If, as Virginia Woolf once said, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, then a mother must also have a sturdy lock, some ear-muffs, kid-traps, cunning, and a gut of steel.
Welcome to writing - mama-style.
Nothing can interfere with a writer’s flow and ambition quite like having kids. Good intentions tend to fly out the window at the first cry of ‘MUM!’ And that’s nothing to what mother’s-guilt can do for your sanity. Damned if you write, damned if you don’t is often how it feels to try to juggle artistic ambitions with a love of your spawn.
So through the years, women (and men) have had to develop thousands of unique tricks to make it through the messy jungle of exhaustion.
Here are just three of mine.
Buddy up with another writer to buy yourself time.
For me that is my husband who is a screenwriter. On Wednesdays he takes care of our toddler while I get a full day of uninterrupted writing. On Saturdays, I do the honours and buy him some time to write. It works because we both need time for ourselves and realise how important it is to our relationship and mental health. But even if you don’t have a writer-spouse, you can do a version of this with them or other writers. If you’re a single parent, you could buddy up with other writers in your area who are also parents. Offer to babysit their kids for a little while each week so they can write, and ask if they’d be prepared to do the same for you. If you don’t have any writer friends, you can make a similar arrangement with non-writing parents that you know. I guarantee there’ll be someone willing to dump their kids on you for a while in exchange for them babysitting for you so you can write.
Learn to write in short-bursts.
This has probably been the most important thing I’ve taught myself to do. Using a Q&A technique I outline in my video on Writer’s Block, I start each writing session by connecting in with my characters first. This allows me to use whatever short time I have - even if it’s just 20 minutes at the end of a busy day - to do some writing. Whether that’s an hour squeezed in at the beginning of the day, or during a train ride to work, or 15 minutes before my daughter’s bath, using this technique means I can snatch a little bit of time most days to stay in touch with my work in progress.
Tell yourself it’s good for them.
Remember that mamas-guilt? Yeh, I got it. We all do. If I’m writing, I feel like I should be with my kids. If I’m with my kids, I feel like I could be writing. Whatever I’m doing, I feel the pull of other responsibilities. But the truth is, me focusing on my art is good for them. It allows me to model self-care and the value of commitment. By watching me prioritise my writing, they also learn the importance of creativity, how to follow their dreams, and how to navigate obstacles. It teaches them that mum is her own person, with a life and dreams outside of them. And it teaches them that dreams do not belong only to the young. Tell yourself it’s good for them - because it absolutely is.