Writing With Kids

At least my writing room is good for something.
At least my writing room is good for something.

I have a beautiful writing room, it has a wall filled with books and a desk that overlooks the pond in our backyard, but today I’m working on my writing from the couch. Next to me a three-year-old has snuggled into my elbow space and is eating crackers and stealing sips of my Chai tea. He’s watching Arthur while his brother sits in the dining room making a Lego castle and listening to a book. For the moment (probably for the next 18 years of moments) this is my quiet space. It’s sitting cross-legged with my laptop in front of the TV or no writing. If Virginia Woolf were here she would probably thump me over the head with her book of essays on the importance of having time and space to write.

My life is cloaked in chaos and filled with noise, and a few months ago I realized I loved it until it was time for me to write, then I became someone I didn’t like at all. Late night dreams and requests for one more drink of water always interrupted my nighttime writing sessions. I would inevitably be on a roll, then little feet would tiptoe down the hallway and I’d have to stop. As toddlers grew into boys, writing during the day brought me to tears more than once and the sun would set with me telling my husband that I quit. I didn’t want to set the timer in the kitchen for an hour and feel awful for yelling at my kids to quiet down when they interrupted with their sword fighting (don’t worry, they’re not real swords).

Once I went away for the weekend and the blissful silence only made me feel worse because I knew that I couldn’t recreate it every day. It felt like I couldn’t be all the things I wanted to be. How could I write full time and homeschool and cook and create the life for my children that I wanted them to have? I wasn’t doing it with frayed nerves. I wasn’t doing it by yelling. The problem was that I wasn’t willing to give up any of my loves, so I adjusted.

These are a few of the things I did to save my sanity:

  1. First, I made peace with the fact that it’s not going to be perfect. It’s amazing how much different my attitude is when I go into writing knowing that I’ll probably get interrupted.

  2. I treat my kids like people and tell them what I’m doing. They’re five and three but it’s amazing how much they understand when I tell them I’m going to write for a little while and ask them not to interrupt. It’s not always perfect but they’re getting better.

  3. I don’t answer my phone or the door. A novel idea, right? Now if only I could disconnect from Twitter and Facebook.

  4. When I write during the day I set the kids up for success. I put snacks out, turn on music and prepare activities for them to do so they’re less likely to need me to get something for them. Although last week there was an incident with the finger paint and all of my clean dishes, but really what kind of moron lets children play with paint while they write in the next room?

  5. I will never give true blue writing advice except for this one thing: Never, NEVER, edit during the day while your children are running around you making noise. Sometimes writing while the kids are around results in hilarious paragraphs that have nothing to do with the story and everything to do with something I was telling my five-year-old; but editing during those times is worse.

  6. I plan my day as soon as I wake up in the morning. This has helped me with life beyond writing too. If I know I need to get two loads of laundry done, drop off books at the library, run to the post office, get dinner from the grocery store and do a science experiment with the kids, it’s less overwhelming when I have a plan. When I add ‘Edit short story’ to that list, for me, it’s just one more task rather than a huge looming impossibility.

  7. I set writing goals, not working hours. Right now I’m working on writing 52 stories in a year, so instead of saying “I’m going to work from 8-11 tonight” when I set my schedule for the day, I decide what I’d like to get accomplished with whatever story I’m working on.

  8. TV. Yes, really. Not all the time, not every day, but I know that I’m a better mom when I’ve written a page in my journal or taken the time to write out a first draft that won’t let me think about anything else. Show me a mom that spends every moment of the day with her children and doesn’t use the TV occasionally and I’ll show you someone I want to punch in the face. (Just kidding)

  9. I carry a notebook with me everywhere and I always have it out when I’m at home. I write down quick ideas for stories or blogs and I brainstorm. I write paragraphs of stories I haven’t fully thought through and dialogue I know I’ll want to use one day.

These suggestions don’t always result in bliss and a happy mom (in the time it’s taken me to write this I’ve broken up a fight over a bag of pretzels, made smoothies and read Green Eggs and Ham twice), but there have been many days recently when one or more of them has saved my sanity and given me a few moments of quiet to unleash my creativity on the page. Writing is hard under the best of circumstances, and parenting and teaching and trying to be a mother that your children won’t need to go to therapy to get over doesn’t help. It’s good to remember that all any of us can do is our best, and that writing isn’t impossible in our busy lives. It’s good to remember that we love it, and why we love it.

I look forward to creating the perfect writing environment one day when my boys are older, although I imagine it will always have its challenges, but today I’ll just write in the middle of the chaos and probably order pizza for dinner.

Author: Callie Armstrong

Callie spent what would have been her college years traveling around the world eating and drinking and collecting adventures, stories and more books than one person could hope to read in a lifetime. She’s spent the past 5 years raising two rambunctious boys and writing. Her work has appeared on Kveller.com, and in The Jewish Press. She is currently working on a self-inflicted challenge, writing one short story a week for a year. You can find the stories on her blog at calliedeanne.com

3 thoughts on “Writing With Kids”

  1. Haha. This is awesome. I’m so down with all of this. The same is true of staying in shape with kids or gong back to school with kids. Nicely written and inspiring.

  2. “Once I went away for the weekend and the blissful silence only made me feel worse because I knew that I couldn’t recreate it every day. It felt like I couldn’t be all the things I wanted to be”

    THAT. That is how I feel all the time. I still can’t reconcile myself to not having peace and quiet and the freedom to write any time other than when it’s dictated to me by a 6 year old or round my job.

    Love this post. You have a great attitude and sounds as though you’ve finally found some kind of routine you craved. x

  3. As one responsible for my parents (celebrating their 60th anniversary in five days!) and my 10-year-old niece, I confess that I’ve yet to master number 1 on your list. I’ll work on it, though, for my blood pressure as much as for my writing.

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