I often think the hardest part of being a writer is simply finding the time, space and quiet to just write. Since my daughter was born a few weeks ago, I’ve found this to be doubly true… entire days have been swallowed up in nothing more than feedings, baths, snuggles and naps. I set intentions to write, I day-dream about it for hours while I’m consumed with the tasks of mothering, but then I notice the sun is setting yet again and I wonder how I lost another day. The first weeks after a baby’s birth are always like this, but now with three children ages 6, 3 and 1 month, I can see how easy it would be to simply let it go, to lose my writing time and never get it back.
So this morning I got up early, dragged my exhausted self out to my writing desk, sat staring at a blank document and after forty minutes of false starts, I started to write. I’m tired, of course, I only got four hours of sleep. The words come out slowly and I feel rusty at this, my old efficiency and speed are lost to me. But I know that if I don’t start somewhere, if I don’t carve out the time for this, even though I’m a professional writer, even though I’ve been doing this for years, I could just as easily let my writing slip away. It’s not the things I’ve written that make me a writer, it’s the daily act of sitting and laying down words. I’ve always believed that you’re a writer if you write. So I better keep writing.
So far, I’ve managed to carve out a few hours a day. My adorable, amazing, tender, sweet baby Tallulah is the joy of my life right now, but she’s also feeding almost hourly. I’ve long worked at home with my children around but her arrival has challenged me, even after all these years of ninja-like writing habits. I used to pride myself on this – after all, I finished my book while backpacking across Turkey with two kids, writing over 50,000 words in a month and editing many more – all without my husband, who was touring our film in the US. Could a third child be more challenging than navigating finding a hotel in Istanbul during a snowstorm? Why, yes, yes it can be.
I’ve reverted back to basics:
1. Create a physical space that is all yours and dedicated to your writing. My current space isn’t terribly sexy, just a small table set on my balcony, next to our BBQ and overlooking the ocean. The space is not much but the view makes me happy.
2. Create a plan and set aside time for writing. My husband and I are co-conspirators in this regard, always trying to figure out our daily schedule so we can enable each other to get a little work done. Each day we run through the itinerary and make a game plan for how we’ll juggle the kids, home and work.
3. Be flexible and adapt! It doesn’t always work out – in fact my latest plan has been to stay up late and write after the kids go to bed, but because of the new baby my two older children have become more in-tune with me, so they’ve somehow figured out how to stay up later. So I’ve had to flip it and get up early, while they are still sleeping and haven’t figured out my new schedule yet.
Ultimately, I know these early days will be over much too quickly and we’ll settle into a routine. But I’m reminded of the same advice I used to give so cavalierly — how do you find the time? You make it. So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m making time. Even if it means getting up at 3 AM or hiding from your kids in your pjs on the balcony.
How do other writers cope with making space to write?
Michael Chabon writes:
“…my natural rhythm is to work at night, stay up late and to sleep late. I can get more writing done between midnight and 1 o’clock in the morning than at any other hour of the day.
Unfortunately, that schedule does not work at all well in a family with small children. If I sleep late, then I miss out on what I think is the nicest, most pleasurable time of the day, of an ordinary, everyday routine. In the morning — my kids are generally in a pretty good mood when they wake up, you know, we make breakfast. I hate missing out on that, so I get up. So that means I can’t really stay up as late as I might like. Or else I don’t get enough sleep. I struggle with the schedule. And I’ve been struggling with it for years.”
Toni Morrison talks about her schedule when she had young children:
“Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning.
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”
Stephen King wrote in his memoir, On Writing, about his schedule:
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Barbara Kingsolver describes her writing career in terms of becoming a mother:
“For the whole of my career as a novelist, I have also been a mother. I was offered my first book contract, for The Bean Trees, the day I came home from the hospital with my first child. So I became a novelist and mother on the same day. Those two important lives have always been one for me. I’ve always had to do both at the same time. So my writing hours were always constrained by the logistics of having my children in someone else’s care. When they were little, that was difficult. I cherished every hour at my desk as a kind of prize. As time has gone by and my children entered school it became progressively easier to be a working mother. My oldest is an adult, and my youngest is 16, so both are now self–sufficient —but that’s been a gradual process. For me, writing time has always been precious, something I wait for and am eager for and make the best use of. That’s probably why I get up so early and have writing time in the quiet dawn hours, when no one needs me.”
It’s so important, especially if you’re a parent, but really for everyone, to feed your creative self. To make time to take a walk or to write in your journal or to pursue your latest project. Whenever I feel overwhelmed I take a quick gut check – have I let my self-care go? When was the last time I connected with another writer or finished a particularly satisfying essay? Then I make space – as best I can – for that work, and it always fills me up. Often the most important work a creative can do is simply hold open that space and say “yes, this is important.”