When my husband and I started a family it was decided (mostly by me, now that I think back) that I would stay home with the kids and he would be the wage earner. This was not the easy way out for either of us. Greg had the stress of being the sole provider and also had to come home to a wife eager for adult conversation, just when he wanted to quietly decompress. And I had my own troubles being home with one, then two, then three little kids, all needy, messy little jumping beans, more adorable in photos than I remember them being at the time.
I loved being home with my children, and wouldn't have had it any other way, but it left little free time for either of us.
Throughout the baby and toddler years, I thought about writing. I thought about it a lot, actually, but I never did it. Not once. It seemed that if I had a child age three or younger in the house I couldn't write.
Around this time I remember reading that John Grisham used to work his crazy attorney schedule AND get up at dawn to write for two hours before work. Later I read about Stephen King's writing routine in his book, On Writing. He's very disciplined and writes 2,000 words a day, no matter what. Both John and Steve made me feel like a complete loser. I had more free time than either of them, and yet, I couldn't manage to do one tenth of what they were doing.
But then I realized that neither of them was doing what I was doing either.
Time, energy, and money. All three are finite resources. Kids are notorious time suckers, and they do a number on their parents' money and energy too. If you've got kids, you don't need a hobby--you're covered.
When my youngest was in preschool, I finally made the time to write. I took a non-credit class at the local tech college one night a week, and I also joined a critique group that met two evenings a month at the Hartland Community Center. It kept me on track with my writing, because I knew I had to bring pages to the next meeting. I still felt a little guilty spending money and taking time away from my family, but I felt, selfishly maybe, that I needed to do this, so I did it anyway.
Later, when I began freelance writing, especially during the time I got regular assignments from the community newspaper, I was able to justify my writing time because I was getting paid. I couldn't say the same for my novel writing, but I snuck it in anyway--it was my heart's desire. I'd always thought of myself as a writer, even during those long years when I wasn't writing a word. Now that I had a chance, I was going to do it every second I could.
I can only speak for myself, a mom of three who was home full time and whose husband worked long hours. Writing under those circumstances was difficult if not impossible. Personally, I need balance in my life to write. And silence. To work on a novel I need to immerse myself in that fictional world and I'm not able to do that if I'm sleep deprived or my kids are in crisis. And when your kids are little that describes most of the time. Seems like someone is always teething, or needs to be quizzed on their multiplication tables, or is sad because they weren't invited to a birthday party or whatever. Shoes get misplaced and field trip permission slips vaporize and a person can spend hours trying to get caught up. Added to that, if you're a writer of fiction, you probably have an acute sense of empathy. Taking on the joys and sorrows of your kids can be both emotionally draining and energizing. And that wreaks havoc on the balance I was talking about earlier.
When I first started writing this blog post I thought it was going to be about the importance of carving out writing time for yourself. I was going to say that I should have been more selfish in those early years. I should have just told my husband that I just needed every Saturday morning for writing, but you know what? The more I think about it, I'm not sure that's right. Even if I could go back in time and change my sense of entitlement, my circumstances would have been the same. It wasn't uncommon for Greg to have to work into the evening or on the weekends. Some years we only had one car. And frankly, by the time the kids went to bed, I was spent. That's just the way it was.
Even now that my kids are ages 16, 19, and 23, I still have to set time aside for them on occasion. This past spring, my daughter Maria had her wisdom teeth removed. She's legally an adult and her boyfriend Sam took off work to go with her. In theory, I could have handed her the insurance card, wished her luck, then headed out to the library with my laptop. I never would have done that though. It's a mom thing. It doesn't matter how old your babies are, when they're going through something, especially a medical something, you want to be there.
(It went fine, by the way, and it was nice to have both Sam and me there--afterward he kept Maria propped up by the exit, while I went to get the car. On they way home, through her gauze-filled mouth, she told us, rather loopily, that she hadn't been to the zoo in a really long time. She was quite sad about it. "The last time I went to the zoo, the bats weren't there. We couldn't see the bats at all..." Later, she had no recollection of this conversation, but she did confirm the part about the bats.)
This struggle to find time to write when you're raising kids is an age-old problem. And if you work outside of the home, it's far worse. Writer friends who have other, non-writing jobs have the stress of their career on top of everything else.
Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring against you.
But if you wait, it gets better.
Unless it doesn't because something else happens.
I know, I'm not much help. What I can tell you is that having kids adds another emotional layer to your life, one that you can tap into and use in your writing.
Another thing I'd like to add is that it's okay to say no to other non-family, non-writing related requests. This may seem like obvious advice, but as a people-pleaser it took me a long time to get to that place. It's true that if you don't plan your time, other people will be happy to do it for you. So feel free to just say no! And if that's too difficult, you can always use my mom's classic line for taking a pass, "Sorry, that won't work out for me."
And most importantly, if you want to write, set aside time to write. But if life truly interferes, don't beat yourself up for it. Stephen King may write 2000 words a day, no matter what, but his wife, Tabitha, is also a writer and I'm willing to bet she has a different story.