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.
So 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.