How I Make Time to Write as a Stay-at-Home Parent

I read plenty of articles on establishing a writing routine. Unfortunately, the majority should have a disclaimer: “Irrelevant to parents of young children.”

My last job left me feeling burned out, so when the time came to decide what to do about our first-born, I volunteered to stay home. I reasoned that I would finally have the time and the mental energy to write.

This actually worked for the first few months I stayed at home. I wrote a good chunk of the first draft of Monsters All the Way Down during that time, and I thought I would be able to write and edit one book every year before my children started school. Even with the many long nights and the stress of being a new parent, it was one of the most pleasant autumns of my entire life.

It didn’t last.

I later found out most people thought I was either lying about staying home to write–“He just doesn’t like going to work”–or believed I was crazy to think I’d have any extra time. As soon as my son stopped sleeping most of the day, the time I had to write–and clean, and breathe, and think–disappeared. I’ve met writers who could write with their children running and screaming in the same room with them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those parents.

ear plugs

Free parenting advice: ear plugs take the edge off and add years to your life. You’ll still be able to hear your little angels screaming bloody murder.

I finished the first draft of  Monsters and revised it over the course of a hundred inefficient late nights. Some nights, after my family went to bed, I would sit down at my desk and cry, because I knew I was too exhausted to write anything.

After giving up on burning the candle on both ends, I tried working during the evenings after my wife got home from work. That wasn’t fair to her, and even though she didn’t say anything, I could tell how frustrating it got for her after even one night of coming home from work and then being totally in charge of the kids all evening while I sat in my office. So I went back to writing at night.

Of course, taking care of the kids all day and sitting at my desk all night was unsustainable. It took me too long to realize I’m not a very good dad when I’m exhausted. I’m grumpy, stressed, and not fun to be around. This also wasn’t fair to anyone, especially to my kids.

My writing came to a standstill as I got my parenting back on track. But this presented a problem, too. Like many people that love to create, I feel lost and–let’s face it–depressed when I’m not making anything. I still needed a routine that let me care for my kids but also gave me creative time to look forward to.

My solution is Sunday is my Writing Day, and I can’t express how much it has helped me. On Sundays, I get a full work day’s worth of writing. It only works because my amazing wife is supportive, and I’d like to think it’s a good way to make the most out of a difficult situation.

If you’re a single parent trying to write, you are my superhero. I can only hope you have a support system of family and friends to help you by watching kids for if you want to try a weekly Writing Day.

Is writing one day a week ideal? Not for me, but it’s better than the other alternatives I’ve tried. If you’re a stay-at-home parent struggling to make time to write, you might want to try staking a claim on one day a week to be your Writing Day. Here are some pointers, most of which I’m still working on myself:

  • Can’t do a full day? Try scheduling two regular evenings a week
  • Remember that your writing priorities are not shared by others. Be understanding, but be selfish with your Writing Day. In return, give your time to your family freely the rest of the week.
  • Take care of business, but remember there will always be something you could be doing other than writing. Things will keep.
  • Sometimes things come up that are more important than your writing day. Be mature about it and remember there will be other days to write.
  • If you have a Writing Day to look forward to, there’s no reason not to handle as many chores as possible the other days of the week. (I really need to work on this one!)
  • When you are having a tough time, remember that you have a Writing Day coming up. This has totally changed my outlook on bad days.
  • Headphones or ear plugs help drown out the sound of noisy children during your Writing Day.
  • If something comes up that makes you miss your usual day, do everything you can to reschedule it to a different day that week.
  • Even if you aren’t an outliner by nature–I’m not–you can make use of smaller outlines to better utilize your writing time. If I have a complicated section or scene coming up, I outline in my spare moments throughout the week so I can make the most out of Sunday.
  • During the week, find writing-related activities you can do with your children around, like reading good books, working on a blog, or building up your Twitter followers.
  • Utilize a mobile supplemental file to keep track of those beautiful ideas you have outside your Writing Day.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before, so you can get an early start. (This is another big one I need to work on!)
  • Set realistic goals. My last project was somewhat complex, so my goal was 3,000-5,000 words a session. I didn’t always meet it, but I always tried!
  • A to-do list is important for those days you need to accomplish more than writing as much as possible.
  • Any good advice that applies to a daily writing routine applies: eliminate distractions, have a clean work area, be productive, don’t look back.
  • Be the best parent you can be. It might be hard to believe, but your kids are more important than any book.

Setting aside one day a week to write is difficult, and don’t develop any delusions about this being the perfect solution for busy parents. But it has already helped me work toward publishing one book, finish the first draft of another, and finish several short stories. Hopefully it will work until I go back to work or my kids start school.

Watching a book grow by only 3,000 to 5,000 words a week is difficult, but it beats your novel not growing at all. Don’t give up!

I usually tweet about my Sundays with the hashtag #SundayIsMyWritingDay.

What are your methods for finding time to write? Please share below.

3 thoughts on “How I Make Time to Write as a Stay-at-Home Parent

  1. I am exactly the same way! I blog so I have my month planned out ahead of time. I feel great having all the days filled with ideas but I sometimes do not get them written, proofed, photographed and if it is a DIY, then I sometimes do not get around to completing it. I have been using Sunday’s as my writing day as well. Everyone naps on Sundays after church and lunch so it is nice and quiet. I try to have my entire week written and scheduled. It doesn’t always happen and I am ok with that. Right now blogging is just a hobby. When it becomes daunting I take a break. In fact I just took a week long break last week. It is needed for my sanity. Thanks for your ideas! They are great!!

    • Glad I could help! Sounds like you’re much more organized than I am. If I could plan that well, I probably wouldn’t have half of my problems.

      Keep on aiming high. Even if you only get a handful of your goals accomplished on schedule, you’re still ahead of most everyone!

  2. Pingback: “How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?” | Ryan McSwain

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