Writing On The Side

More blogs about parenting & writing! This time the blog comes with a list of helpful tips for getting stuff down when you feel, as parents do, like there’s nothing to do but the very minimum.

S.B. Divya is an author and an engineer. She is married with children (and pets), and knows the unfortunate joys of homeownership. Her fiction has been published in “Daily Science Fiction” and “Nature.” You can find out more at www.eff-words.com.


Most of us wear multiple hats on a daily basis. We have a paid job (or jobs) that is our main way of earning a living. We have housekeeping duties like cooking, laundry, cleaning, and paying the bills. We might have additional responsibilities: to a romantic relationship; to pets; to children; to ailing parents. If this weren’t enough, some of us are willing to add writing to the pile.

Unless you hit some kind of jackpot (a best seller list, major book award, rich uncle, etc.), you’re probably not going to earn enough from your short story and/or book sales to live as a full-time writer. This goes double if you’re supporting a family. So how can you make it all work without losing your last shred of sanity?

I’m no expert (let me know if you find my sanity!), but I here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience.

  • Stake out your writing time daily for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can. Guard this time like Smaug hoarding his treasure.
  • Sometimes life gets in the way (like a pesky hobbit), and you will lose that time despite your best efforts. Fine. Roll with it and get back to it as soon as you can. The more days you slip, the harder it is to recover.
  • Outsource the child care. If you have children who are too young for school, lean on your partner to grab an hour to write on the weekends. Hire a part-time sitter for a couple evenings when you can stay an extra hour at the office – use this time to write!
  • That lunch hour? Is a great chance to read, or eat quickly at your desk and then write.
  • Outsource the crappy work. If you’re lucky enough to be in a high income household, hire help as much as you can.
  • If you have young kids or aging parents to look after, claim your writing time after they’ve gone to bed (at night or while napping). Don’t do the dishes until after you’ve sat down (with a timer if necessary) and done nothing but write for 30 minutes. Staring at your empty page also counts.
  • Take your leisure time – i.e., watching TV or playing games or reading a book – and divide it in half. Leave one half for leisure, and spend the other half writing. After a few weeks, you won’t miss it. You might even drop the non-writing altogether.
  • If you have older kids, do some writing while they’re at after-school activities. Alternatively, use this time for research or outlines.
  • If you have a long commute, use a voice dictation software to plan out a scene, record notes, or even generate a rough draft.
  • Keep a log somewhere, like an x-chain calendar or a spreadsheet, so you can see your progress. Watch the word count pile up (slowly…be patient) or watch the X’s accumulate (with gaps because life happens). Remind yourself that any number is an improvement over zero.
  • Find a buddy to keep you honest, or join a weekly writing group. Peer pressure and deadlines are great motivators.
  • Forgive yourself if you need to take a break. Every job should come with  time off. Writing is no different. Be a good boss, though, and don’t let your vacation turn into a leave of absence.

It comes down to this: You have to make the most of your time when you can get it. Unlike the days when you had no other responsibilities (if you were ever so lucky), you can’t wait for hours of free time to appear. They won’t. Nor can you wait until the muse strikes. Become the master of stealing time. Treat your writing like another job, not a fun hobby, and make sure your family does, too.

If this sounds hard, that’s because it is! But it can also be immensely rewarding, especially when you finally see your name in print.

If you are having trouble figuring out where to find that 30 minute daily writing time, I highly recommend trying something like Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours log (http://lauravanderkam.com/books/168-hours/manage-your-time/). Once you see the patterns in your daily routine, then you can work on rearranging and/or spotting the gaps.