My daughter’s birthday is in less than a month. I made it! I feel like I’m just emerging from some underground bunker, blinking in the sunlight. But I’m alive! (And more importantly, so is my daughter.)
If the first year of my daughter’s life taught me anything, it’s that nothing is ever going to look the same. Even tiny things, like how I take a shower (really, really fast) or bigger things like how I sleep (I don’t… just kidding, I slept at least twice last month).
My writing life was not immune to these changes. I quickly figured out that I was going to have to do some major adaptation or give it up altogether. If you’re pregnant, your wife’s pregnant, or there are already a pair of tiny, adorable, needy eyes staring up at you and you’ve just realized your grand writing plans have gone out the window, I’ve put together this nifty list of tips for you (written in between diaper changes and singing the ten-thousandth verse of Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed).
**Caveat before we get started** You will hear this a million and one times but you can stand to hear it again. EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT. You can’t pick whether you get a baby that sleeps through the night in a few weeks or one that cries for 80% of the day. Some people with little angel babies will be able to do leaps and bounds with their writing. Others may need to put their writing completely aside for unforeseen reasons like colic and medical complications. YOU get to decide how much you can do. Don’t feel guilty about the choices you make.
I also recommend taking a “maternity/paternity leave” for the first two or so months. You’ll really want to be soaking up becoming a parent for the first time and resting as much as humanly possible. And if some writing happens in there, it’ll just be an added bonus.
1. Put down the phone. Oh, how I wish someone would have warned me about this before Eliana was born. That little device in your hand is the easy way out. Caring for babies is monotonous. You will get bored. And what to do to satiate that boredom? Why, this perfect, with-you-always, fits-in-your-hand, key-to-the-outside-world screen.
What’s the problem with scrolling through facebook during the few minutes it takes to feed a baby? Nothing, if it’s a seldom occurrence. But let me tell you from experience, it won’t stay seldom for long. Days with babies are chock-FULL of little moments of boredom when you can pull out that phone and glaze over but before long, it’ll be a reflex that you don’t even notice. You will get to the end of the day and lament how you weren’t able to get anything done. Not to mention social media is to your creative brain what “smoking would be to an endurance athlete“. You wouldn’t believe how much that time adds up, which brings me to my next tip…
2. Use the moments that usually fall through the cracks. Those moments you were using for endless phone scrolling would be a great place to start. Jot down ideas when you’re nursing or bottle-feeding. If you’re going the breastfeeding route, a nursing pillow like this one is really helpful to get your hands free (there’s even a nifty pouch where you can store a notepad and pencil). Got a few minutes while the baby is occupied with a new crinkle toy? Write down a sentence or two. It won’t feel like much but all of these little “lost” moments will really start to add up and it will keep your writer’s mindset well-oiled and functioning.
3. Keep writing utensils in every room. When an idea strikes, you don’t want to be scrambling to find something to write it down with and often you may not be able to leave the room you’re in at that moment. Keeping notepads and pens around the house will also remind you to use those in-between moments. The trick is to organize your scribbles into one location once you’ve amassed enough (perhaps at the end of the week).
4. Daydream. A lot. Let’s face it. There will be a lot of time where you can’t get your hands free to write things down. Those arms will be occupied by a (sometimes) sweet-smelling bundle of snuggles. That doesn’t mean your mind can’t be chipping away at plot ideas and elaborating your settings. Most of us are masters at daydreaming– that’s what got us into this profession to begin with. This is the daydreaming all-star league. Washing dishes? Be like Agatha Christie who claimed “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. ” Do the same when changing diapers and wiping up the millionth puddle of spit-up.
5. Explain your needs to your support person. If you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life, whether it be a spouse, a parent, or a friend that’s helping you carry the weight of keeping a tiny human alive, be straightforward and honest about what you need. (Your number one need will most likely be SLEEP.) This is not the time to pretend you can do it all yourself. Ask for help when you need it. You’ll never be able to put anything into your writing (let alone care well for a baby) if you’re constantly at the end of your rope with exhaustion. There will be days like this even WITH help, so take what you can get!
Let them know that you plan on trying to keep writing to some extent so they can encourage you when it’s tough. My husband and I worked it out so that I could continue to meet with my critique group every other Thursday and have Sunday afternoons baby-free to go to the local coffee shop and write (the Sunday afternoons came when I was able to pump enough milk to leave for a few hours).
6. Go for lots of walks. This one has multiple purposes: It might be the only form of exercise you get besides holding those precious 8 pounds, it was sometimes the only way I could get my baby to stop crying, AND walks are fantastic for getting your mind’s gears turning and time for that daydreaming we’ve been talking about. It also helped me feel like I was getting out of the house which staves off depression.
7. Go easy on yourself. Now that we’ve made it halfway through the list– a caveat: All of this advice should be taken AFTER you’ve taken care of yourself and your baby. If you’ve got a few minutes to yourself and you’re exhausted? Put down that pen and take a nap! Your writing is important, but you’ll burn out crazy-quick if you’re not taking care of your physical and mental needs. If I would have known how long I’d actually be going with very little sleep (at almost 12 months, I can STILL count on one hand the number of full nights I’ve slept), I would have taken WAY more naps in the early days than I did.
With that thought in mind, temper your goals. My expectations for what I thought I could achieve with my writing in the year after my daughter’s birth were much too high. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Doing just about any level of writing during that first year is a victory.
8. Listen to audiobooks and writing podcasts. This is a great way to keep you in the writing mindset when you can’t hold paper and pen or type. It will keep you inspired and help the ideas flowing. Besides, hearing all those new words can’t hurt baby’s language skills! Here are a few of my favorite podcasts:
9. Look for support groups online. Nothing is more encouraging than commiserating or celebrating with people slugging through the same trials you are. There are a ton of Facebook groups and online communities for writers who are moms/dads and those who are simply facing a huge time crunch. A great place to start is the 10 Minute Novelists community.
10. Those hormones be crazy. This one is for the mamas who’ve just given birth. Your body is going to be doing miracles left and right but all that miracle working comes with a price tag: hormones. They make you feel insane one moment and serene the next. They will make you feel all the feels about your baby, your spouse, your writing and what the heck you are doing with your life right now. Just ride the wave and know that you’ll be (mostly) back to your sane self once they subside. A support person is hugely helpful here.
Even if you’re not the one who gave birth, you will certainly be feeling all the feels that come with a huge life change, so you too will need to remember that things will settle down to manageable levels eventually. (**This does not account for the very serious PPD a lot of women experience. In that case, seek a professional doctor immediately.)
11. Learn to ADAPT. Babies change so fast. You’ll learn quickly that what worked last week to get baby to sleep is no longer cutting it this week. The routine you settle into with your writing will undoubtedly change just as often. Learn to roll with the punches on this one. You only get 20-minute naps when you used to get two hours? Start getting laser-focused on your tasks when you sit down to write. (It also helps to have an idea of what you’ll be working on BEFORE it’s time to write).
12. Don’t quit! New parents– this is going to be a herculean task. Keeping a tiny human alive and well is that on its own. Doing it on top of finding the creative energy to write is nearing insanity. But it can be done! Though there was a lot of trial and error, I did it. I didn’t land a multiple book deal or anything but writing means enough to me that I didn’t let it fall to the wayside. Even if I barely had two words to rub together, I put them on paper. And that’s all it takes, really. Not letting the fire go out. You’ll soon find out that the tiny human you’ve been taking such good care of is a fount of new experiences and emotion that finds its way into your writing. And you’ll be the better for it.