Friday, February 6, 2009

Best Writing Tip Ever

The vast majority of aspiring writers in the Children and Young Adult field are women. And no, I'm not just making a sexist assumption. I'm gleaning this statistic from many years of attending writing for young readers conferences where there are like 390 other women, and like 10 guys (at most). So it is only inevitable that one particular question crops up in every Q&A session with every published female author speaking at every conference: How do you find time to write with young kids in the house?

Some of those authors being questioned don't have kids, so they don't quite understand the question (but they usually try to sympathize). Some have a few suggestions, but the majority just shake their heads and say, "Honestly, I'm still trying to figure that out myself." (FYI, I once heard Stephenie Meyers give that same answer--but that was before her hubby quit his job to take on full-time daddy duties.)

But for those of my readers who are trying to figure out the great conundrum of how to write for kids while trying not to kill your own during the process, here are the top 7 tips for writing moms that I've heard from published authors over the years--and, of course, my own indispensable commentary on each:

7. Just set up camp in the middle of the living room and let your kids climb all over you.

Yeah, some days end up looking like this at my house . . .but lets face it, that only works for about 10 minutes until KidA attempts to body-slam my laptop.

6. Wake up early in the morning to write before the kids get up.

Dude, I already get up at 6:00 am to exercise with my sister five days a week. If I woke up any earlier than that, I wouldn't even know my own name, let alone my characters' motivations.

However, when faced with a deadline, I have been known to get out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to get started on revisions--but this doesn't technically count as "waking up early" because more likely than not, I haven't actually gone to sleep yet because I've been thinking about my revisions all night long.

(WARNING: If you do decide to go with the get up early route, be very, very, quiet and turn on as few lights as possible. The worst thing that could happen is that you accidentally wake up your kids--who will promptly demand breakfast. So not only will your attempts at writing be fruitless, you will also have an extra couple of hours of "kid time" added to your already long day.)

5. Write in the evening after your kids go to bed.

I used to be extremely opposed to this idea because "alone time" with hubby is very precious to me. However, last year hubby and I purchased "his and hers" laptops so we can still snuggle up on the couch and spend time together while being productive. Hubby teaches online college courses, and I write or work on my blog etc.. However, if we work longer than an hour or two in the evening, our Tivo starts to get very impatient. Man, that little box can cuss.

Note: Again, when faced with a deadline, I have been known to stay up into the wee hours of the night, then go to bed, only to get up a couple of hours later to get back to work.

4. Hire a mother's helper.

Ah, the mother's helper is a beautiful thing. . .and an expensive one. But sometimes, it's just plain worth the expense. This last summer, my teen-aged niece, KidW, decided she wanted to buy her own miniature Australian Shepherd, and I decided that I wanted to finally finish my novel. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. KidW came over three hours a day for three days a week during the summer, and now I have a two book deal with a fabulous publisher . . .and KidW has a spunky little fur ball who piddles on her mother's carpet. Nice.

If you can't afford a mother's helper, then consider a playgroup exchange. Once a week, KidA goes to a playgroup for a couple of hours--and I only have to host all those toddlers once every six weeks. My sister and I often trade afternoons of babysitting. When my kids are at her house, I get peace and quiet to work (or a chance to run errands without going insane) and when her kids are here, I still get a lot of work done because someone else is entertaining my children. Plus, my kids get the opportunity to be best friends with their cousins. How cool is that?

3. Sit on the toilet and write a page while your kids are in the bath. Or take a notebook to the park while your kids run around the playground.

I got this tip from the wonderful Martine Leavitt (National Book Award nominee) who wrote her first book while trying to support herself and her little kids after her husband left them. She said that between her kids and going back to work full-time, all she could do was write a page a day while her kids played in the tub. It didn't seem like much at the time, but after a year she had a 365 page novel.

2. Get over the guilt.

I find that one of the biggest things holding back potential writing moms isn't actually lack of time, it's guilt.

Somewhere, somehow, our generation of stay-at-home-moms got it drilled into our heads that we must spend every waking moment entertaining our children. We think we must be constantly on the go with our kids, or constantly at their beck and call for every want and desire. Even thinking about doing something for ourselves makes our insides shudder with guilt.

And why does the guilt seem even stronger for writers? Is it because we believe that our writing isn't a worthwhile enough endeavor?

About a year and a half ago, I had a wonderful conversation with an author named Randall Wright that changed the way I feel about my writing time. He was frustrated by hearing so many of his students say that they felt too guilty to write, and he decided to pose this question to me:

"If you were spending your time sewing coats for children in need, would you still feel guilty letting your kids play on their own for a couple of hours a day?"

I thought about it for a moment and said, "No . . .I guess I wouldn't."

Randall sighed and said, "Then why do you feel guilty spending your time creating something warm and wonderful for a child to wrap herself up in, and will possibly change her life?" He paused for a moment while our little group of writer mommies let that thought sink in, then he said, "I give you full permission to let your kids entertain themselves for a couple of hours a day so you can write without any guilt."

So I'm passing that along to all of you. Get over the guilt. Give yourself 2 hours a day of "me time." Make a playroom for your kids so you can get a little space from them while you work. Write while your baby/toddler naps. Let the laundry sit for another couple of hours. Your older kid's brain isn't going to melt if you let him watch 1 movie a day. You can teach your 5-year-old to get his own snack.

I write while KidA naps and KidZ watches a movie. If either ends before my 2 hours are up, the kids know that they are to play on their own in the playroom for awhile. They know where to find me if some dire need arises, and I mostly work in the family room so I still have tabs on everything that is going on.

Now I KNOW what you're thinking: "That's all fine and dandy, Bree. But how am supposed to actually get my kids to leave me alone during those 2 hours?"

Ah, little grasshopper, that is where the #1 best writing tip ever comes into play . . .

1. Tell your kids that you will take them to Disneyland when you sell your book!!!!!

I learned this fine tip from the very cute Wendy Toliver (whose second book, Miss Match, comes out today!!!) at an SCBWI conference last year. And seriously, it changed my writing life. Instead of my kids whining and wailing about my writing time, they started saying stuff like, "Hey, Mom, you should go work on your book so we can go to Disneyland."

Freaking Awesome.

When I announced to KidZ that I'd sold my book, all he wanted to know was, "Did they give you enough money so we can go to Disneyland?"

He's been giddy ever since.

And if you've been wondering why the blog has been so quiet lately . . .well, it's because we've been in Disneyland.

More Disney-fun posts coming soon--even a few tips on how to eat gluten free while you're there.


Brodi Ashton said...

fabulous post. Yeah, the guilt thing...

I'm going to start using the Disneyland bait. But now that you've already gone, what are you going to use?

Alyosha said...

I used to get up early to write (5 am!) and I loved it, but then my kids started waking up. I wouldn't even flush the toilet, and I washed my hands in the kitchen, which was farther from their room, but nothing worked. I don't think the Disneyland bribe will work for me since we live 20 minutes away and go every few months. But they are completely capable of entertaining themselves for 2 hours. I keep telling myself, after the baby comes.....

Bree Biesinger Despain said...

Bro- Now that the kids have been to Disneyland, they are desperate to go back. I think we will have to make a yearly tradition out of it--you know, contingent on their writing time behavior.

Alyosha- You may have to promise something a little more exotic for you Disney wise kids. Perhaps a cruise? Good Luck with the new baby!

Brodi Ashton said...

Perfect. I'll just tell my kids: If you let mommy work on her book, Bree will take you to Disneyland!

Nicole said...

This is good advice Bree, I've been trying to write just that one page a day like you said and its surprising how fast it adds up.

I am so going to try that Disneyland thing what a great idea. (I hope you guys had a good time)

Alyosha I totally get what you're saying about waking the kids up, I swear mine can smell me in the morning.

D said...

Next time you go to disneyland give me a call and we will meet you there.
:) It's currently my potty training bribe.

great ideas. Kids need some down time from mom too.