Writing Advice for the Tired Parent

Growing up, the only thing I wanted to be more than a writer was a mother. At seven, I would go with my mom to her La Leche League meetings and would be the self-proclaimed nanny of the babies and tots in attendance. 

In high school, I regularly babysat the most adorable (and rambunctious) three year old triplets. In college, I studied early childhood education and development, and lived for the required volunteer hours in the campus daycare. 

I spent all of my time around children. In fact, I am the second oldest of eight children and witnessed my first birth when I was just seven years old. It was fascinating and inspiring to see my mom so focused, so trusting of her body in spite of the labored breathing, the groans of discomfort and pain, the strain of pushing, and then the utter bliss when my baby brother was finally in her arms. 

I don’t think I was ever under the impression that being a mother was easy. At those La Leche League meetings, there were times I could not get a child to stop crying, so he would return to the comforts of his mother’s lap to nurse. It was draining to negotiate with three preschoolers on eating all of their dinner, then brushing their teeth, and finally getting into bed. And in the daycare, there were days where I would stare at the clock, counting down the minutes until I could excuse myself from a difficult-to-follow game of barbies. 

Whoa! Okay, sorry. I am rambling. It’s a hot button topic for me 🙃 My point is, for me it is very rewarding working with children . . . when you aren’t their last line of defense. Now as a mother, I am realizing the sometimes-debilitating stress of being the one these young people depend on to help them sort out their chaotic and untrained emotions. 

Parenting is a noble role to choose. For a lot of people, whether you are a writer, business executive, or desk jockey, it feels like you have to put your personal life and dreams on hold when you bring children into the world. 

While parenthood definitely requires great sacrifice, balance is extremely crucial. You simply cannot pour from an empty cup.

Believe me, I’ve tried. 

Several times every day.

This is something I struggle with. This is something both of us struggle with. I do not write this post because I have overcome the challenge of balancing my writing passions with my parenting responsibilities. That’s a laughable thought. No, I am deep in the trenches with you, my friend.

I have felt the self-loathing and guilt from telling my four year old I can’t play with her because “mommy is working.” On the other side of the same coin, I have felt guilty for ignoring my writing on a day where I had plenty of opportunities to sit down, but my mind and body were just too exhausted. 

Here are a few tips Matti and I have found to help us find just enough balance to keep us going:

  • Set a reasonable writing goal 
    I had a Spanish teacher in high school who used to say “how does a Pygmy eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” (It just occurred to me that might be offensive. He was always a bit rough around the edges.)
    It could be “a chapter per week” or a hundred words a day. Having a routine can help you feel the progress in real time, and biting off small pieces at a time helps make finishing your novel more manageable. 

    The average novel page has between 250-300 words. That means if you write just 250 words every day, then within three months you will have knocked out almost 100 pages of your book. 
    The average novel…
  • Be flexible 
    That leads me to my next point; there are going to be days when 250 words just will not happen. PARENTHOOD IS HARD! Remember who you are writing for! This project is for you. If today writing is just adding to the stress and you need to relax your brain, do it. Recharge and it will only benefit your novel once you’re feeling better. 

    Matti and I have a goal of 350 words each. Tonight, I wrote 79, and he did some edits on our chapter that added maybe 100 more words.  That is barely half of our daily goal, but it’s 179 words closer to being finished. 
  • Read
    This advice is all over the internet and spoken by pretty much anybody who has ever aspired to write anything. Reading gets your creative juices flowing and eventually your hands start itching to write your own beautiful words. 

    Since you have probably heard that advice maybe a thousand times, allow me to apply it just a little bit more. 

    Read out loud to your kids. It’s so perfect I wish I could patent the idea and sell it so I can retire Matti from his day job so we can finish this book! Reading to your kids will not only get your creativity revving and ready to go, it will also give you some wholesome time with your kid(s). 
     
Father reading to his daughter
Matti reading to E.

Of course, it needs to be “age appropriate,” but honestly, it does not have to be childish. You can read them books meant for adults. Sure, you can read Roald Dahl, Lowis Lowry, and E.B. White (which are beautifully written, I might add!), but there are so many books out there that will keep both of you awake and entertained. 

My mom used to read Sir Gibbie to me and my brothers before I hit kindergarten, which is a book written in 1879 by George MacDonald, who was C. S. Lewis’s mentor.  He was/is my mom’s favorite author, and we felt so grown up reading it with her. I would also like to think it helped us become intelligent, well-read individuals 😉💁‍♀

And if you are anything like me, you might spend an obscene amount of time snuggling on the couch with your toddler as she watches a Tangled double feature. If you, too, spend a lot of time staring at your messy house, trapped within the precious, chubby arms of your Littles, then download some ebooks and start reading from that ever-growing stack of titles you have been hoping to read. Hopefully you can tune out the TV. If not, play some instrumental music on your headphones. 

  • Channel your subconscious 
    My high school creative writing teacher had this exercise she would have us do at the beginning of every class. She would set a timer for 10 minutes and we were to write everything that came into our minds. Everything. We were to suppress every urge to erase, scratch out, check spelling, etc. We were learning to force our inner editor to take the back seat so our subconscious– the base of our creativity– could take the wheel.

    At first I hated that exercise! I strive (and fail) for perfection, and I thought I liked my inner editor. I felt like my brain would just shut down at the idea of writing garbage. But then one morning I looked out the window and saw a January moon, inspiring me to write about the secret loneliness of the moon, who always looked forward to the people who took the time to look up at her. It never became more than a scratch page in a long lost notebook, but nearly 11 years later I still think of the Lonely January Moon. Give your mind the space to surprise you. 
  • Get support 
    I know we are a rare match, being able to write together. But you can still ask your spouse/partner to help you in finishing your project. If you’re comfortable, they can read your work in progress, or take the kiddos to the park for an hour, or take them out for ice cream. 

    Your parents, older siblings, or close friends can also take on this role if you don’t have a partner or if they aren’t available.

Hopefully one or two of these suggestions seemed plausible for you. Or, even better, maybe it gave you BETTER ideas 😃 If none of them did, don’t get discouraged! If you take the time to ponder on it, I am positive you will come up with something worth trying.

How do you find time to write and juggle parenthood? Are you looking for more ideas that match your situation? Let me know in the comments!

-Shy

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