Kate Heartfield – Juggling Babies & Partners, Partners & Babies

Hey! Once again, we travel to the land of parenting & writing! I really like this one. Kate Heartfield engages with the issue of having a partner and making enough time for him/her, and balancing time, whilst writing and parenting.

Because sometimes, the writing feels as time-intensive and committed as another spouse. Except, unlike my real spouse, my writing is always bossy and surly, and never surprises me with home-made bread or a chocolate bar.

I do believe that next week I may even tackle one of these posts, because these honesty-bombs of goodness are sparking my imagination.

Kate Heartfield is a fiction writer and journalist in Canada. Her stories have appeared recently in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Lackington’s and Daily Science Fiction. Her website is heartfieldfiction.com.

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Before I had a kid, I probably thought of hours in the day as being interchangeable. An hour is an hour is an hour, and we all get the same number, no matter our life circumstances.

Ha. If only it were that simple.

These days, as a fiction writer pushing 40 with a five-year-old and a demanding day job, I’ve come to think of certain hours as being particularly precious – the hours when I am able to think. The hours between 6 pm and 9 pm, for example, when I’m no longer needed (much) by my day job, but my brain is not too tired to write. Or on the weekend.

All of those hours default to parenting time, not to writing time.

If I want to use them to write, I need to get someone else to be with the kid; usually it means asking my spouse to be the solo caregiver. He’s very accustomed to doing that, but it’s a favour to me, because solo caregiving is more exhausting than co-caregiving, and it pushes other activities (such as some chores) into the hours when the kid is asleep and we should be too. So I think of spousal goodwill as a kind of currency I can spend to gain a few precious hours of writing time when I’m not bone-tired. Although I am blessed with a supportive spouse who’s also a hard-working and very present parent, that goodwill is not, and shouldn’t be, limitless.

I do get some things done while my son is awake, especially now that he’s getting a little older. For example, I’m writing this post with my left thumb (I’m right-handed) on my phone, because my right arm is currently under my five year old for our evening cuddle while he watches TV. Blog posts, social media — all of that can happen while the kid’s awake. Even note-taking. I used to write short-story notes one-handed while I nursed.

But sustained creative work, drafting or revising, usually happens when the kid is asleep. That means it happens early in the morning or late at night, and neither is my brain’s optimum time. As I get older, I find I am just physically unable to spend a day at the computer at work, a few hours parenting, and then fire up the laptop to write at 10 p.m. I’m trying to become an early-morning writer but it not does not come easily to me, to put it mildly.

So those shining hours of alone time during the good-brain hours become precious indeed. Those moments when my tired spouse looks up at me over the field of Lego on a Saturday morning and says, “Why don’t you take your laptop to the coffee shop for an hour? We’re ok here.”

This is where my time management, as a writer, intersects with managing the relationships with the people in my life. When I respond with an eager “thanks!” to that offer of an hour to write, I make a mental note to extend a similar offer later so he can play guitar or read, while the kid gets his time one-on-one with Mama.

There has to be give and take. Both my spouse and I are introverts, so we both need plenty of time alone for our mental health.

We don’t keep score, or a schedule, or anything like that. But I try to be mindful of how much alone time I’ve taken for myself in any given week, and offer roughly the same amount to him.  For example, if I have a critique session on a Monday evening, I’ll ask if he wants time to see a movie or go to a concert on the following Thursday evening. Or if he just seems particularly tired or stressed, I’ll take the boy to the museum for a Saturday afternoon. Eventually the time-debt, or spousal karma or whatever you want to call it, evens out.

The need to not get myself into too much spousal time-debt means that I really can’t afford to use those golden hours on evenings or weekends for anything other than writing or writing-related events.

I almost never take time for myself to, say, go see a grown-up movie in the theatre. The cost of those three hours, during kid-awake time, is too much. I’ll save that movie for less valuable time. I might watch it on my iPad in bed a few months later, using my exhausted hours, when I’m too tired (or sick) to write.

This is why a few conventions, critique sessions and readings are pretty much the only social events on my calendar these days — they happen during those valuable evening and weekend hours. But they’re important to my craft and career, so I don’t mind spending some spousal goodwill on them.

I’ll go to the movies – once the kid’s a teenager.

Tina Connolly: Time Management & The Art of Baby-Wrangling

Oh man, y’all.

I am really privileged to host some of these cool posts about parenting and writing. Privileged to see everyone’s thoughts, struggles, and funny observations on the creative life when you’ve got kids.

Today I am lucky to host a good friend, Tina Connolly, who just had her first YA book (not be confused with her excellent series for adults, Ironskin, which you should read right now). Tina and I met… at a con? A thing? I don’t remember, but somehow we have fallen into the tradition of hanging out and eating milkshakes at every writing-related event. (When she’s not there, I eat two milkshakes for her sake.)

Check out these mad jams she droppin. (I don’t know what that means.)

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I feel like there’s really only one kind of parenting + writing post, and that is, How Do You Do Both??  I completely believe that there is a kind of post I could write (the royal I, by which I mean someone who is not “I”) about how I used my darling children for inspiration and I couldn’t possibly grapple with the richness and deepness of life without that moment when the baby sneezed oatmeal all over my new sweater or some such.

I dunno, check back in ten years when the kids are fourteen and eleven. Right now all I’ve got is Time Management and the Art of Baby-Wrangling.

My first young adult novel, Seriously Wicked, came out last week. It is a totally fun book about a 10th grade girl who lives with a *seriously wicked* witch, and it was a blast to write. It poured out in, like, six weeks. I wrote furiously night and day, consumed by the blaze of creation. I barely stopped to eat or sleep.

If you are now secretly thinking to yourself that the punchline to the above paragraph is going to be “At that time I didn’t have any kids,” then I salute you. (And, I would come up with a better punchline that you haven’t yet thought of, except I have two children.)

The first draft of Seriously Wicked may not have been written with kids around, but it’s been through a bunch of rewrites, and most of them were. And I’m now plunging into books 2 and 3, and it’s safe to say I won’t get to take 6 weeks and lock myself in my study this time.

(If you really want to see the effect of children in my writing, then pick up Copperhead, which I wrote when my first child was one. I only realized much later that the secret hidden subtext is that it’s about a girl looking for a place to have a nap.)

I’m currently doing all the book release stuff for Seriously Wicked (like blogging, and book tours), all of which I really enjoy (although I think it all would be better if it somehow managed to come with a nap (write three blog posts and earn a free nap! – I could really get behind that.))

Anyway, the hands-down favorite, coolest thing I’ve done for the Seriously Wicked promotion is team up with my good friend (and fellow tired parent) Spencer [that’s me!] here to record one of the songs in Seriously Wicked. See, you remember that wicked witch I mentioned? Well she summons a demon, and it accidentally gets loose and into the cute new boy-band boy who’s just moved to town. Time for our heroine Camellia to stop the wicked witch and save the boy.

Except she just might be falling for that boy-band boy, especially when he sings a song he wrote just for her…

Spencer kindly agreed to lend his mad rock star skillz to sing one of Devon’s songs, “Lion Tamer.” I am totally in love with his hilarious and awesome rendition of it, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

 

ETA: Tina here, again: I realized I never did include any tips (such as they are) on Time Management & The Art of Baby-Wrangling! I blame…the baby. And…the other baby, the one that’s actually 4 now.
Anyway, my only real productivity tip is that once you find a tiny bit of time that works for you, you have to defend it tooth and nail against all comers, and the internet. Don’t do any of your “sand” tasks until you’ve gotten to do the nice (probably little) chunk of work you wanted to do.
And my two pieces of encouraging advice are “Put on your own air mask first” (which means, it’s okay to think about your own needs first) and, give yourself a free pass for EVERYTHING until the baby is one. (And I mean *everything*: forgetting your mother’s birthday, ordering takeout of fried things at 3am, not sweeping the kitchen floor for months, breaking down in sobs in the grocery store, and sleeping in every snatch of time you get.) With the first baby, I didn’t write a single word till he was six months. Baby-wrangling will get easier, and there will be time again.

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Tina Connolly is the Nebula-nominated author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books. Her next book, Seriously Wicked, comes out May 5th from Tor Teen. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and more. Her narrations have appeared in audiobooks and podcasts including Podcastle, Pseudopod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and more. For many years she ran the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. Find her at tinaconnolly.com.

Lion Tamer & The Fires of Mercy

Whussup, y’all! We interrupt your parenting and writing blogs to make a couple of announcements:

Lion Tamer, my collaboration with Tina Connolly from her new book Seriously Wicked, is alive and kicking on SF Signal. Go read about it. This was a fun project of realizing a song from Tina’s new book, in which a sweet boy, perhaps too sweet for rock n roll, is possessed by a thoroughly rockin demon.

The Fires of Mercy is also live at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, in fiction and podcast form. This cool little story was drawn from a very long and complicated mythology that I’ve been working on for ages. One-and-a-half million words, four novel drafts, and here’s this 4k short story to show for it. A wee iceberg tip, peeking above the water.

(Actually, that’s not quite fair to my 2 million words–a previous BCS story came from the same world.)

I wanted to root this story, a kind of founding myth for the world, in something very understandable–a desperate group, on the run, and someone caught between two loyalties. The aphorism “every act of war has at its heart an act of mercy” isn’t something I believe, but it I wanted to create the sort of philosophy that could drive an order of assassins and allow them to live with their deeds.

This story is the foundation for a much larger magic system, a world where jin are a kind of fuel for magic. I’m currently working on a four-story cycle that takes place a thousand years later, and then I’ll get back to the (sigh) novel.

The Writing-Parenting Lifestyle – Nikki Trionfo

Here is another one. Another unicorn. Nikki has FIVE kids, count em, FIVE, let’s say that again. So like until the post from Gareth, in this case we are seeing the words of an impossible creature who should not exist–a working writer with five kids.

I first met Nikki in a writer’s group in Utah. Over about two years, we read the heck out of each other’s manuscripts, and stayed in touch online. During my brief and inglorious career in publishing, I may have actually made a small difference when I showed Nikki the way to impress an agent.

Cross-posted from her blog, a collection of rather funny anecdotes, and more inspiration for writerly parents.

 

IMG_0539So I’m a writer and a mom. (Of five.) (Yes, five.  That’s my son in the picture).

Parenting and writing isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle, like those three percent body fat people.

Most of the time I’m not super-momming it,“doing it all.”  I mostly fall into writing the way other people fall into overeating. Or narcoleptics who wake up before they know they’re asleep.  What, did I sit down at the computer again? Wait, did my 4yo just ask if he could use a steak knife to open the battery pack of his Ninja Turtle walkie-talkie? Holy crap, did I just say yes?!

Recently I wrote a Facebook post, prompted by Spencer Ellsworth, to write seven things about my writing that no one knew.  Here they are, mostly about my Tourette-like writing habits.

1- When my 5th grade BFF moved, I replaced her for a year with imaginary friends.

2- I talked to a counselor about post-partum depression when I was 27 and, while there, confessed my addiction to making up stories in my head, sometimes for hours. I wanted a cure. He said, “You do that? I didn’t know anyone did that! We teach people with real addictions to tell themselves stories. I didn’t know it actually worked!”

3- Needless to say, the stories in my head were not eradicated at that time.

4-When pregnant, I would dip my hands in ice-water to reduce the pain of typing.

5-I once peed into a soda cup which I emptied out my car window into the grass in order to avoid wasting time on a bathroom break. (Yes, I was pregnant then, too.)

6- Um, of course, I’ve typed seated on the toilet. Bathrooms have locks. Did I mention I have five kids?

7- I’ve also typed in doctors offices, parks, preschool pick up lines, gym changing rooms, libraries, in the back seat of my car (I don’t get it. What do YOU do in the backseat?), and pretty much all of those places WHILE breastfeeding. Multitasking is my superpower.

Oh, gee.  Aren’t I crazy?  Spencer asked me to expand the post into a blog for his writer-parent blog tour, and I was like, expand that?  What, you want one of my children to actually lose a limb? (Coming soon, number 8, wherein Nikki drives the family off a cliff because she was pretending the lost City of Atlantis had appeared in the clouds.)

Okay.  Serious time.  Yes, I get carried away with writing.

But I try to stop that behavior, not go with it.

The real way to do it like this:

To be a writer-parent, you need to take time to write.

To have a happy home, that time needs to be guilt-free (to preserve your emotional health), structured (for the safety of your kids), and finite (so that the family’s needs can be met).

On guilt-free writing: The idea that you “cheat” your kids by writing, blogging, showering, bonding with neighbors, and pooping in private is a background static inside your brain, souring your every moment of happiness.  Want to know where this leads?  A nervous freaking breakdown.  Your kids deserve time, attention, and money, sure. But so do you! Are you assertive about providing for your own needs, explaining to the entire world and yourself that certain resources have been allotted to you, or do you merely hope that maybe—in the seams of your life—you’ll be able to “squeeze in” what you in fact need? Be kind to yourself.

On structured writing time: This is pretty basic.  I assume you’ll put the chain saw away before you write.  I also assume the kids will be given something to do—a babysitter, a TV, an open area to absolutely trash (because they will!), an adult within hearing distance at all times, etc.  My personal strategy is to invite friends over for my toddlers, let them all impersonate Wreck It Ralph for two hours, and make regular rounds for diaper changes or to resolve arguments while I mostly write. My kids love it. I clean the house in one shot afterward (or I write more—see below).

On finite time: DO NOT WRITE ALL DAY.  If you think you value your art more than your family, you probably have clinical depression. Okay. That wasn’t a funny joke.  Seriously, though! Turn off the computer, get down and play, read, clean, work, eat, pray, and live with your kids and your friends and family.  You need that time and so do they!

Exception: if you’re on a roll, then you can write all day.  That’s what McDonald’s is for.

As a California girl, Nikki bought snow boots to attended college in Utah because she had no idea what a plow was. After she started teaching eighth grade science, she and her husband found themselves without kids for years so she took a writing class to “find something to do.” Proving its sense of humor, life sent her five children over the next eight years. Besides writing, she enjoys throwing parties, playing the piano, attending those dance-step-classes at the gym, and swapping mom-horror-stories. Dinner is her nemesis. She recently signed with literary agent Josh Getzler for a hip, smart-sleuthing YA.