How to write with kids under 10 without losing your mind

How to write with kids under 10 without losing your mind

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Okay, so my headline is somewhat misleading. If you are attempting to write more than the occasional thank you note or note to the teacher about how very disappointed you were to learn of your normally charming daughter, Jenny’s decision to cut friend Mary’s hair in class, or why the teacher shouldn’t be alarmed when your son, Danny demands an extra seat at his desk for his imaginary friend, Mr. Hinklesworth, chances are your mind is already a little. . .well. . .off.

But according to my headline analyzer, “How to write with kids under 10 without losing more of your mind,” was considered too wordy.

1) Set boundaries

Set aside a little place in your world where you can go where you write uninterrupted. It is best if the only way to enter this place is by passing through a mystic portal accessed only by answering a series of three challenging questions administered by increasingly menacing figures, but I suppose any office, bedroom, or garden retreat or closet nook can do too. Just make sure that everyone knows that when mommy or daddy go to write they have effectively traveled to China (unless you already live in China in which case Kansas might do).

2) Actually enforce those boundaries 

Children can sense when adults want to do something that doesn’t involve them and it drives them mad. The little buggers will let loose a type of wall piercing shriek the likes of which the Department of Defense would pay billions to develop. Fight the urge to leave your writing sanctuary with every ounce of willpower you possess. You are supposed to be in China/Kansas, remember. Besides, it can’t be all that bad. As long as they are screaming, at least you know they are still breathing, right?

3) Schedule your writing in realistic chunks that fit your lifestyle

Yeah, who am I kidding in that last tip? No mind can withstand more than a minute or two of that sort of mental assault before caving. But once you leave your sanctuary, it unlikely your little hellions cherubs will allow you go back anytime soon, so you might as well plan accordingly. If you thrive on two to three hours sleep, writing in the early morning or late at night may work for you, but for those of us who require a few more REM cycles, it is easier to break up a day’s writing goal into a few fifteen to thirty minute sessions per day and can be an absolute sanity saver. Another blogger, Sacha Black, introduced me to this tip, referring to these micro sessions as writing sprints. She has written up a helpful piece to help you determine what size sprint is best for you.

4) Cut your cable

Better yet, turn the TV off altogether, but if you are like me and still occasionally need to veg out, do it smart. While the EU limits the length of commercial interruptions to no more than twelve minutes per hour of programming in the US, commercials can make up about 30% or more of air time. As much as it pained me at first, I’ve stopped watching live TV. Thanks to streaming without commercials, I can watch my favorite hour-long show in forty-five minutes. (It’s magic!) I now have an extra fifteen minutes to write if I so choose. Sure, it means putting up with some delayed gratification and extra heavy spoiler evasion, but we all must make sacrifices for our art.

5) Keep your deadlines long and your notes close

Even with the best of intentions, you aren’t going to be able to hit your goal every day, even with micro-sessions. You’ll have summer break or have to deal with yet another round of the bug that’s so fun to share that everyone in the family gets a turn. These things happen. The thing to keep in mind is unless you were offered a contract, the only one who cares about your deadline is you (yes, I know – I have a hard time accepting this too. I am all twitchy just to write it). Sure you might disappoint a few fans by failing to deliver as quickly as they would like (cough. . .cough. . . George R. R. Martin, I am looking at you), but they aren’t exactly lighting up your phone with offers to babysit (for free) so that you can write in peace, now are they?

6) Back-up everything!

Say you do all of the above. The children are blissfully asleep. Even better, they’d gone down with hardly a fight. Your partner is off taking a run (or doing whatever it is he or she does when you go all writerly on them). The house is wonderfully quiet as you revise the third draft of your latest novel. Only a few more chapters to go. You are in the zone. Suddenly the cursor on your screen moves and an ‘a’ you know you didn’t type appears on the page. Then another. And another. Suddenly there is a whole line of ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas’. Panicked, you bang on the ESC key. The cursor blinks at you as if it is not only aware of your fright, it is amused. Then the whole room is blanketed in a bright blue light coming from your screen.

You feel like Darth Vader just told you he was your father. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sounds horrible? Yes. It. Was. I was able to recover my file. That time. But thanks to the school system exposing the young to computer skills at a young age, I can no longer trust that my children won’t download a virus or click on a ransomware link. Heck, I can barely trust myself not to do that.

7) Remember why you started in the first place

Were you doing it for the money? The fame? The accolades? (If so, I’d love to see your marketing plan. Really – I would! Please contact me). Occasionally take a step back so that you can see how far you’ve already come. You can do this.

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58 thoughts on “How to write with kids under 10 without losing your mind

  1. My biggest issue was never finding the time, as might be expected, but more accurately summed up in #4: cutting the cable (though for me the problem wasn’t TV so much as other websites). I am fond of having multiple windows open at any given time on my laptop, so it was too easy to jump from Chapter 14 to Wendy’s Facebook status update or that funny YouTube video with the dancing raccoon. If I ever want to get any real work done, I have to make sure that everything else is shut down so I can write distraction-free.

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  2. My 14 year old son wiped my entire hard drive. He even managed to delete the operating system! The hubs managed to retrieve most of our pics from the last 5 years but also some ‘curious’ photos from my sons less than stellar attempts to hide what he was really doing on said laptop. Enter my new rules and regulations on laptop use and emphasis on ‘MOMS ONLY’.
    I’m keeping this post and putting it in my ‘apply this’ file. Hopefully half of my kids will read the sticky notes now surrounding my desk with all your tips! Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my. Well isn’t that a whole extra sort of special fun. I tried to make mine off limits too, but my son is only at a first grade reading level so notes don’t help much. My hubby however is the worst offender.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVED this. I have four kids under ten and I’ve definitely had my challenges when it comes to writing time. I’ve found my best time is 5:00-6:30 in the morning and then after 7:00pm until about 10:00. Of course not all of this time is devoted to writing, but generally these are the times that work for me. And as you’ve pointed out, kids don’t know boundaries. We write when we can. 🙂

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    • I am pretty sure either I will have to retire first, or we will have to move to a new place with a stand alone writing office when it gets to our retirement time. Based on my hubby’s complete lack of understanding about the whole relax on the weekend thing, having him around full time will be problematic.

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  4. This was awesome, especially the China/Kansas comment. I wish I could write in small chunks, but I always want to have a nice swath of time available. This normally only happens when my blessed husband takes the cherubs out of the house for a few hours. Where they go, who knows? And who cares? Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This brought back a warm memory of my grandma rising extra early to hunt and peck her way through a short story she called “Casa Bedlam”. I and my brother lived with the grandparents for a while and I can still see her typewriter in the little kitchen alcove.

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  6. With my youngest in pre-school now, I love having my quiet mornings. It’s blissfully wonderful. There are often days, though, when I’m trying to write while they are both here and 1 and 2 just never happen. Usually I’m trying to focus while they are making tons of noise around me and I read the same paragraph three times, still don’t know if it makes sense, and then wonder if I should just stop for the day and wait until the “conditions” are a bit more conducive to writing.

    I think my biggest challenge right now is that I write so slowly and *always* overestimate what I can accomplish with my allotted time (even when it’s quiet time). I just can’t get the hang of making goals/deadlines that are actually realistic.

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  7. In the early days it was easier to ban the kids. You may disturb Mummy if – there is a suspicious man in the garden misuse some of his clothing – you notice the house is on fire or, you have been bitten by a snake. Today in retirement mode with just DH – dear husband – it’s much, much harder. I somehow can’t get him trained or out of the house often enough to get in the necessary writing time.

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  8. Wonderful. A serious subject that you have to laugh about…a little…while keeping your cool. I didn’t start writing until the kids were grown and out of the house. I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. So, give yourself a pat on the back!!! Or two!

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  9. A very handy list, Allie!
    My little darling has a built in sense of exactly the moment when I sit down to write. She appears without fail about three minutes later, even if I have just seen her, with a list of 73 things she needs to ask/eat/find. However, she gets it when I tell her I need to write now (she’s almost 10).
    And yes, I have given up on live TV, pretty much. I download stuff or buy the DVD, then watch when I can. Otherwise I’d never have time to write anything.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good advice. Especially the no TV, that’s the only way I can do it. That and basically a lot of walking into shit as I type-write on my phone whilst walking between meetings! #truestory! oh… and wine!

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  11. I’ve found that a combination of foam earplugs and headphones with music over the earplugs combine to cancel out most noise, and create a barrier against being interrupted. People still can get my attention, but it often requires so much effort that they really question whether it’s worth it.
    In some cases I’ll go on “errands”, which really amount to heading to a local library for 1-2 hours with my cell phone off and either typing on a computer or writing in my notebook, depending on my mood.
    I’m also really fond of writing late at night, after everyone else has gone to sleep. When people are so tired they can barely stay awake in front of a TV, they lack the energy to bother me.
    I think you’re spot on about the TV remark. In a world of DVR and streaming there are plenty of ways of seeing shows later, after writing is done.
    When it comes to goals, I like to set two deadlines. One is the stretch/push deadline, which is impressive, but may not be feasible, and then there’s the firm deadline, which must be met, but is very reasonable.

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    • I set my goals the same way. I manage to hit my stretch more often than not, but it is always good for my psyche to know that I don’t have to kill myself trying to achieve the impossible when the other facets of my life take priority.

      Liked by 1 person

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