How Parents Can Build Sustainable Writing Habits

November 13, 2023

Writing at any stage of life can be difficult. Some stages present especially complex challenges, like raising children. Your time, resources, and even your body (if you’re nurturing an infant) are no longer your own. How do you craft characters and plots when you’re stepping on Duplos while cooking dinner and your toddler asks so many ponderous questions that you can’t concentrate? To all the parents whose coffee has gone cold, you’re not alone.


Children are a blessing, but caring for them can put a strain on your creativity. When I had my first child, my commitment to a writing group is what kept me from forgetting how to operate a computer. After my daughter grew older and less dependent, I expanded my writing sessions. Currently I’m in the throes of learning how to manage two children, and even though returning to the newborn phase means I have less time to write, I’ve developed strategies that help me be more productive and stay focused. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish with proper prioritization.


Maximize Your Free Time

If you have a day job, an active social life, or other obligations, you might not see any room in your schedule at first glance, but you can always capitalize on moments when your mind isn’t occupied. Do you get a lunch break at work? Can you coordinate with your spouse to free up a couple slots each week? When you consistently designate time for writing, you also acknowledge your other responsibilities, which enables you to complete those to-dos without worrying about when, or if, you can finally write.


Nap time was my go-to for a few years. To protect it from getting eaten by chores, invite your children into the housework. At first their inexperience will prolong the dish washing and laundry folding, but you’ll get to chat or sing together, and eventually you won’t need to supervise. You can also encourage your children to play by themselves, which fosters life skills like imagination and patience. While they’re busy building forts and dressing up as princesses, you can do meal prep or cleaning so nap time is exclusively dedicated to writing.


Children go through many developmental changes, so you may have to adjust your writing schedule accordingly. I’m a night owl, but as a mother and wife, my brain often turns into tired-yet-happy soup at the end of the day (parenthood is full of paradoxes). In this season, mornings are when I have the most energy and minimal demands on my attention. Before the kids wake, I can fit in an hour or so of writing. The frequency of newborn feedings can make planning tricky, but even squeezing in thirty minutes is worthwhile because it maintains my momentum.


Establish a Vision

If you feel you have no control over your time, that can cause stress. And what’s more chaotic than grabby hands and curious minds? Without ideals to aim for, your children’s many needs and desires will inevitably crowd out your vague aspirations to tell an enjoyable story. Subdividing goals into achievable steps is smart, but that alone won’t give you the motivation to persevere through sickness, distraction, and sleep loss.


What is the purpose of your current project? Why are you writing it? Your answer can be as complex as your theme, as detailed as Story Embers’ manifesto, or as simple as your love for fairy tales. You might have a word count or date you hope to reach, which you can shape into a weekly quota. Whatever your dream looks like, articulating it can keep you moving forward, even when progress is slow or hard.


The Oxford dictionary defines vision as “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” I revisit my vision statement at the opening of every year and revise it if I’ve started a new project or pivoted back to an old one. I also recommend reassessing it at milestones like pregnancy, children beginning school, and job promotions.


Pursue Personal and Communal Accountability 

When you become a parent, you realize how precious alone time is, and as a writer, you set the expectations for how you use your limited solitude. If you spend it fussing over the dust on the living room furniture or scrolling through social media, your family won’t treat your “writing time” seriously either. You need to discipline yourself so that every minute matters and others respect your boundaries.


1. Make Your Own Clock-in System

Create a spreadsheet, whether in Excel, Google Workspace, or a document that allows you to insert a table. Add columns to track the date, start time, stop time, task, and number of hours recorded each day. At the end of the week, evaluate your total and the ways you invested it. For example, if you notice your attempts at research tend to lead you to read articles that don’t pertain to your project, you can recalibrate. Then maybe you’ll wander less.


2. Share Your Schedule

Talk with your spouse about the hours you’ve allotted yourself and seek their support. Inform relatives and coworkers so they know when to avoid interrupting you. And tell your writer friends to involve them in your process and give them the authority to check in.


3. Start or Join a Writer’s Group

I was fortunate to have a smooth pregnancy with my daughter, but as a first-time mom, I had no clue what would happen after birth. All I knew was that I wanted writing to remain an important part of my life, so I decided to organize a group of writers I met online. When I struggled to find a new rhythm during a rough postpartum, the group offered me a space to continue participating in writing activities and conversations. We discussed our goals and progress, as well as problems we were facing, and we’d send updates on a daily basis.


4. Outline Your Next Session

The more you can minimize the barrier of entry , the better. If you have a game plan or list of the areas you intend to flesh out, you’ll be much more likely to show up at your computer. For instance, if you’re stopping mid-scene, jot down the emotion you were trying to convey or a skeleton of the ensuing events. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow.


Adapt Your Routine to Your Circumstances

During the first trimester of my second pregnancy, a wave of fatigue would hit me in the afternoon, right around my daughter’s nap—and my prime writing time. I fought it for a few weeks before I realized I was ignoring my body’s needs and hurting my story. So I switched to early morning sessions (ugh!) when the house was quiet and I still had energy.


The goal is not to piecemeal every available fifteen minutes into writing time so you fry your multi-tasked brain by the end of the day. You should guard your existing routine where possible, but not at the expense of your health. Life is unpredictable, full of excitement and disappointments. The faster you can identify the need for a shift, the less disruption your writing will undergo.


Writing Is Possible!

Raising kids is a rewarding and draining endeavor. The days can feel long, the chores never ending. But Lamentations 3 declares that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” You don’t need an infinite supply of time, you just need to be efficient with what you do have.


Less can actually be more. Before I had children, I’d spend three or four hours writing, but not all of it was fruitful. The pressure of a ticking clock can force your mind into high gear. And on the days your sessions falter, or don’t happen at all, remember that a new morning will rise carrying His mercies. Keep carving out time and optimizing every second of it, and soon you’ll hold a finished manuscript.


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