Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to Combine Writing with Parenting by Magdalena Ball


“Darling, please be quiet, mommy’s trying to compose a sentence.”

Yeah, right. Try waving a red flag to a bull and asking it not to charge. Combining parenting with writing is probably no more difficult than combining parenting with any job, except that writing doesn’t usually come with a flash/separate office and childcare initiatives, and can often be put aside when something urgent calls. As a parent, something urgent is always calling. It’s easy to try and do it all—support school council, attend events, Playgroup, lessons, matches, help with homework, or even take on a “day job” to pay the bills. So how do you make the time? How do you say no when your children (What could be more important?) are counting on you to be there for them? How do you get those sentences composed when everything else is more urgent? Here are a few tips.

• Don’t try to be superperson. You have to accept that you are a parent and that your children will only be little and attention hungry for a short time. You shouldn’t stop writing, by any means, but you also have to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Long projects like novels will take many years. If you write shorter pieces, you’ll have to be honest about the output you can manage.

• Plan, plan, plan and then expect the plan to go a little askew if someone gets sick. Sit down for a few hours each year (after the kids have gone to bed perhaps, or while they are at school), and plan what you are going to accomplish during that year, bearing in mind that your family will also need your time. Each month spend a half hour or so revising the plan; each week a few minutes and each day a moment, so that you’re always clear about what you are going to achieve from a writing perspective.

• Cut your plan into bite sized, relatively urgent pieces and make sure it’s in your planner/diary. Don’t have a planner/diary? You need one. Decide what writing work you’ll be doing each week and that way you can maximise any available time, whether it’s an hour after the kids are in bed, or five hours while they’re at school. Once the big plan is broken into little segments, you’ll feel a sense of writerly accomplishment meeting those small goals, but only if they are achievable!

Above all, don’t resent your children. What else is life about? The time spent with your children is, even in the most Machiavellian terms (never mind what you’re doing for them…think of what they’re doing for you), inspiration for your work. Notice what excites them, what interests them, how they look while they play and you’ve already got the basis for your next characterisation. Parent writers are lucky in that their work and play often bisect and that the joy and unconditional love in a child’s eye is the best fodder for writing.

About the author: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything and four other poetry chapbooks Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and the newly released Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks.

Find out more about her books and pick up a book or two at:

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Thanks so much Maggie for the great article. I know all of us can use those tips. Sorry, gotta go I hear my kids calling. -Martha-


  1. Excellent suggestions. I don't have children at home any more, but I remember those days and your suggestions really to work!

  2. All very good points. I learned a long time ago to let my kids interrupt me. I'll never shoo them away because I;m busy writing. I don't ever want them to feel that they cannot approach me for whatever reason.

    Stephen Tremp

  3. Just wait until they are teenagers, the demands are much different. With me working at home (literally - medical transcriptionist done at home) and writing and now about to embark on several new adventures plus having two teenagers who don't drive at home (school's out), the time constraints and demands are much different.

    I agree you can't shoo them away when they are little but dang I'd like to shoo them away more often than I do - lol.

    Very good suggestions - especially the planning one - whodathunk - plan a whole year and then revise monthly, weekly, daily - that's a good idea. E :)

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series

    Where will the adventure take you next?

  4. She obviously speaks from experience. :-)

  5. I am not a parent, but still I found these tips very helpful! Thanks!

  6. Great tips, Maggie. I especially like the one: Don't try to be superperson. I think a lot of working moms try for that.

    And, Dallas, save these tips for the future!

  7. That's the reason I didn't do any long writing items until all my children were grown and I retired from teaching.

  8. Great tips. Your kids are only small for a little while, enjoy them when you can. Even my grandchildren are becoming adults now. And remember, out of the mouths of babe's......
    Seriously, I know how difficult it is to find time to write when you have little ones. YOU CAN DO IT!

  9. This is a subject I haven't seen covered very often, Maggie. It is an important one. I didn't do this well--pretty much gave up most of my writing as my kids were growing up except copy writing and news release writing for ads for my retail stores. It was a big mistake. I wasn't feeding my own soul.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Tweeting writers' resources at

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  11. Very true! Now that my son is older, I wait until he goes out to play with neighborhood kids. Then I have a couple hours to just write. It's great! Before that I had to do like another author friend suggested, take a notebook and seize any time you had to write. This applies to even a few minutes. Those minutes do add up.

  12. I wrote even when my son was little. I didn't shoo him away but I found other times and ways to get my writing in. Even as a teacher I found time during lunch to write in a notebook.

  13. I love the idea of taking a notebook with me. So many times I've had a great idea only for it to be forgotten by the time I get home.

  14. Perhaps this is why I didn't get any books published until my kids were out of the house! Big or little, they all demand attention and time. I've always made it a policy that family comes first, and feel blessed that I have kids, and even some grandkids, where the whole cycle begins to repeat itself..."Mom, can you take the boys today?"

  15. I like how Magdalena suggests not being a superperson and not try to be the PTA president and taking all the responsibilities that seem to come your way as a parent. I learned to say 'no' more than once. I just turned down one calling as it was way too much.

    I have a child with ADHD and auditory sensory issues, meaning he does demand my attention and time. But I find ways to work in my writing. It doesn't take much. Now my son is motivated to write too and has done very well with writer's workshop.

    Family is a big part of my life too. If anything I think being an author and reviewer has motivated my son to want to both read and write. Going to ALA conferences and having book vendors and editors making his own little bag filled with book galleys and swag has done wonders!

  16. Great points. It's important to remember that kids will be little for such a short time so you should enjoy every moment. I admire those moms who can juggle their passion for writing along with their passion for their children.

  17. Thanks for all the terrific comments everyone. Yes, I do speak from ongoing experience as mine are now 7,10, and 13. My eldest does now like to tell people I'm a writer (albeit a writer of 'boring books' -- no exploding heads or aliens - his taste), so there is payback. Also he does some of my reviews for me - nearly all the YA stuff and some adult stuff too, which helps!

  18. I admire those of you who write consistently while raising children and/or holding down a full time job! My hat is off to you!

  19. Great article, Maggie. I love what you said about planning. A friend always tells me, "People make plans and God laughs." We could easily change that to, "Parents make plans and their children laugh."

  20. Wonderful words of wisdom. I'm a mom of three who authors financial books, does freelance writing and operates an accounting firm. It is hard to juggle, but the kids are my priority.


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