How to be a Productive Writer – a (somewhat) unhelpful guide from a mom with three kids under 5.
Writers, we are all busy people so I’m going to break this into easy bullet points. But first, my (somewhat) unhelpful tip to be a productive writer and have a balanced family life.
That is, DON’T.
Life will never be perfect – need I say that? When I strive to balance everything I’m stressed, hair falling out and ghosted by writerly angst. No matter how good I am at multitasking, I still have to choose where my energy goes. I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose, it’s family.
So how does this help me be a productive writer?
Know the Seasons:
- Free time Season: no children, single or married, writes for hours on end, has another job, hobbies, a cuddly sidekick, and never enough time!
- Baby Season:at least one baby, changes diapers and hands never smell the same again. Writes during naps, naps during naps, and never enough time.
- Toddler Season: Early mornings, late nights, scraps of paper while the kids are distracted with a television show. Busy, busy, andnever enough time.
- Everything Season: kids of all ages, school trips, busy summers and time to write (sometimes) when the kids are at school, but never enough time.
- Out of the House Season: you’ve made it! The kids are no longer at home and you can write to your hearts content. But you’re still a mom, a friend, etc. and never enough time.
I lived my life this way up until season #3 (or if I’m honest, maybe until yesterday) and then I realized, there would never be enough time. And who wants to look at life through an hourglass half-empty? l I can never fit everything into that hourglass. But, I get to CHOOSE what I do fill it with. Which leads me to the next tip to be a productive writer and prioritize family.
Embrace your Constraints:
It’s scientificly proven that creativity thrives best in constraints. That’s the writing journey, isn’t it? Throw characters into the crucible for them to come out refined by the fire. It works for our characters because that’s how it works in real life.
And for parents, constraints abound. That’s a good thing. And just like the character in my novel, I can choose how to respond to those constraints. To make the most of the time and gifts I do have. If I allow it, constraints (weaknesses) can become my greatest strengths. What do I mean? Take my constraints for example:
- Mental illness
- Busy family life
- Expat lifestyle
- Other jobs and volunteer positions
I could complain about these, they keep me from writing as much as I would like. I DID complain about them (ask my husband). I cringe when depression makes it difficult to function. Or when last minute things spring up and I lose precious writing time. I stress over it – and it’s miserable. But when I embrace it?
Happy dance, writers.
It feels great to stare my weakness in the face, smile, and do my best anyway. Now my books highlight deep themes about depression, hope, and the beauty of life. Living as an expat gives my writing unique cultural insights. Volunteer positions open my worldview. Gratitudefor the constraints and time I have goes a long way – it multiples time! That’s what embracing constraints means. To embrace (to accept with joy) your constraints (what you cannot do).
It goes two ways.
Accepting what you cannot do and finding new solutions:
I cannot write all day.
I can write for an hour in the morning and spend time with my kids.
I cannot participate in some events, like PitchWars for example.
I can support others.
I cannot meet all my writing goals.
I can do all the laundry and help my kids with homework.
Accepting what you cannot do and pushing through with hope:
I cannot finish my college degree or function due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
I can write and ignore the opinions of those who don’t understand – Laura Hillenbrand.
I cannot function as others because I’m a quadriplegic.
I can draw with my mouth and use voice software to write. – Joni Eareckson Tada
I cannot function well with depression.
I can write and raise my child – JK Rowling.
Successful authors and parents are often the ones that embrace their constraints and make the most of what they have.
Okay, but I desperately want to balance my writing and family life NOW!
- Evaluate your mental health: use an app like Moodpath to determine if your health is tanking. Perhaps that is why your productivity is on the downslope. Make a plan to boost your mental health first. Get outside. Take vitamins. Tell a friend. If you’re not healthy, it will be hard on you, your family, and your writing. So take care of yourself!
- Get rid of the TV: not literally (okay, maybe for some of you), but you can at least unplug the cable, resist the Netflix impulse, or use it as a reward on your writing journey. Not as easy as it sounds, I know.
- Do a Writing Sprint with friends: a short writing sprint with people can boost your mood, make you feel accomplished, and it doesn’t take much time away from your day.
- Be intentional– write a list of ten things you want to do and then choose the two most important. Prioritize those and avoid everything else at all cost! Don’t try to squeeze in more when you have ‘extra time’. That’s a recipe for burn out.
- Go back to your muse, find what first inspired you to write – Pinterest is definitely a part of creativity, so is travelling, and reading your favorite books.
- Outsource– trade off babysitting with a friend or your spouse, if you have the means order groceries online or outsource cooking or cleaning once a week. Find ways to make your daily tasks easier. (Note: outsourcing doesn’t have to be expensive. If you have a supportive spouse, that could be all you need)
- Embrace constraints: shift your focus from wishing you had more time to write, to maximizing what time you have and be thankful for it!
- Self-care:Accept when you need to take a break for self-care (or care for others like your family) and don’t feel guilty about it.
- Go on Family Holiday:you don’t need a reason, just do it.
- Read to your kids.Even if they are older, reading books out loud is fun for everyone.
- Read inspirational blogs or books.
- Schedule: aim to meet your schedule 70% of the time (not 100%)
- Do your own version of NANOWRIMO with friends to keep you accountable and keep it fun, put at a slower pace.
In the words of KungFu Panda, “There is no secret ingredient.” But if there was one…it’s embrace those constraints. And do so with hope. You can do this.
Ellen McGinty, signing off
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