How to make time, space, and energy for writing (even if you’re parenting in a pandemic).
I’ve known I needed to write this blog post for a month. But here I am, almost at the deadline. Cursor blinking on a blank page. Because the rest of the collective are relying on me, and because I have a deadline, I’ve carved out a day to do this (classic obliger behavior, if you are familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies).
My two boys have been taken off for the day by their grandparents. I have some precious childcare during normal working hours. Some of the few I’ve had since the pandemic closed schools in the UK.
Finally, I’ve got the time to write this blog post. But I sit down to write, and I realize I’m empty.
If you’re a parent whose kids have been at home with no school for several months, you might understand why I feel empty.
Maybe you’re like Nicole, who told the Collective her biggest frustration is “finding time to write with a day job, two small children, and a husband.”
I too have been frustrated that I don’t have time to write but the truth is, if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that it isn’t just about time. It’s also about energy. It’s also about head space.
Because the time that you actually sit down at your keyboard is such a small fraction of what it takes to write.
You can’t use that time well if you are depleted of head space. If you are lacking energy.
Now I come to write, I find that my subconscious hasn’t been working on this in the background (as I can normally rely upon it to do). My mind is simply too busy. There simply wasn’t head space.
So here I am, writing about not writing...
Writing is a Relationship
I love to ask my clients and the people who are in my online writing community to think of their writing practice as a relationship.
The truth is, I haven't been nurturing my relationship with my writing. And that is why when I sat down to write this article, it did not come easily.
I often ask authors who come to me for support: how healthy is your relationship with your writing?
I was struck by the response of one writer who told us that she saw her writing as a bit like Rumpelstiltskin:
“The joy of writing for me is how this little, insignificant strand of an idea can be spun, Rumpelstiltskin-style, into story gold. But the frustration, is also a bit like Rumpelstiltskin, requiring my time, my focus, my captivity, and even my children to some degree- in relentless ways.”
I admire the analogy, but can we cultivate a healthier relationship with our writing, one that doesn’t feel like a deal with the devil?
The writing advice world is full of macho metaphors; writing is a slog, a war, a battle.
What if, instead, cultivating a writing practice can be thought of as a joyful, romantic, effort to connect. What if cultivating a healthy relationship with our writing is akin to the daily acts of affection, eye contact, and touch that keep a marriage alive?
In a relationship, if you have become disconnected, like ships that pass in the night amidst family life, or if you’ve been numbing yourself with consuming Netflix rather than really being present with your significant other, you can’t also expect that one ‘date night’ to be romantic and blissful.
In fact, it’s likely to be really awkward.
“Each seemingly insignificant daily interaction with one’s partner builds upon the interactions from yesterday, last week, and last year.” Nikki Massey Hasting (psychologist).
So, here we are. Me and the blank page. And, it’s awkward.
But it’s a beautiful sunny day, why don’t you and I go for a walk, writing?
It’s always easier to be together while walking. The silences aren’t so awkward.
I’ve got my big straw hat on, I’ve got my phone in my hand and my headset on, and I’m pacing along a narrow path through a field of elbow high wheat, stroking the seed heads, feeling the sun on my arms, watching the white butterflies dancing on the surface...
Already more romantic.
And as I walk, I talk into the voice recorder on my phone and I think about what the past few months have taught me about creating time, space and energy for writing:
I’ve Learned I Cannot Make Time for Writing if I Don’t Also Make Energy for Writing. When you are sleep deprived, when you haven’t been looking after your nutrition or hydration, when you haven’t moved your body, when you are juggling a million thoughts about work, pandemics, systemic racism and family life in your head. That all takes energy. Then, like me, when you have time to write, you will find you have no energy or desire to write. To write creative, or deeply personal narratives, you need to be able to call on your intuition and your emotions. And to do that, you need to realize that you can’t just push yourself and push yourself some more, without also nourishing yourself. Time without energy isn’t really time to write at all.
I’ve Learned it isn’t All or Nothing. It may be that it is going to take you and me longer to write a book than someone without children, without a health condition, without our responsibilities. But even if we only carve out an hour of writing at the keyboard a week, that hour is a lot better than nothing -as long as in between those hours you are staying in a relationship with your writing in other ways; by daydreaming, sketching, reading, researching, sleeping, listening to music, walking in nature, or meditating. All of these things make head space for our writing, nurture our intuition and imagination, and allow us to have an amazing ‘date’ with our writing when the time comes.
I’ve Learned to Notice where Writing Productivity Dogma has Blind Spots. As a mother writing in the pandemic, with schools closed, I’ve learned that one of the most important things I can do is to spot where productivity advice and dogma about writing are blind to my lived reality. If you find yourself screaming ‘where are your children?’ (or other frustrated questions) as a dogmatic productivity expert tells you about the hours they spend writing every morning before they do anything else, then you can safely assume that your reality is not comparable to theirs. And you can stop punishing yourself by comparing yourself to those forms of productivity. You are always going to come off worse. They weren’t built for you.
I’ve Learned the Courage to Claim my Title as a Writer. Lack of time at the keyboard and dogma around what counts as writing can make us feel like imposters when we think about calling ourselves writers. And if your relationship with your writing feels like no more than a fantasy how can you make time for it when you could, for example, be spending quality time with your children? Acknowledge that you are in love with writing and you need to make time for it. Admit, at least to yourself and your closest family, that you are in love with writing. You want a long term relationship with writing.
I’ve Learned to Ask for Help. Now that you’ve come out as someone who is cultivating a relationship with writing, you will find it easier to find the allies that will help you make it work. A mentor of mine once had a blog post go viral because she spoke of taking a week away from her family to write her book. Why is this so newsworthy or extraordinary? She simply asked for what she needed and her family helped her make it possible. I love that! It can be easier to ask for help if there is an external ‘deadline’ or ‘appointment’. For instance, I started a co-writing group in my online community every Sunday for one hour. As a family, we agreed that time is sacred. On Sundays, Daddy does bedtime. Every. Single. Sunday. Even in that hour a week I have had some profound breakthroughs with my novel.
I’ve Learned to Romance my Writing. My writing and I feel so loved up after our candlelit date on Sunday nights or as we walk together in nature (as the first draft of this article came to life). How can you bring romance to your dates with the page?
These are the principles of nurturing a healthy relationship with my writing practice that I've leaned on during the past few months so that I can stay connected to my writing even with very little childcare and a lot of extra worries.
But there is one last thing that I've learned:
I’ve learned to Find Fellow Travelers.
Finding support and role models who are also trying to do this hard thing of making time space and energy to write is so powerful.
If you are also a mother who writes I would love to invite you to Calliope’s Writers.
It’s a free network of mothers who write. It’s hosted on a completely separate platform, outside of Facebook, to avoid the distraction of social media. It is designed to enrich rather than numb. And it is designed to create cultural change.
Because for a long time the idea of being a mother and a writer has seemed like a paradox. There are whole novels devoted to women going round and round questioning if they should become mothers because they know what that will cost them as writers.
Unlike men, we are expected to have to choose: You can be a good writer, or you can be a good mother.
We can each challenge that narrative both within ourselves and in society by connecting with other women who are challenging it too. If that resonates, I’d love for you to join the conversation at Calliope’s Writers, where mothers make time, space, and energy to write. www.calliopeswriters.com
A literary scholar, Georgina found her super-power as a developmental editor and book coach after becoming a mum in 2013. Now she helps writers use their super-powers to rise above the words on the page and make their novels as good as they can be.
www.BookCoachCollective.com - Click here for a list of our coaches and more information.