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Writing with a baby

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There is change coming for me – big time! A little boy is on his way, and I’m thrilled and nervous in equal measure. Apart from any other concerns this monumental life upheaval brings (am I exaggerating? I have no idea), there is the question of how I’m going to fit writing into this new life.

Now it should be said that I have hardly mastered regular writing in my life as it stands now. This makes the prospect of saving time for it during dadhood all the more daunting.

And I’m not daft (all the time), I do realise that plenty of writers have been parents, and without being established authors before this transition. So there must be a way! Is there also a will? By jingo, yes! And you know how that goes.

So working on this theory that I’m not the first unheard of writer to ever become a parent (and make it big – I’m looking ahead here), I thought I’d look around for tips. And ask for them. That helps too.

baby with a glare

"No writing for you, Daddy!" Image courtesy of Nina Matthews on Flickr

What’s out there

A quick Google reveals surprisingly little. But maybe this is a subject for which a quick Google is not sufficient. There are probably dedicated forums for this sort of thing if one were to look hard enough, but the handful of blog entries gave an impression of what I would be facing.

The gist is this: it is hard, but it can be done.

Vicki had this to say on The Six-Footer:

People warned me, “You won’t even have time to shower!” [...] But babies sleep. And when he’s asleep, I write first, shower second.

I don’t believe in not having time to write.

Vicki Wilson, The Six-Footer

Right then.

On The Writer’s Coin, Carlos says he’s writing as much now as he did before the baby, and puts it down to “No more ****ing around” [sic] My word!

Carlos says the short windows of time force you to really knuckle down and get something done, rather than procrastinating as writers are wont to do (really, the nerve! Who’d ever suggest such a thing!). Read his post for ideas on how babyless people (I count myself among you for only three more weeks), can replicate this.

More tips come from Kathy, at Time Management (it’s really much easier if people have a domain that’s similar to what they’ve named their blog, then I don’t have to choose!). One that might be useful for some is to hire home help to make sure you have a guaranteed window of time. I haven’t included it in my list below because it’s not practical for everyone. And it’s cheating.

Asking for it

As seems to be the trend with babies, a lot can be gained by asking about it. Maybe people love talking about their baby experiences; maybe they remember how worried they were. Either way, asking seems to be a better way than simply searching the interwebs.

Here’s something my mate Dave had to say (you remember Dave):

Juggling twenty four hours between work, baby, time with mum, own time and sleep. It’s not easy. However, you may find that the only way to squeeze some writing in is to learn to write at odd times.

David Simpson

Indeed! And that is what I’m worried about really. Life is demanding enough! Let’s hope for that focus people are talking about then.

Dave’s example of an “odd time” was in-between baby feeds at night, should you not be able to go back to sleep again.

So once you have settled her down, you have a window of two to four hours that is your time. You can either try and go back to sleep, catch up on the latest soap or whatever you have on the Sky+ box, or use this as an opportunity to write.

David Simpson

It’s not a bad idea. I’ve always thought of sleep as a waste of time anyway. Let’s see if I still feel the same when utterly deprived of it!

Reddit, I find, is also a good source of information. Even if you can’t find anything on there, you can always just ask the question. I’ve found Reddit to be a friendly community that is always willing to offer help. So I asked, and these are some of the responses I got.

Stephen King had a few kids before Carrie (his first book) got picked up. He was living in a trailer with his wife and at least two kids (maybe three) trying to get a job as a high school teacher.

ilovesandwiches on Reddit

The first couple of months when you bring the baby home, it will awake all the time in the night, so your sleeping will be thrown off, possibly making writing more difficult, but possibly doable if you need something to occupy your mind at night.

crazydave333 on Reddit

write on the baby. dry erase is best.

ryancows on Reddit

Well, there’s always one. More quotes down below, plus you can check out the full thread here (but watch out – not everyone is careful with their language).

The List

Lists are becoming something of a habit here at Getmewriting. Do you like lists? I sure hope so, because here comes another one!

So, this is a list of ways of coping and ways of preparing that will help keep you/me writing. It is the best kind of list! One that carries much information, in an easy-to-digest fashion! This is what I have gleaned from my internet scouring and questioning. I hope you find it useful.

  • Manage expectations

    My wife knows about my terrible addiction to literature, and she’ll think nothing of letting me write or type for hours on end, uninterrupted.

    ilovesandwiches on Reddit

    One to do before the baby arrives. Your partner may be under the impression that everything else will stop once the baby comes. They may be right! But you don’t want to make things worse by springing two or three hours of writing on them in the middle of baby feeding/puking/wailing/nappy changing. Make sure he/she knows that you want to continue writing as much as possible. Discuss how you might acheive this together.

  • Write when you can

    These days I write in 10-15 minute increments or whenever the Princess of Poop allows me to take leave, which isn’t often.

    Carlos (he has no last name. He is mysterious!), The Writer’s Coin

    I wrote when he napped, forcing myself to write as much as possible during those interludes. As he got older, I taught him that when I was writing, he could play quietly so I could focus on my work. I’d write in 15-minute bursts and then play with him or tend to his needs (milk, food, bath, diaper, etc.) By the time he was 2, if I didn’t write, he’d remind me to.

    GCSchmidt on Reddit

    It may be less structured than you’re used to, but when time is scarce, you just have to write when you can. This may be for only ten minutes at a time, and it may be in the middle of the night. Just try not to wake your partner with loud keyboard tapping!

  • Make sure you know what’s next

    I planned at the weekly and daily level what I needed to do. By having a plan and breaking large tasks into smaller tasks I was able to tick things off…even when the baby napped for 15 minutes.

    Kathy (also last-nameless. An enigma!), Time Management

    And as you may only have 15 minutes at a time, you had better know what you’re going to be writing about next. Make sure that you are always prepared for those scant minutes writing. You could easily waste that time thinking about where you got up to or what’s next.

    There are several ways to do this:

    • Be mindful at all times about your writing. Make it part of your daily thought process, if it is not already. Make sure that idle brain-time is thinking about what comes next in your story, and remembering where you got up to.
    • Plan. Write out a plan of the project you’re working on. Make sure it is always on you so that you can make adjustments as you think of them.
    • Have a “whats next” note. This can go on your plan, or simply at the end of your last pice of writing. Just one sentence as a prompt about what is coming next in the story (or whatever), so you can leap straight in.

    These are not mutually exclusive, so you should probably do them all to give yourself a fighting chance!

  • Be flexible
    This is implied by some of the other points in the list, but it is worth emphasizing. A set routine is out of the window. You might plan some things, but don’t expect to be able to stick to them. Even if some quiet time for your writing has been organised between yourself and your partner, they might suddenly need help in the middle of that. 

    The baby, it goes without saying, comes first, and you need to fit your writing around your new addition, not the other way around. So, be prepared, but also play it by ear. You may have loved your writing longer, but you’ll love your newborn more!

So there you have it. I wish you luck! Go forth, and multiply, and write a bit! And congratulations!

Useful links

  • Having a baby – worried about writing
  • mommit on Reddit
  • daddit on Reddit
  • Time management tips for writing a book when looking after a baby, by Kathy
  • Writing with a Baby in the House, by Vicki Wilson
  • Writing With a Baby: It Can Be Done, by Carlos
Categories: Lifestyle Tags: , ,
  • Craig

    Foolish man.  You should know that you don’t write with a baby, you write with a pen.  *guffaws loudly.*

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Well someone had to say it I suppose :-)

  • Lenore Brennan

    These are all good ideas, not just for when you have small children, but writing in general.  

    Congratulations on your impending fatherhood, and good on you for trying to figure this all out beforehand!

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Thanks! I’m more prepared for this than anything else to do with fatherhood! This might not be a good thing!

    Glad you liked it, and yes, I hope it’s generally good advice. Time seems at such a premium these days for a lot of people.

  • http://collectiveinkwell.com David Wright

    Best of luck.

    The thing about babies is that depending on your job and other commitments, time comes in drips and gallons and you can never be certain when you have one or the other.  The single best thing that’s helped me is writing in pieces – outlining the ideas, putting down a skeleton, so to speak.

    This works best when you do one type of writing better than another. For instance, say you’re better at writing dialogue than specifics which may need research or more time to write. You can just put some bullet points as direction and then get right to the part you write faster.

    Then, when you have one of those rare moments where time comes in the gallon size, get back to the details.

    But here’s the real secret to writing with a baby – time swaps.

    My wife has things she does, I have things I do. When I need a block of time for something which requires uninterrupted attention, such as editing, she takes the duties for an hour or two. Then I repay her when she’s got something going on. This is the best way I know of to avoid burnout and to keep some sort of schedule.

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    That sounds like great advice David! I especially like the advice of simply getting what you can done when you can, and realising what work is appropriate to do when. I actually hadn’t thought of it like that, but when time is that limited, skipping over the complicated bits sounds like a useful idea.