Charles Hiebner has worked as a pig farmer, a long-haul truck driver, and a warehouse manager for a roofing supply company. The two of us met in grad school where we took a few writing classes together and shared a cubicle wall as interns at the university press. His writing projects have included a page-turning crime novel and a thesis about ecoconsciousness and colonial identity on the Great Plains—both at the same time. His next project is to set up a blog to share his work with the world…maybe sometime before his youngest leaves for college.
I’m a writer with a day job, one that I actually enjoy a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to earn my bread with writing, but until that time I have bills to pay. There are other parts of my life that pull me away from the writing desk, like being married. Luckily, my spouse has a day job as well, and writes, and is very patient, encouraging, and understanding of time that I request to write. So, what’s keeping me from cranking out novel after novel?
Well, there are these kids…
Before going further, let me emphasize that my children aren’t responsible for my dearth of writing. I love them, most days they love me back, and I wouldn’t trade them or being a father for anything. Still, I have to say that having children is time consuming and drains parents of energy. Children are work. You could easily say that they’re another day job entirely.
Here’s where I should be offering some links to helpful writer/parent blogs or websites with the latest writing tools and gimmicks. Or, I could share with you eye-opening and inspirational books that have kept me both sane and productive while my children have grown. Sorry, not my style. Every situation is unique, and everyone has to find their own way to balance the work/family/creative aspects of their lives.
The most valuable thing creative people can do is to share experiences with those in like situations, and sometimes these conversations create truths that can be borrowed (alright, stolen) and meshed with our attempts at living a creative life. With that in mind, I offer you my experience, from which you’re welcome to filch whatever tickles your fancy.
My children are ages 21 and 9. One doesn’t live at home any longer, but her visits are always welcome. In this day of cell phones, we communicate almost daily. In those quiet times where I can hammer out a few lines on the laptop, her texts and calls take precedence, no matter how in the groove I may be.
The nine-year-old is on-site, but beginning to show that independence that pre-teens can and should exhibit. This does free up some time, but her silent presence is still a large aspect of our relationship. By presence, I mean that she still prefers to be in the same room, even when doing her own thing. By silent, I mean she deigns to slightly turn down the video game or YouTube video she happens to be engaged in at any given time. As a parent, I can’t help but eavesdrop for anything inappropriate for young ears—not great for concentrating on writing.
While that’s the current situation, let’s go back to when the kids were born. At first, they were very demanding every few hours. This didn’t lend itself to the writing process.
Now, some may say that I could have written or typed one-handed, with baby in the other. True, and if you can do such a thing, go for it; not me. I was basking in the wonder of caring for the little creatures, and knew that in the overall scheme of things those days were numbered. Instead of doing double-duty, I chose to cherish those moments.
Okay, that’s only partially true. Throughout all of this, I was absorbing, storing, and shaping stories in my mind, using those precious moments as fodder for future writing. I would come up with a few ideas and jot them down on any random piece of paper, for which I reserve a drawer on my desk. An inspiration box, if you will.
It was in these early years that I resigned myself to a period of snippets, caught on pocket-paper. This is my first piece of advice for those with little ones: always keep a pen or pencil on your person and paper within easy reach. To this day, I’m never without either.
As the children grew and became a bit more independent, all manner of screens took their turns as temporary babysitters. Not going to lie about that, but the old timers used hoops, sticks, rocks, and coal mines to keep kids out of their hair, so don’t judge. Some of what I did included writing, but as often as not were household chores and home maintenance. As much as possible, I tried to avoid screen sitters and encouraged the children to interact with others and spend time outside. I say try, because, as with writing, much of what we attempt fails. Also like writing, the more we try, the better we get at it.
It was during this time that all of those hastily scribbled notes began to pay off. Being less tired, as the kids were now sleeping through the night, I was more able to take advantage of the breaks at work to string entire sentences, and sometimes whole paragraphs, together. Between commercials was my new writing reality at home, or while supper was simmering on the stove—those small moments when the little humans were distracted.
I graduated from (but still kept handy) the pocket notepad and began keeping steno-sized notebooks tucked in strategic locations at work and at home. A la Raymond Carver, short stories began to take shape. Unfortunately, I’m by default a long-form writer, so the short stories ended up being more like small chapters. Yet here was progress!
After age 6, kids can take care of themselves, for the most part. Now I spend time trying to balance out encouraging them to become as independent as possible while also finding joy in those times where they still decide to rely on me.
You might be thinking that I’m in a good place now, that I can just write whenever the children want to be away from the parents. Ha-ha, that’s a good one!
Parents still have to be in tune with our kid’s moods, and be ready at a moment’s notice to drop whatever we’re doing and interact with them. This takes concentration and time, which in turn saps energy from creative pursuits. The upside is that I have a laptop and the time to boot it up and pound the keys for a decent amount of time, putting together all those notes, snippets, and shorts written during my children’s earlier years. It’s even possible to find time for new ideas and pursue them. What luxury!
All too soon, as with the oldest, the youngest will leave the nest, and it will be quiet. It will be much less frantic, but somehow less fulfilling, to have so much of what a writer is supposed to crave—the time to write. When thinking about this, I begin to worry. Did being challenged to fit writing into my life while still giving my children valuable time with me make me a better writer? By not being allowed to overindulge in writing, did having children force me to take more careful stock of how and what I write about?
I used to think that all the years spent putting off the writing for my children was a sacrifice. I’ve recently revised that thought. I’m thankful to my kids for the years of character development, forcing me to focus on making every word count, every scrap and scribble worth the time away from them, and for allowing me to live in a story far better than any I could hope to write.
In the end, what’s my strategy for writing while parenting? Keep doing it. Try little things to keep your toe in the water. Revise your goals, revise your style—revision isn’t just for the words on the page. Reprioritize your life. You may be surprised how much better and more efficient your writing will become if you’re constantly rethinking the grandiose notion of how a writer should write. Don’t be afraid to make the most important parts of your life more important than your writing.
Have an idea about the Day Job life or getting your creative work done that you want to share on the blog? I’m always open to guest posts and new ideas, so hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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