How to Survive… Fitting Writing Around Children.

Written by traveller, past primary school teacher and writer of adventure strories, Rosamund Marinelli, as a Bookshelf Blogger.

In my experience most of the pitfalls of ‘being a writer’ come from that dirty place within (see Jackie Tucker’s fantastic blog on Outwitting the Inner Critic. It’s a great read). I too suffer the usual imposter syndrome (that’s a big one); everyone is better than me, no-one is ever going to want to publish my book, and I would get so much more done if I didn’t have to think about the kids. Maybe the latter is true, but it’s all too easy to use that as the ultimate excuse to feel the world is against your success as a writer.

Getting over the internal hurdles, as we know, is down to the individual and her resolve to push on through the fog of self-doubt and karate chop those demons away. What can’t be so readily chopped away, however, are the kids. Especially when they’re on an eight week long summer holiday and you’ve got as many weeks to write 40,000 cohesive words. Cue hair-pulling/ Munch’s ‘The Scream’ face.

Last summer was tough. Being the one ‘at home’ with an eleven and twelve year old (plus a brand new puppy, the equivalent of a brand new baby) added a whole different dimension to the concept of working in peace.

Usually, I’m a pretty hands on mum – whatever work I’m doing. I’m the organiser of creative or constructive or social activities, preferably outdoors. I help with homework, I’m there on time, and I try to cook tasty meals for one and all and do the odd bit of baking on the side. Grappling with the MA Writing for Young People full-time… all that went right out the window.

The first thing my children noticed was that nice food stopped. Eating became a pretty dull affair. Then it got worse. I turned up late to collect them from school, I had no time to help with homework, I stopped trying to make beds or follow up on whether they had brushed their teeth. I missed birthday parties of their friends, I forgot to sign them up for activities, I left them hanging out with friends for much longer than I meant to. I felt like a terrible mother!

So, here’s how I coped with the biggest time-pressure I’d ever encountered, which I write as list of Top Tips. You can take them or leave them. After all, we all have our unique working methods.

  • Leave the mess. This is your career. It’s hard to work at home and deal with all the domestic chores that stare you in the face. When you’re home from the school run (or whatever your equivalent is), leave the beds, leave the dishes, stop plumping those cushions. You’ve got serious time constraints so prioritising is essential. All that stuff can wait! The world isn’t going to cave in. Instead, make the best pot of coffee you possibly can (tea if you’re a tea person), sit at your desk and get to work. Or, even better, leave the house and sit in a cafe where the coffee will be brought to you. Nothing like a bit of social writing to get words on the page.
  • Be selfish. Weekends, I know, are family time. But sometimes you’ve just got to say: ‘I’m off to write. I’ll be back in a few hours,’ and leave whoever is at home to it. In my case, my husband. What a great bonding opportunity!
  • Give yourself permission to let the kids be bored. This especially so in the holiday period when there’s no getting away from them. Last summer I needed space to write my 40,000 words without constant interruptions and demands for food and demands to be judge and jury for my girls’ arguments. I let them watch movies, even when it was sunny outside, I let them play on their computers…for hours, I let them stay indoors all day if they wanted. I gave them my debit card so they could walk to the local Tesco Metro and buy a sandwich for themselves for lunch. By this stage I didn’t even feel guilty. This isn’t ideal long term, I know, but there’s something to be said for letting children be bored quietly.
  • If they’re old enough, use your children as critics and get them involved. It is story-telling after all, and kids are experts at pointing out things that are wrong, and all the good stuff too.
  • Finally – call on friends. Last year during the Masters, I was over-whelmed by both the help and support my wonderful friends offered me and the girls – reassuring me that people actually like being asked for help. (I did take this statement at face value and clung onto it).

But, I did it. I managed. We are all still alive. I completed my Masters, I wrote a book, my children still love me (hopefully) and I still adore them. These days we’re in a more sensible routine. I just had to dig deep and make a few adjustments.

Fitting in writing around children isn’t always straight forward. Children create chaos and big challenges to overcome, and managing to navigate a writerly path through all this makes the achievement all the sweeter.  

Rosamund Marinelli writes adventure novels for Younger Readers filled with hope, determination, captivating characters, and the desire to survive when all else is against you.
An extract from her novel, Alone on the Calamari Desert, is published and included within the Bookshelf Anthology.

To find out more about Rosamund and her novel, and to read her extract, click HERE.

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