How to Keep Writing with Children

This post originally appeared at Humane Pursuits.

As a writer, I’ve watched my craft grow in tandem with my personal growth. Not surprisingly, the period I tried to mimic Dickens lined up with the time I wore too much makeup and used words I didn’t understand. As I’ve gotten comfortable in my skin, I write like I talk; my writing keeps inching closer to reflecting myself. I think this is true for most artists—as we mature, so does our craft, taking on flavors of the seasons we live through like wine adopts characteristics of the barrel it ages in.

So what happens when the season we’re in leaves us harried, frazzled, brain-dead, and sleep-deprived?

Because that is parenthood.

Before having my first child, I was determined to continue writing but terrified I wouldn’t be able to. Judging by the fatigue and lack of personal time in my friend’s lives, I could only guess parenting was an all-encompassing enterprise that made no room for creativity. If a mom can’t even shower, how’s she supposed to write?

How to Keep Writing with Young Children

Here’s the truth: parenthood changes art, but not for the worse—not if you continue being the artist you are. Some of my best writing has come out of my parenting journey, not because parenting lends itself uniquely to creativity, but because it’s another season and I’m (hopefully) still growing in my craft.

Yes, creativity takes far more conscious effort when you’re a parent. But what I feared would become a roadblock has instead been a catalyst for heightened discipline and self-awareness as a writer; parenthood made me work for my art. I’ve found a few habits have given me brain space to create.

1. GET AWAY

Don’t be offended when I say this, but—your home is chaotic. No, really. If you’re a red-blooded parent and even remotely human, children make your home complete, happy chaos. Creativity can be brewing in your head amidst the entropy, but putting it on the page or the canvas or the website will take some quiet.

Don’t expect to be able to create while your two-year-old watches Daniel Tiger—your best work demands more respect than that. Whether it’s your sunroom, an office, or the coffee shop downtown, remove yourself from the anarchy to get any serious work done. And don’t feel bad about doing it.

2. STAY FOCUSED

Research shows that when you break concentration on tasks too often, your productivity falls as much as 40%. It’s called task-switching and ours brains don’t do it well.

Parents don’t have the luxury of anything less than 100% productivity. That’s why you can’t write or paint or edit music around your toddler. You’ll be interrupted fifteen times a minute. But it’s also why you need to block Facebook for a bit, put your phone down, clear your head, and get focused.

3. SET AN APPOINTMENT

Parents are among the most productive people I know, simply because they have to schedule every minute of their day to fit it all in. If one of your resolutions for this year was to fit in creativity, make it a regular appointment. When you’re a parent, there’s always something you could be doing, but putting creative time on your calendar prioritizes it above these endless tasks. Make sure this appointment is long enough, as well; it takes me a while to declutter my brain before I can create again. Once you’re “at” your appointment, take it seriously.

4. STAY INSPIRED

It can be tough to stay current in your field when you’re a parent. For me, writing anything that’s worthwhile requires reading. I have to be inspired to keep producing. Make time for whatever gets you inspired. I’ve made a goal to read for a minimum of 30 minutes a day to keep my writing brain primed throughout the week. Pro tip: podcasts can be a goldmine of inspiration that you can listen to while preparing PB&J or changing diapers.

I was right about one thing before I was a parent: it can be all-encompassing, and sometimes it feels like your entire identity. (If you feel this way right now, I promise it will get easier.) But parenting isn’t your whole identity, and you know it. You know it because of how creating something makes you come alive, because you’ve felt that quickening in your soul like a metal detector honing in on something precious.

You know you’ve found what you’re supposed to do. Take that seriously. Take yourself seriously. Don’t downplay your creativity when someone asks you what you do; don’t say you “want to be” an artist. You already are. Yes, you’re also a mother or father, a human security blanket and a part-time referee, a jungle-gym and a safe place—but none of those will ever mean you’re not an artist.