Keeping the Peace (Writing with a Family) (Penny Rader)

Juggling writing, family, and possibly an outside job can be enough to make anyone pull her hair out. When I first began writing I had several small children and step-children and I was a stay-at-home mom. When my youngest went to all-day kindergarten I took a job outside the house.

I hope you'll share what works for you. We can all use a little help. Here are a few things that helped me write and take care of my family:

I lived for naptime. (Still do!) Even the kids who were “too big/old for naps” had two hours of quiet time in their rooms after lunch. They could read or sleep. I didn’t care as long as they were quiet. No disturbing me unless they were bleeding or the house was on fire. If I wasn’t dropping from lack of sleep, I used that time to write or pester the library with questions.

My other favorite time of the day was bedtime. 8 pm meant put on jammies and pick up toys. 8:30 was bedtime. This worked for me because I’m a night owl and could write after they went to bed. If you’re a morning person, maybe you can get up an hour or two before everyone else and write then.

When a mom with kids the same age as mine moved in next door, I swapped playtimes with her. When my kids were at her place, I’d write. Boy, did I miss her when she moved. :D

I have a hard time writing “new stuff” while other people are around, so while the kids were playing or studying or watching tv, I’d edit or research.

As the kids grew, the older kids could watch the little ones for an hour or so while I wrote. Again, no disturbing mom unless someone was bleeding or on fire.

If you don’t have older kids, maybe you could hire a teenager or ask grandma to take them for an hour or so. Dad can also take the kids out to wash the car or go to a movie. It’s good for dad and kids to have time together. It always irks me when dads say it's their turn to babysit. Imho, it's their turn to parent.

If you’re able to block out times to write, say 1-3 pm, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, let your friends and family know that is your working time. Do not answer the phone. Do not answer the front door. Post a sign on the front door, if you have to.

Kids can help with housekeeping. They can pick up their toys, fold laundry, make a sandwich, etc. I especially loved it when they were old enough to take a bath by themselves. It's even cooler when they have a driver's license and can go to the grocery store and/or run errands. :D

It's good for your kids to see you work toward a goal. It shows them they can do what they love, too. That they can set goals and achieve them. They might even enjoy working on their own writing project while you work on yours. If you have an extra computer, let them type away. Or maybe you could keep a stash of cool pens and pencils for them to use. They might even be able to help you brainstorm some plot points.

When I took a job outside the house I would go to work early, after the bus picked up the kids, and write in the food court until the supervisor arrived. I would often use my break time to write.

Sometimes it's easier to write somewhere other than home. When I had a day off (and sometimes on the weekends when my dh was available to watch the kids), I'd go to the library and write. Nowadays there are also nifty coffee shops and bookstores with cafes to write in.

I found the following links and I plan to put some of their ideas to use. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, too.

As the Writers Juggle

Balance Your Life

Balancing Writing and Family

Balancing Your Family and Your Writing Career

Finding Time to Write: Striving for Balance

Juggling Hamsters: Tips for the Busy Writer

Juggling Work and Family

Mom Writers community

RLH: Balancing Writing and Family

So, how do you juggle writing and family/work?


Joan Vincent said...

Fantastic post Penny! The links are great too--it reinforced my own thoughts to read the same basic tenents over and over in different styles. What do I mean? Even though my husband and I home alone I still find myself trying to carve out writing time. There is the gym, my weight loss group for whom I'm a graphic artist among other things, my mom who requires more and more care, my grandchildren, the yard and garden, the house--everyone has a similar list. The basic tenets of juggling time remain the same and must be grounded in our belief that writing it a real job. When the kids were little I wrote during nap time and after bedtime. That worked well except on days when I was a substitute teacher. Those days I usually didn't get any writing done. AS they grew I and I worked full time I started writing waiting at sports practices, piano lessons, and again after bedtime. Now I carve out time mid morning and after my nap!

Jan Schliesman said...

Great post, Penny. Everyone has this challenge because even if you have free time to write, you're still on some sort of deadline with the family, and they only need you when your fingers are flying across the keys. They never need you when you're staring at a blank screen:)

The Word Place said...

Great post! I'm finally retired with time to write, and I still don't have enough hours in the day to keep up with everything. There's so much to learn about the craft! So I'm not sure it gets any "better", but a full life is always good at any age!

Reese Mobley said...

Great post, Penny. My biggest problem wasn't my kids it was my obsession with having the perfectly kept house, beds made, laundry caught up, meal on the table every night. Since I was a stay at home mom, I saw these things as my job. Now that I work, I still have to do these things, plus work and then try to have the energy to write. The older I get the less energy I have. Do you have a post for that? (grin)

Rox Delaney said...

"As my daddy always said, 'It's always something, little Rosanna Rosannadanna.'" (Gilda Radner on SNL)

My two oldest daughters were in middle school when I started to write, so they were available to watch the two younger ones and allowed me the time I needed. We lived "out in the middle of nowhere," so once they were all in school, writing time was much easier to find. The problem was actually using it for writing. It wasn't until they had their own babies that I had to juggle writing with little ones.

I write at night now. It helps that I've always been a nightowl, but getting up when the grandkids are dropped off after writing until the wee hours isn't always easy.

There will always be interruptions and other responsibilities, both to ourselves and others. It's hard to say no, it's hard to carve out an extra hour or two or three, but if we make a real effort, it can be done.

JUST DO IT. (Nike ad) --grin--

Okay, I have to go DO IT now. No grandkids yet, so it's time to get busy!

Tanya Hanson said...

Great blog, Penny. I'm lucky to have been able to retire quite early, and I must admit I never wrote seriously while I taught school. Just too brain-tired or something. that's something I would tell others: get organized and don't put off submitting.


Joanna Aislinn said...

HI, Penny,

Had I written this post, I would have incorporated every trick you listed. I also take my laptop to the skatepark, football practice and the pool (in the summer)--since I also write reports for work most people say hi, assume I'm working and leave me be(except for one dad, this past summer, who very intuitively asked, "Are you writing a novel? You always have that computer!"

Thanks for the reminder that what I love is important too!

Joanna Aislinn
The Wild Rose Press Jan 15, 2010

Penny Rader said...

Hi Joan! Isn't amazing how much 'stuff' eats away at our time, no matter where we are in our lives? I had no idea you are also a graphic artist.

Penny Rader said...

Too true, Jan! I hate the blank screen, or my case, the blank page. (I usually write my first drafts in longhand.) There are never enough interruptions when I don't know what to write. :D

Penny Rader said...

Hi Judy! I hope you're enjoying your retirement. My dad retired a couple years ago and he's as busy as he ever was. Good thing for him because it would drive my mom up the wall if he was constantly underfoot. :D Thanks for stopping by!

Penny Rader said...

Reese, I only wish I had a solution to the no-energy problem. It's been plaguing me mightily. I was never been a great housekeeper and I get progressively worse.

Penny Rader said...

Yup, Rox, I need to JUST DO IT. I'm amazed at how much you get done with grandkids underfoot. Don't get me wrong--I love being a grandma. It's one of my most fave things.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Tanya! I'm working on the getting organized thing. Next up is getting something else written so I can submit it. :D

Kathy said...

I find I'm frustrated if I'm on a roll with the writing and have to quit to get ready for work. It frustrates me. I can't write at work, I'm a cashier in a convenience store aka gas station. We don't get lunch breaks we eat between customers inhale a bite, wait on the customer go back inhale another bite. IF we are lucky some days the time flies by and we munch instead. If I can find time I might jot an idea down in a notebook I have in my purse. Somehow writing it down never makes it to the computer after I write it, it's still in the notebook lol. But I find myself thinking about the story while mopping, not much brain power required there, and will stop and go now did I mop that aisle yet or not? I tell my coworkers about my story and then think I'm boring them. IF I won the lottery I'd never work outside the home. I'd be free to do what I wanted when I wanted and that would be write and have a laptop, netbook, to tote around if I decided I wanted to go visit another place. MY husband is great he tolerates my hours at the computer doing whatever. But hey he's a great guy and we've been together almost 39 years.

Penny Rader said...

Welcome, Joanna! Thanks for the reminder. Whenever I was running kids around I almost always grabbed my writing notebook, too, so I could work while waiting. I didn't have a computer for a long time. Even now, though, I prefer to write first drafts in longhand. One, it's portable. Two, I like the connection I feel when writing by hand. My brain doesn't usually cooperate when I try to compose on the keyboard.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Kathy! Thanks for dropping by. I completely understand your frustration.

You should see all the posties I have around my desk here at work with notes, character names, etc jotted down. I used to work at a bookstore and would carry a notepad in my apron pocket. I also carry a little notepad in my purse.

It is hard to keep track of it all, though. I have a bazillion little notepads filled with grocery lists, writing notes, quotes. I need to find a way to organize them (minus the grocery lists!) so I can make use of all my nifty ideas. :D

And kudos on the supportive husband. Not every writer is so lucky!

Rox Delaney said...

I used to write in longhand on those big steno pads. I still have them all! First editing was done when I transfered it to the computer--when I could get computer time with four other people in the family wanting it too. The problem now? I can't read my own writing!

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, now you know why I write at night. No grandkids! After I pick up Chelsea at work at 7 p.m., then make sure starving Mallory is fed, I get to write. Or have to. LOL

TV watching is at a minimum, although I have added three more shows to the two I watched last season. It cuts down on writing time, but I decided I deserve it. :)

Starla Kaye said...

Like Joan said, even when the kids are grown and gone and it's just you and your husband, writing time is still hard to find. I write very little at home. When my husband is around, he wants my attention in some manner. He tries to watch TV alone, etc. but he really wants my attention by answering a question, by responding to something he's just seen on TV (that I didn't see), and many other ways. Yes, it's too hard to concentrate when he's around at home.

The odd thing is that we work together and I can get lots of writing done at the office. I don't work full-time for the firm now. I'm just there to do this or that all day long. In between those times, I write. He likes this arrangement. And with all of the staff there, he doesn't "pester" me with needing comments, responses, or basically needing my attention.

Each of us has different circumstances and has to carve out time for writing...and make peace with those we live with. Great job, Penny!

Shawna Thomas said...

Great post!

I can't wait to look at the links!

I'm a single mother with five kids. Sometimes the older one watches the younger ones, but most of the time I'm having to stop some kind of argument. I am a night owl but so are my kids. LOL. I put them to bed at 8:30- 9:30depending on his or her ages, but they don't actually go to sleep much earlier than I do.

I write every spare second I have. I'm hoping that the dedication they see (and the occasional sandwiches for dinner) will show them that some dreams are worth working hard to achieve.

Pat Davids said...

If I had a nickle for each time I was interupted by the dog or my husband, I would have earned more money from that than from book sales. Somehow, working at home does not translate into working.

Pat Davids said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeannie said...

This is surely a post I can relate to. I think finding a way to write is a life-long struggle for those of us bound to the occupation.

When I was younger, it was working around the kids. When I lived with my mother-in-law I could never convince her that when I went to the office I set up in the basement I wasn't interested in talking to her. She came down and did laundry that hadn't been done in weeks when I went down there.

Now I struggle with health problems. Mine, my family's, the dog and cats. I find my energy runs out very quickly.

Today I struck a blow for myself. I sat down at the computer early in the day. I didn't open e-mails, listen to music, go to the blog or check my massively multi-player on-line role playing game. Instead I wrote on a story I'd started last March. I finished the darn thing, too.

Sometimes you just have to put yourself and your story first.

Maureen said...

Great ideas Penny! I work FT, starting at 7, and have been getting up at 4 to try to fit in writing. Problem is, my 8 yo twins also get up early..and earlier! Lately at least one is up by 5:30 talking my ear off.
I'm considering ear plugs.

Nina Sipes said...

Penny, I don't know how you find such nifty links, but I'm grateful. Thank you.
The toughest time I have writing is my sense of self and responsibility. Writing feels like such pleasure it is hard to break out of the mental prison that says, WORK FIRST, play second. And the work has filled so much of my time that play time has dwindled to almost no time. Our company has gotten bigger and as it did my husband's duties expanded to all of his time and then transfered to my time. Even our good works are involved. My husband as a young friend that has three small children and a husband and works two jobs. My darling thinks she needs help occasionally and since he has taken up cooking, sometimes makes double batches and takes them half, which of course is fine. However, she came down with mono last week. I've had mono, I am in complete sympathy. But, this week we had to finish planting wheat and get ready for milo harvest, so he looks at me with those big brown eyes of his and says, "Jules has mono, what does that do to you?" Which I answered. Then he says, "I think they could really use some beef and noodles and macaroni and you make. I don't have time to make any." You know what happened. It rained. I made the food. He's trilling like a lark on a birdbath. Evidently HE wanted some beef and noodles and macaroni and cheese too. We're delivering tonight because I'm not driving through that mud by myself. Anyway. Stuff happens for all of us. Whether it is remodeling, visits from family, or everyday activities we enjoy. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one that has to figure out where to carve time from. I did decide to wait to do e-mail until I've written. It seems to suck a lot of time out of the day.
Oh, my tip for everyone? Let the kids do the checkbook and bill writing out. We also keep business books. I had the two girls of ours doing it from age 10 and up. They also balanced the statements. I figured they needed to know how and it doesn't take a lot of creative thought. A nice side effect was that we never heard any whining when we told them they couldn't have something because we couldn't afford it.
Now the durn kids are off having lives and families of their own and I'm stuck with it again.
Good job everyone. Thanks for sharing.

Penny Rader said...

Of course you deserve it, Rox! What shows do you watch? I'm a tv junkie. :D

Penny Rader said...

Hi Starla! I'm down to one kid left at home and he's pretty self-sufficient. :D Except he doesn't drive. I'm always amazed by how much writing you get done. Your keyboard must be smoking! I'm surprised it doesn't set off smoke alarms at work. :D

Penny Rader said...

Wow, Lynne! Single mom to five? Holy cow! Kudos to you and what a wonderful example you are to your kids. :D

Penny Rader said...

Pat, wouldn't it be cool if we could all afford to pitch in and buy a house roomy enough so we could each have our own private writing space with a couch for napping--I mean brainstorming, a kitchen for snacks, and a big room for plotting parties. And a cute guy or two to feed us and inspire us. ;)

Penny Rader said...

Jeannie, good for you for putting yourself and your writing first today! Congrats on finishing your story. :D

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, I broke my TV addiction years ago. First it was soap operas... LOL

Mondays are Lie To Me and Castle. I didn't see the first season of either, but I try not to miss them this season.

Tuesdays are for a new one, The Forgotten.

Wednesdays are a never miss--Criminal Minds. And I do mean NEVER. I have the first 2 seasons on DVD and am pining for the next 2. In the last couple of weeks, I've gotten Mallory hooked on it.

On Fridays, I watch Real Time with Bill Maher because I enjoy the variety of guests he has on the show from both sides of the political aisle, and a few celebrities, thrown in for a good mix.

Saturdays are family night. Sundays are no TV, although I'm sure there are several good shows on. Thursdays (tonight!) are free.

But don't forget, I have a huge DVD collection, so if I just can't face writing another word, there's always something to watch. :)

And yours?

Penny Rader said...

Maurenn, getting up at 4 am is dedication in my book! I'm so not a morning person. Good luck with those ear plugs and twins!

Rox Delaney said...


Put that house on the beach with some hunky cabana boys, and I'm so there. The place should be closed to non-writers, except in dire emergencies. :)

Penny Rader said...

Great tip, Nina! I'm glad you found the links helpful. Beef and noodles sound yummy. What time is dinner? ;D

Penny Rader said...

I'm a huge fan of Lie to Me and Criminal Minds. I enjoy Castle, too. Some of my other faves are American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance , the CSI shows, Medium, Bones, House, Cold Case...well, I guess we can see where a lot of my time goes.

Penny Rader said...

Cabana boys coming right up! And no family member or pets...unless they're writing something and need their own spot. :D

Unknown said...

Penny: I am laden with warm blankets, my brain is fuzzy with dizziness and my body aches. Drat the flu, but I am lucid enough to write, "What a fantastic post!"

As soon as I feel better, I will reread your post and check out the links.

You are an excellent writer. I have found a bit of myself in your blog.

Penny Rader said...

Ahh, Tina, you're a sweetie. I sure hope you're feeling better! Btw, we thoroughly enjoyed your paranormal presentation at the retreat. :D