“I’m having a love affair”, I recently confessed to my husband when he questioned my many retreats to the computer on his day off. And I am. It is a love affair with words, my tryst with the latest article I am frantically working on in front of the computer screen.
I have a friend who always wanted to be a writer and would occasionally work on a story or an article but waited until her three children left home before she really got serious about her writing. She often commented that she couldn’t really write while they were home because there were too many interruptions. I understand the dilemma, I live it every day. But I’m not waiting for my children to grow up, I’ve been doing free-lance writing for fifteen years, ever since my fourth child was an infant. That first article, along with the pay stub showing I was paid $50 for it, is in a frame and graces the wall above my desk. In the ensuing years, I’ve given birth to four more children and over 125 more articles. I’ve had one book published and an essay in the first Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. While my friend waited for her children to grow up, I wrote.
I have no patience for people who tell me they want to write a book ‘someday’ or they wish they had time to write. Who do they think they are talking to? I have six children at home, I home school, and I sell used books. My style of parenting means I am with children all day, every day, and most of the night with a nursing baby nestled close in the crook of my arm. There are mornings I have spent two hours before dawn with a teething baby in my backpack, washing floors or rocking in the dark, so I am often sleep-deprived too. Yet, I write. I’ve had others ask me how I find time to write. These five simple steps have worked for me.
Write. This step might seem obvious, but writing is a mental exercise and your writing brain can get out of shape. Mine always seems to go on a brief hiatus after the birth of a child, and because I have given birth to five children since I started free-lance writing, there are some dry spells in my writing repertoire. Except for the year after my fifth was born and I was committed to a monthly column for our local newspaper, I basically took a year off of writing after each birth. That said, during those foggy post-partum days I continued to write, albeit journal entries and letters to friends instead of the articles I normally work on. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it is a handy excuse for procrastination. If you are a mother the ideas for an article, essay, or book are all around you. If you are truly a writer, there is no end to the ideas. If you’ve given birth, nursed a baby in the bathtub amidst floating toy army men, recovered from knee surgery or watched your toddler crouch over an ant hill you have the beginnings of an article or an anecdote that can be shaped into saleable material. I’ve sold articles that were based on each of those subjects. Just start writing! If you don’t have the energy or the time to work on a full-blown article or a chapter of your book, just write a letter to a friend or a page in your journal, but keep writing.
Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. Ideas come unbidden, at the oddest moments. As a busy mother it is unlikely the idea you had in the grocery store is going to remain in your head long enough for you to get home and write it down. If you have a notebook in your vehicle and another one in your purse, when that idea hits, you can pull over to the curb or stop running errands long enough to jot it down. And, if you are lucky, the baby will fall asleep in the car seat and you can write some more while you sit in your vehicle in the driveway until naptime is over. Keep a notebook in the bathroom or on your end table. During the past year, since the birth of my eighth, all I was able to accomplish writing-wise, was my many notebooks full of ideas and some partially written articles. Then in just one month I worked on those ideas and polished up partially written essays and was able to send out six completed articles. And I still have a wealth of ideas to work on!
Don’t wait until the timing is perfect for your writing, it isn’t going to happen. A friend of mine once told me she could only write when she had large blocks of time to sit in front of the computer, and that she couldn’t do that while the kids were out of school. She also insisted she couldn’t write long-hand, only with a word processing program. Needless to say, since large blocks of time are hard to come by as a mother of young children, she didn’t get a lot of writing done. My advice? Get over the self-imposed regulations that prevent you from writing . Write in the car while waiting to pick up the kids. Write at the library while the kids search for library books. Write in the bathroom, sitting on the lid of the toilet while the kids take a bath. Just write! What did writers do before there were lap-top computers? Before word-processors? Rough drafts weren’t done on typewriters; they were done on pads of paper. Go to the local discount store and choose the pads of paper and notebooks that make you feel like a writer. Big yellow legal pads? Colored steno notebooks? Whatever it is that pleases your senses in the texture of the paper or the colors or the size, splurge and purchase it. Do the same thing with a pack of pens or pencils. My children know that the Papermate Flexgrip ultra pens I always have on hand are my ‘magic’ pens. Every once in awhile they will come running from a writing project of their own and ask to use one of my magic pens. That is all you need to start writing, paper and pens. I always polish up my writing in front of a computer screen but my rough drafts are just that, rough, and usually quite a mess.
And, speaking of messes, if you put housework before writing, you will always find excuses not to write. With six children at home and the inevitable projects they are working on, along with my books and papers, our house will not likely win any prizes for neatness, but we are a very creative family, and it shows. I doubt I will ever regret not having kept a neater house, but I would regret it if I never followed my dreams of writing. My mother was not a writer, but her wood chips and fabric scraps around the house as she raised ten children meant she was using her talents as a woodcarver and a fabric artist. As a child I was proud to have a talented mother and I hope my children will feel the same about me.
Take your writing seriously. No one, not your husband, not your children, not your mother or your friends are going to take your writing seriously it you don’t. It took me years of feeling frustrated before I finally told my husband I needed writing time. I felt guilty leaving him with babies while I went out to write, and felt even more guilty if I spent money and time on something that wasn’t making me much money. While selling articles and making money is my ultimate goal, not everything I write will sell or make money, but my writing is still important to me. Writing is my creativity unleashed. Spending day after day changing diapers, nursing an infant, wiping noses and little bums is an important job in itself, but the monotony of those endless tasks of mothering could make me feel positively mad with boredom if didn’t have an outlet for my creativity. Finding a way to unleash that creativity inherent in each of us is tremendously satisfying. If not writing, then do something else that allows you to use the creative side of your brain; crochet doilies, paint murals on walls, sew beautiful clothing or fill shelves with home-canned goods.
Read. The most prolific writers I know are also readers. This is another way to keep your mind active. Read the kinds of writing you want to emulate. I get the most reading done after I give birth. I’ve got it down to a science, the one-handed page turning behind a nursing baby’s head. Paperbacks work best, but if I am laying down with the baby I can maneuver magazine pages. I love searching the Internet or writer’s guides for new magazines I haven’t seen before and have come across good markets for my work too.
Don’t neglect the writing magazines and books about writing. Writing is a craft and there is always room for improvement. You don’t have to take a writing course or attend a seminar, but do so if you feel that would help jump-start your writing. As a home schooling mother, however, I’ve found the same principles that apply to my children’s learning applies to my own. My girls are the better writers and readers in our house because they read and write all the time. It is the same for me. The more I write, the better my writing becomes.
So you, too, want to have a love affair with words? You want to be a writer? What are you waiting for? Don’t wait for your children to grow up and leave home. Join other mothers all over the world who are finding that motherhood and the muse can co-exist.
Write Where You Live, Successful Freelancing at Home by Elaine Fantle Shimberg, Writer’s Digest Books, 1999. The author began her writing career amidst raising four children in a busy household.
Writing Articles About the World Around You, How people and places you know can spark ideas for hundreds of salable articles, by Marcia Yudkin, Writer’s Digest Books, 1998.
Writing Articles From the Heart How to Write and Sell Your Life Experiences, by Marjorie Holmes, Writer’s Digest Books, 1993.
Writing From Personal Experience, How to Turn Your Life Into Salable Prose, by Nancy Davidoff Kelton, Writer’s Digest Books, 1997.
www.momwriters.com If you are someone who juggles writing with changing diapers or picking up toys, you’ll benefit from this site. Sign up for the e-mail support group, too.
www.writefromhome.com Writing advice and marketing resources for parents who freelance in their spare time.
Mary and her muse live in rural Dyersville, Iowa with a husband, David, and six of her eight children. Mary is the author of Homeschooling From Scratch (Gazelle, 1996) and has been published in such magazines as Home Education, Back Home, Backwoods Home, Woman’s World among others. An essay of hers appears in the Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul.