I want to be a novelist. I want to see my books on the shelves of bookstores. I want to talk to people about the stories that are in my head. And I want to do that as my job. That is the dream. It’s a lofty dream. And it’s all the more complicated because I am a writer…with children.
Kids make everything messier.
Leaving the house is infinitely harder and requires complex terrorist negotiations.
Eating a meal is fraught with flying food and temper tantrums about broccoli touching potatoes.
Going to sleep is a perilous activity that can be interrupted at any time by puking, screaming, or banal updates, such as, “I woke up.”
Even simply moving around your house is now an obstacle course with hard plastic or pointy wooden toys ready to stab you at any moment.
Kids make everything messier.
Me trying to be a writer is no different. Writing my book has taken me almost 5 years so far. And while great novels often take a heap of time, mine is taking so long because of children. Children being born. Children not sleeping. Children not stopping. All the children all the time.
If I could sit down and write my novel in larger chunks of consistent time, I feel like it would be more cohesive (I’m dreading reading it all at once…all in a row…oh, the horror) and that it would probably be DONE by now. Or at the very least, in a third or fourth draft phase.
My book is being written, though, and I feel it’s because I’ve come to accept that writing with children comes with its own set of rules. Here they are (as I know them):
1. Be prepared to write at any time.
I write at night after the babies go to bed. I write first thing in the morning when I can convince myself that writing is more important, more dear, than a couple more hours of sleep. I write in the morning, when Isaac and Lillian are still getting along. I write during nap time under Lillian while she watches a movie during her quiet time, until I ultimately fall asleep because I’ve stopped moving. One piece of advice that is given to writers is to set up a routine, to write at the same time every day, but when you’re writing with children that golden writing time is a moving target…and you’ve got to hit it when you can and nap when you can’t.
2. Be prepared to be joined.
There is nothing my babies love more than to join me in writing. When I pull out my computer, they also want to pull out their toy laptops. When I’m writing by hand in my fancy journal to plot out my book, they also must have fancy journals. And when I’m editing my paper copy of my written words in my binder, they also want to write and print and colour in a binder as well. I make sure that whichever way I’m writing at the time, they also can join me…otherwise, they might try to join me in other ways…
3. Be prepared to be interrupted.
Life doesn’t stop just because you need to finish a thought, follow through an idea, or wrap up a section. Children don’t look at you and see you sitting and quiet and pensive and decide, “I’m not going to bug her. She looks busy.” They think the opposite, in fact. They see you there, with your super exciting looking pens and paper, with your coffee that might still be hot, with your eyes closed, maybe, so you can drown out the outside stimulation and focus on the voices in your head, and they say, “This is our moment. This is the time to sit on her, lick her, ask her to help me with my craft, my game, the voices in my head.”
4. Be prepared for your solo writing to be a compilation.
When I was in my writing class, we were tasked with providing critiques of the other writers’ work. I would often have to hand back copies of their stories with Sophie’s scrawls all over them, because she wanted to help. Everyone was lovely and said it made the critiques more charming…but in truth, I wonder how many authors would put up with that kind of nonsense. In my fancy novel-planning journal, you will find crayon, marker, pen, pencil and stickers, all from each of my children. And I like to think of it anthropologically, that when my biographer goes through my notes, or when my planning goes viral, like Ms. Rowling’s, they’ll see that I was writing with children. And that that is not for the faint of heart.
5. Be prepared for all the rules to get tossed out the window.
If there’s one thing I know about child-raising, it’s that the rules change, sometimes moment to moment. I’ve had to come to terms with this in my own writing life, and it’s been a hard pill to swallow. I have all of these ideas and all of these words and the characters are screaming and want to be let out, but they can’t because I am a full-time mom, both in work and at home. It’s what I do. And that means that sometimes I’ll get to write on consecutive days. And other times I won’t be able to write for weeks, or even months. That sometimes I’ll nail writing in my scriptorium that Ben built for me in our laundry room and others I’ll be at the dining room table. That some days I’ll have energy and creative fire, and others I’ll want to nap with my free time. It’s the way of parenting, it’s the way of life with children, and it’s the way of writing. Sometimes things go exactly as planned. And others are so far from any plan you wonder if you’ll ever get back on track. At the end of the day, though, I’m a writer. And whether it takes me 5 years or 10 years to finish my book, I will. Because how else will I ever shut the voices in my head up?