Finding Time to Write (With Toddlers in Tow)

By Emily Schneider

There’s a scene in Sister Act 2 where Whoopi Goldberg confronts a young teenage girl about joining her school’s choir. She describes the book “Letters to a Young Poet” as follows: “A fellow used to write to him and say: ‘I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff.’ And Rilke says to this guy: ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. lf when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer.’ ”

Writing requires energy. It requires strength of mind. It requires emotional fortitude. Most of all, it requires your heart. If your heart’s not in it, then it will not go well.

This is all well and good as a philosophical concept. And, as a young girl watching this movie, I totally identified with it. I wrote because it was the only way I could think of to get what was in me…OUT of me. And it was easy, because I was a child, and didn’t have any other demands on my time.

Finding Time To Write with Toddlers In Tow

But what about now? What do I do when I want to write, but find myself bogged down in the real world tasks of adulthood?

There are the lucky few who are well-published, successful, writing-is-my-life-AND-my-job types. But what about the rest of us? What about those of us buried beneath a mountain of dirty laundry, overdue projects, and what have you? What about those of us scrambling to hold down multiple jobs, or to take care of multiple kids, or are just struggling to make ends meet or to hold OURSELVES together?

I think, honestly, you’ve still got to ask yourself, “Am I a writer?”

Is writing something you think about every day? Do you long for five minutes to yourself to…

If the answer is yes, then my next question is this, “What are you willing to give up?”

Because, the truth of the matter is, you’re going to have to sacrifice something. Every successful writer you’ve ever heard of put blood, sweat, and tears into their work. Every unsuccessful writer has done the same. It’s a requirement of the brotherhood (or sisterhood, as it were) that you suffer for your art. Because, the fact is, unless you’re willing to give something else up, then you’re never going to find time for your writing.

I came to this conclusion in the fall of 2014, after having spent four years as a stay-at-home mom. My three children were four, two and a half, and just under six months old. They were all equal parts needy, irritating, lovely, and adorable. But I missed having something more, I missed exploring worlds of my own creation, of building characters and stories beyond the one I was living. So, I made the decision to join the 365K club, a group of writers attempting to write a thousand words EVERY DAY for the following year. It’s not that I didn’t want to enjoy the time that I had with my kids while they were little, or that I didn’t appreciate the fact that I got to be at home with them, or that I didn’t cherish witnessing their precious childhood moments.

I just wanted to write. I wanted to try, anyway. Besides the fact that I believe you often cherish your kids more if you don’t spend EVERY WAKING MINUTE with them, I wanted to look back at that year and feel that I had achieved something, that I had lived out my passion…at least for a year. The biggest question, then, was how?

How was I going to make the time to do this thing?

Katharine Grubb, a brilliant writer, and friend has a great method of writing for 10 minutes a day to work towards your goal. However, the key to this method and most methods is choosing WHICH ten minutes a day. For me, I am not Ann Voskamp and refuse point blank any waking up before dawn nonsense. I am almost certainly a vampire, and late at night is when I jam. However, you are a different person, with a different schedule and a different household.

So you have to decide- what are you going to sacrifice? What are you going to give up, to find that precious ten-twenty minutes a day? 

TIP ONE: Choose Your Sacrifice

  1. Give up other forms of entertainment: That hour you spend catching up on a favorite TV show, scrolling through Facebook or Youtube, reading a trashy novel- all of those should be the first things you consider giving up in order to get in a daily writing session.
  1. Write during your lunch break: Before I had kids, whenever I was at work, the best way to find time was during my lunch break, when I would isolate myself somewhere nice so I could eat and read (in this case, write!) in peace. The nearest bench or spot of grass did marvelously for me in the summer, and in the winter I would try and find a lonely booth to plop down in at a mostly empty McDonalds or Chipotle. In case you doubt this as an effective method, never forget that JK Rowling wrote a lot of her story down on napkins in a diner (so I’m told). If you can eat with one hand, then you can write with the other. After kids, I still stole time at lunch. Often I could give the kids lunch, and work at a nearby desk while they ate.
  1. Use your commute: As long as you don’t get motion sick, writing while on the train or the bus can be a great solution. I can’t vouch for this, as I don’t commute anywhere, but anytime my husband has to write he will do it on the train to and from work. If you drive to and from work, you’ll have to find another time, but listening to books on audible might help to inspire you still.
  1. Give up your clean house: Let’s be real- being a bit messier will not kill you, and it will give you time to write if you vacuum once a week (or, you know, once a month, which is how I roll) instead of every day. I am not opposed to leaving mountains of dishes if it means that a blog post was finished.
  1. Give up a little sleep: This is personally not my favorite way to make time, but if getting up early or going to bed late is the only way, then do it. If I had to take this route, I went to bed late and drank a crapload of coffee the next day.

 

Let’s imagine then, that you’ve set your alarm, gotten up half an hour early, and are just about to start drafting a blog post or a new chapter when the children barge in demanding to be fed. What do you do if you have other people living with you that tend to constantly interrupt you? (I’m talking about children, but I’ve known roommates and spouses that do this too.)

I found that the best bet to getting your time to be YOUR time is to make sure these other folks are busy.

TIP TWO: Occupy the Others.

  1. Turn on a show: Now before you get up in arms, one episode of a television program will NOT rot a child’s brains. Remember, we’re talking about finding just ten-twenty minutes per day to write. Even the most highly active children can usually sit still for ONE episode of something they really like. I would highly recommend this tactic for the interrupting spouse or roommate as well.
  1. Give Them an Alternate Activity: Again, most kids (and adults) will sit still for 20-30 minutes doing an arts and crafts project. Play dough, watercolors, chalk, whatever- everyone likes that stuff. For those less inclined to cleaning up a giant mess afterward, you can have them play in their room for 20 minutes. For the younger kids, you can put them in a playpen or pack-and-play with a ton of toys and set a timer, then work on the couch nearby. You can even put your kids in the tub and sit on the bathroom rug typing if you have to. No matter what activity it is, if the interrupters are occupied (and safe!) that will give you the time you need.
  1. Give Them Food: No matter young or old, if you give someone food, they will most likely leave you alone for ten minutes. I’ve already mentioned lunchtime as an opportunity, but what about for younger kids? Well, for those toddlers eating solid foods, I have (on the advice of a good friend) put them in a high chair with cheerios or frozen peas while I worked at the nearby kitchen table. What about if you’re nursing? My friend, if you have a nursing pillow, and enough desperation to finish a sentence, you can type with one hand. I know, cause I’ve done it.
  1. Make Them Take a Nap: Naptime is a golden time to get a lot of stuff done. Instead of getting the house clean, why not work towards your word count? Also, it’s okay to encourage your spouse/partner to take afternoon naps (because who’s gonna turn down a nap, really) or to let him/her go to bed before you. More time for writing!

With all of these things in mind, there are a couple last things I want to say. I mentioned at the beginning taking on the 365K challenge for the 2015 year. I didn’t meet that goal. I didn’t meet it in 2016 either, and I didn’t sign up for it this year. But, you know what I did do? I wrote. I wrote almost every day, which is something that hadn’t happened for a long time. One thing I didn’t do: give up time with my loved ones. This is something you should NEVER give up. Well, okay, maybe if you’re about to publish and need to edit your final draft you can hide in a closet typing for three days. But don’t do this too often. Because your family and friends are your support system. They bring you joy and anguish, but they are the ones that are there to help you keep going when the going gets tough. And, at least for me, that’s more important than even writing.

So, there you have it. Find time to write, even with toddlers in tow. Go for it.


“In my mind, when I call myself a domestic engineer, what I mean is that I am “arranging, managing, or carrying through by skillful or artful contrivance” the management of my 3 children and the piles of dirty dishes and laundry that seem to accumulate in every corner of my house.” Emily lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and blogs at domesticengineering301.wordpress.com.

2 thoughts on “Finding Time to Write (With Toddlers in Tow)

  1. Great column! I began novel writing when my two oldest were 7 and 2. I’ve added two more to the bunch, and I think I’ve employed nearly all of these tactics. It’s tough, but it’s worth it. Keep writing!

  2. This is such a struggle for me, but there is great advice in here. And you’re absolutely right–the urge to write is something that is part of us, and we shouldn’t have to feel guilty for wanting to do so. You can be a wonderful mother and still make that time to write. It’s all about give and take. 🙂 Awesome article, Emily!

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