6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Writer (When You’re a Parent)
by Lisa Lepki
Writers must write every day. That’s the mantra. Authors ranging from Ray Bradbury to Ernest Hemingway to Doris Lessing all propound the necessity of writing daily. But the thing is, writers are also humans, and many humans have an irksome desire to procreate. And those tiny humans that arrive into the writer’s well-constructed, disciplined, every day writing routine are selfishly indifferent to this mantra. Indeed, they sometimes seem to be doing everything they can to sabotage your great writing effort. So, here are 6 ways to keep your baby brain from turning to mush when you are sleep deprived and elbow-deep in poopy diapers.
- Build the structure of your story
This exhaustion and constant state of panic won’t go on forever – I promise. There will come a time when you are once again able to sit down and write. Until then, get planning. I’m sure you have some ideas floating around in your head that you have never given your full attention. Remember that novel about the perfect crime that you always wanted to write? Even if the words aren’t flowing, you can still be thinking about the elements of the story and how they work together. Apps like Scrivener and The Novel Factory have cork boards where you can jot down notes about your plot or your characters so that when you go back to them, lots of the puzzle pieces will already be in place.
- Write when the baby sleeps
OK, I know that all the parenting books tell mothers to sleep when their babies sleep. But we are writers. And sometimes writing feels more important than sleep (not always, believe me!). J.K. Rowling once said “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” Yes! And sometimes you get lucky. My first baby slept for about 2 hours every morning (Lucky cow, I hear you saying. Don’t worry. Karma got me back with my sleep-hating baby number two). There was always a ton of boring baby admin to be done—laundry, sterilizing, food prep, etc.—but I decided I would always allow myself a few minutes of writing even if it meant some things didn’t get done. Sometimes a glorious hour or more! I had to fight the guilt that came along with my partner coming home to a messy house or an uncooked dinner, but I knew that I needed those moments for myself and my writing. The mantra “happy wife equals happy life” was one I clung on to. So although it may be unrealistic to write for the full amount of time your baby sleeps, allow yourself some of it, as often as you need it.
- Revisit old stories or works in progress
Sometimes the pressure of trying to think creatively feels like too much when you have been up all night with a screamer. When I was too tired to come up with a single original thought, I dug out some of my writing from the past few years and revisited it. Everyone has those stories that just kind of petered out. Going back, I was amazed to find some gems among the (mostly) tedious pieces. Now that I had some distance, I could see the elements that needed to be cut. I could see inconsistencies where I hadn’t before. ProWritingAid would highlight my ridiculously long, overcomplicated sentences and I would easily be able to fix them when they had confounded me before. Weirdly, I was quite a good editor in my sleep-deprived state, even if I had trouble creating anything new.
- Listen to audio books
My second baby didn’t sleep during the day unless we were walking her around in her stroller. This meant that I spent hours each week wandering the streets and parks of my neighbourhood. Not so conducive to writing. So, instead I tried to keep my brain alive by listening to audio books. There are so many amazing audio books out there and some books are even better that way. Autobiographies, for example. A huge number of inspirational people read their own autobiographies now and it can feel like listening to a friend reminiscing about their own life.
- Use a voice recognition app
There are a bunch of great apps that take dictation while you are on the move. This, again, is great when you are mandated by your small dictator to spend hours a day walking with a stroller. These days, all kinds of people walk in headphones talking into their phones, so you don’t even look like a crazy person as you talk to yourself in public. I found it really useful to flesh out characters’ back stories or build timelines. The apps didn’t always get my words completely right, but at least I had a record of my thoughts and could build on that.
- Write to help you figure out the baby stuff
For every baby issue, there are 5 different opinions on how to make it better. And when you are in the thick of it, it feels like your decision about which sleep technique to embrace will affect you and your child’s well-being FOREVER! (It won’t, by the way. It’s just one of a thousand factors in your child’s upbringing, so don’t castigate yourself unduly over it.) I was completely overwhelmed with information, most of which completely contradicted each other. It was only when I sat down and wrote about my confusion that I managed to make sense of it all. This is a great skill that we have as writers. We can take mushy ideas from in our heads and get them into some kind of comprehensible form on the page. Use that skill. It helps make these decisions easier and it exercises your writing muscles so that they don’t atrophy completely.
These days, my kids are aged 3 and 5, and we all sleep like normal human beings. Mostly. I still don’t have much spare time, but Peppa Pig allows me to have at least a few minutes during the days when I’m not at work (thanks, Peppa!) and, after the kids are tucked away in bed, my brain is well-rested enough to do some proper writing in the evenings. I’m not quite back to my full every day routine, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. So don’t get discouraged if you aren’t managing to write every day. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Figure out what works for you right now and embrace it.
Lisa Lepki. When she is not chasing her two noise-machines around the house, Lepki is a communications consultant and indie author. A word nerd, she loves the technical elements of writing almost as much as the writing itself. Currently she is helping other writers embrace the editing process through her work with prowritingaid.com.
Her writing can also be found on bookbaby.com, The Write Life, and DIYAuthor.