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:

Make sure to stop by her blog:

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-

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Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States