Parenthood. It’s a full-time job. Often one we have to fit around another full-time job in order to pay the bills and eat. The same can be said for aspiring writers who have to make time for their passion in the hours not consumed by paid employment and sleep.
Finding the time to write is an age-old problem for many writers. It’s something I’ve personally struggled with, and it’s why my manuscript has taken me almost two decades to complete.
And then I had the bright idea to go and have a baby. At first it seemed like I’d never have time to myself again, but as the steep learning curve of motherhood slowly evened out, I found myself in the most creatively productive stage of my life – and boy, did I take advantage of it!
Between the months of June and December, I wrote over 120,000 words across a number of projects, the most significant achievement being the completion of my novel and over 50% of post-beta-read rewrites. That’s more than I’ve written in the last five years.
So how the hell did I do it?
Well, it was a little bit of luck, a tonne of dedication, and a whole lot of attitude overhaul. If you’re looking to get back into writing after starting a family (or struggling to fit writing time around an equally time-consuming commitment), check out my five tips for capitalising on creativity.
Tip #1: Time Is Precious – Stop Procrastinating
Twenty minutes at a time.
That was how long my baby slept in the first two months when we were still working out breastfeeding and learning how to live with each other. We had two, maybe three-hour stretches of sleep during the night, enabling me to maintain some semblance of sanity.
But between the hours of 4am and 9pm, I lived my life in blocks of 20 minutes that could be as long as six hours apart. Needless to say, not a lot of writing got done in those early months; in the brief time I wasn’t feeding, cleaning or changing my son, I had to feed, clean and change myself.
While the odd lazy pyjama day is freeing, when it becomes a reality forced upon you, it can be entirely depressing and demotivating. But it was this frustrating situation that helped me hang up my procrastination pants and stop taking ‘free time’ for granted.
As passionate as I have always been about writing and my manuscript, it often found its way to the backburner. And that is simply because writing is hard. After a full day at work, it was simply easier to come home and play PS4 – writing was what I’d do after I’d relaxed.
But you don’t have after when you’re a new parent: life is no longer divided into freedom and a 40-hour work week. Your day doesn’t end when the tiny human goes to sleep, because there’s no telling when they might wake and put you back on the clock.
This constant, looming possibility of having my freedom cut short highlighted what a precious commodity time was. And I didn’t want to waste it. I’ve always been one to work well under pressure, but the deadline has to be something tangible; timed writing bursts or productivity apps never seemed to help, because rules I set myself can easily be broken.
Becoming a parent is forever being reminded that time is not your own – not anymore. With limited, unpredictable hours, I had to be smart with how I used them. Sure, I still play video games with my friends and binge-watch terrible TV shows, but my procrastination has (mostly) been cured.
Tip #2: Make The Most Of Nap Time
Every new parent receives the same advice: sleep when the baby sleeps.
While useful and well-meaning, it’s sadly not always practical advice. With only 20 minutes at my disposal, by the time my brain shut down and eyes closed, it was time to get up and go again, leaving me no more rested and possibly even more tired.
So I tried to be productive instead.
Around the three-month mark (when, by some miracle, my nap-allergic baby started sleeping through the night), I felt more relaxed and confident enough to pick up a pen and write.
I started small: a short story here and there. It felt good. My new understanding of time’s preciousness motivated me beyond belief.
My mind was just so switched on; I didn’t want to game or craft or binge-watch trash on Netflix. As soon as bub’s head hit the pillow, I just wanted to crack open my laptop and pound my fingers on the keys.
When I revisited my novel in June, it took just three weeks to smash out the final 20,000 words and have a manuscript ready for beta readers – something I’d been trying to do since 2016. Now, I’m 70,000 words deep into post-beta-read rewrites.
In the early stages of pregnancy, I promised myself I’d treat writing as my day job while on maternity leave. Boy, did I have a good hard laugh at my naive self.
Motherhood was my new full-time job – one that didn’t pay overtime, sick leave or even a full night’s sleep. But I did get breaks. Sometimes. And they were golden.
While I’m not the kind of person who lives life to a timed schedule, routine is important – for mum and bub. Now my days are more or less predictable, and this stability has helped keep me focused, motivated, and most importantly, productive.
Morning nap is for freelance work; afternoon for creative. Housework and showers wait for Daddy to get home, and the evenings are my flexible me-time. Sometimes I write, sometimes I game, and sometimes I just go to bed early, because why the hell not.
I may not have reached my goal of having a submittable manuscript before returning to paid employment, but I now have the tools. I finally have a writing routine, one that now includes waking an hour before bub to boost my writing time even more.
Tip #3: Learn To Be Flexible With Your Writing Space
Writers are creatures of habit. Well, most of us are, anyway, and we can be pretty precious over when and how we write.
Some of us work in sporadic bursts because creativity knows no clock; others have a strict writing routine involving a quiet spot, our favourite pen, and a nice pot of tea.
I was a mix of all of the above. Sure, I had my preferences – at my desk with a big cup o’ coffee and my manuscript open in Microsoft Word – but having previously been forced to write around a full-time job, I’d gotten pretty good at adapting. Or so I’d thought.
Improvisation became my key to new mother writing success. As discussed earlier, I’ve become far more attuned to the value of time, and that’s resulted in utilising every moment my hands aren’t full of baby to do something productive.
On the rare occasions I venture out sans tiny human, it’s to the hairdressers or my local writer’s group.
Strangely enough, it’s actually the time spent getting pampered at the salon that proved to be the more productive outing. Instead of flipping through trashy gossip magazines or playing puzzle games on my phone, I decided to have a good ol’-fashioned writing sesh with a trusty pen and paper.
However, one of the biggest deterrents to writing away from my laptop was having to transcribe what I’d written in my notebook back into Microsoft Word (not to mention the time wasted trying to read my chicken scratch).
Enter the joy of cloud storage. Uploading my manuscript to Google Docs was single-handledly the best decision I’ve ever made in regards to making progress on my novel.
Working in the cloud means I can write directly into the document from anywhere I have internet – which, let’s face it, is anywhere. And, because evolution has granted us millennials fantastically dexterous thumbs, it means I can type on my phone one-handed, so writing doesn’t need to stop for bottle time.
How convenient is that?
Tip #4: Make The Effort To (Re)connect With Fellow Writers
Writing is often depicted as a lonely and isolating pursuit, and the early months of parenthood can be just as solitary.
Even a content homebody like myself started to miss even just talking with people. For the first few months, I was truly miserable as I struggled to adjust to what felt like a self-imposed jail term.
If it wasn’t for my phone, which I could fortunately use even while baby was permanently attached to my body, I wouldn’t have communicated with anyone.
While shaming new mothers for being on social media seems to be the in thing, it was this supposedly toxic network that kept me sane and helped to kickstart my newfound writing routine.
The friendships forged with other writers during my Creative Writing degree took a huge blow after graduation, and so in my loneliness, I reached out to restore our distant connection. And what a boost that turned out to be.
Isolation is depressing, which in turn is demotivating. Reconnecting with old friends – particularly those who share my passion for writing – really helped to rekindle my interest in my manuscript and remind me of the joy to be had in working on it.
Being part of a writing community is so rewarding. It’s often recommended to join a local group wherever possible. However, being a regional writer, I have to travel to meet up with writers in my area – and even then, the member demographic is vastly different to my target audience as a writer.
Sure, diversity is important, but it’s hard to get poetry-writing retirees invested in the world and characters of my YA fantasy novel. So, like any savvy millennial, I turned to the internet.
In addition to a fortnightly online workshop exchange with my old writing buddies from uni, interacting with hashtags such as #6amAusWriters and #AusWrites on Twitter has been a fantastic way to connect with others, and something I can do without needing to arrange a babysitter.
While it is hard to be social when navigating the rules of new parenthood, connecting with like-minded individuals, even just digitally, saved my sanity and writing.
You don’t have to do this alone. And you shouldn’t.
Tip #5: Understand The Value Of A Good Night’s Sleep
You don’t get much sleep as a new parent. You don’t get much sleep as a sporadic writer in the middle of a rare creativity bender, either.
Despite being essential to, well, life, sleep always seems to be the first sacrificial offering to the insatiable god of Time.
I had a bedtime right up to graduating high school and now, as a mother, I have one again.
Being well-rested is the single most valuable tool in your kit of parenthood survival. Everything is worse through the blurred, puffy-eyed gaze of the sleep-deprived.
Of course, this is all completely inevitable in the early days of parenting. I was pretty much going to bed at 7:30pm, or as soon as I got bub down for what I figured would be his ‘long’ sleep: the five- to six-hour stretch between dinner and midnight. After that it was up every two hours – if I was lucky.
So when the kiddo started sleeping until 4… 5… 6 AM, it felt like Christmas (after I got through the initial ‘Oh crap is he dead’ panic).
It’s no surprise this milestone coincides with picking up the pen to write again.
Sleep is so important for your mental health, both as a parent and a writer. Continuing to go to bed early (not 7:30, but a more respectable 9pm!) kept me feeling well rested, even if my sleep was interrupted.
I used to think late nights was when I was most creative, but I’ve since learned that it’s first thing in the morning, after a good sleep.
The frustrating thing about this whole realisation is for years my mum has been telling me ‘The best sleep you have is before midnight.’ And, dammit, she was right.
Although it may seem many of these lessons are the same habits any writer should employ at any stage of their project, it really did take a huge life change in the form of a child to put all of this into practice.
So whether it takes a baby, a change of career, or just a good long sit-down with yourself, remember, above all else, that time is precious.
A change in perspective, a healthy respect for sleep, and a commitment to capitalising on any opportunity to write – no matter how bizarre your writing space may become – can make all the difference to your productivity.
For all the other writing mums and dads out there, I’d love to know how your writer’s life changed after becoming a parent. Feel free to share your experiences below.