bed or after work or some other random opportunity that comes along but often gets swallowed up by television or internet browsing. For parents, there’s a cold hard reality that stares us right in the face. Those kids are coming home at a certain time and the chances of pulling off any kind of writing after that point in time are slim to none unless we have some kind of pre-arranged plan with our spouses or co-parents to make it happen.

For non-parent writers, particularly those entrepreneurial types who work from home (like me, pre-kid), it’s SO MUCH HARDER to find something to “bump up against” in your schedule because so often your time is entirely self-directed. This is part of why we run so many writing sprints for my Writer’s Circle — it provides a scheduled opportunity to write for an hour that’s both fixed in time and fun to participate in.

On the other hand, the challenges for parents can be trickier too. Honestly, I didn’t even know what busy was until I had a child. I really thought I did. Truly! I was so wrong. Being a parent takes so much of my attention bandwidth and energy, I have to be exceedingly deliberate now about making time and energy available for writing too, in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’m taking it overly away from my son or from my work. A dicey balance to say the least.

Here are a few tips for parents — that ultimately translate for all writers — into a designing a writing life that works:

  • Get clear about the assumptions you’re making about writing. What are you telling yourself about what you need to write that might be getting in your way of actually doing the work? (See also my article about “Buts” here.)
  • Get clear about WHY you want to write. What’s important to you about it? For me, it has a lot to do with my identity that’s totally separate from my role as a mother, and I firmly believe is part of what keeps me sane.
  • Make a decision that writing for SOME amount of time is better than NO amount of time. Let go of the idea that writing for long blocks of time is the only way to do it. If you target 15 minutes a day, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of writing over time if you show up and do it consistently.
  • Get out your calendar and take a both ruthless and creative approach to carving out the time to write. Think about when the kids are occupied or when you can talk your spouse into watching them for you. Give yourself the gift of protected, uninterrupted writing time, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
  • Be aware that IF you have any kind of resistance to writing or tendencies to procrastinate (this is most of us!) it’s easiest to write first thing in the morning before you have time to think about it or talk yourself out of it. For a few months I tried writing every day after I dropped my son off at preschool but found that because it felt like “work time” I had a hard time focusing on writing. So I started getting up at 6 a.m. to write everyday — and knew that I had to be done by 7 a.m. when my husband would leave for work — so I had to get it done then. It changed my life. (See my articles about writing early in the morning here and here.)

Join me in Berkeley this Friday for more on this subject

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the Mothership Hackermom’s hacker space on “Designing Your Writing Life as a Mom” in Berkeley. Dads and all writers are welcome too. I’ll be talking about these tips and more — including brainstorming with parents whose little ones are so little that preschool isn’t an option yet. This affordable workshop runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and onsite childcare is available if you register in advance here:

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



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Coming Attractions

~> Friday, November 8, 10 to 11:30 a.m., an in-person workshop in Berkeley at Mothership HackerMoms. “Design Your Writing Life as a Mom.” I’ll share some parent-specific strategies for finding time to write. All writers, including mothers and fathers, are welcome to attend this workshop.

~> WEDNESDAY, November 27th, Last day to register for the Writer’s Circle. Register by November 27th for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts December 2nd). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects:

~> My annual birthday sale is COMING SOON! Stay tuned for details about getting some great savings on some of my favorite products.


What I'm Up To

~> Writing. Daily writing on various projects. Primarily LUMINAL, a supernatural thriller based on a true story. Follow the project on Facebook here, and on Twitter here (and be sure to let them know I sent you. :) ).

~> Learning. Continuing to study with Corey Mandell and ScreenwritingU.

~> Unplugging. Back to unplugging one day per weekend, usually Saturdays. Such a relief!

~> Reading. Ready for something new!


Thanks for reading.

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