Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writers with Kids

So yesterday evening Jim and I attended a book signing at Powell's City of Books (our local independent bookseller, incidentally the largest independent bookseller in the world, yay Powell's!), and the event wasn't entirely what I expected. 

We went to hear Charlie Huston, long one of Jim's favorite authors (and I really dig his books too!) who has a new book out: SKINNER. He read the prologue, it was totally gripping; Jim's deep into the book now and I'll have it next, but the unexpected part was next. He invited a group of Portland comic book creators to come up and do a panel on writing. 

A lot of comic book creators live in Portland. It's kind of a comic book town. If you didn't know. Interesting fact! There are three comic book publishers here (the large indie Dark Horse and the small indies Top Shelf and Oni Press). Anyway, among Charlie Huston's friends are some of the (if not the) top writers in the business, like Brian Michael Bendis, known to fanboys simply as "Bendis," who we often see riding his bike around town. 

So Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and the artist Michael Oeming got up and talked writing, moderated by Charlie Huston.

And for the first good chunk of it ... it revolved around kids.

Kids and getting the writing done. Kids and not getting the writing done. Not so much "kids as obstacle" but "kids as given," you know: kids as understood centers of life and the universe, around which all else revolves. Here's how it went. Charlie's first question for the panel (and himself, and oh! His daughter's name is Clementine!) was:


And then first he, followed by each in turn, gave an elaborate description of how their creative life is molded by the fact of being parents.

Listen up everybody. Kelly Sue wakes up at 3 a.m. THREE A.M., PEOPLE! Those are her best creative hours, before her [two] kids wake up and the day starts. To maintain this schedule, she goes to bed when her kids do, at 8 pm. 

And Brian Michael Bendis? He writes from his [four] kids' bedtimes until 6 a.m. UNTIL SIX A.M. Brian Michael Bendis has FOUR KIDS and HE WORKS ALL NIGHT LONG.

ALL. NIGHT. LONG. (Then makes breakfast for the kids, then crashes and sleeps. Also, get ready for envy: all four of his kids have been the kind of babies who will totally sleep in the Moses basket on his desk while he works -- all night long.)

This was how it went. So interesting. My own schedule currently is that I write from about 8 am to noon or one, at which time I might get Clementine down for her nap then work for a couple more hours, or Jim does the nap, and I work for a couple more hours. Then I'll have her in the afternoon or sometimes we'll have a babysitter and I work more. Then, after she goes to bed, we squeeze in some more work hours, generally not sleeping until midnight at the earliest.

(I know that Jim and I are VERY LUCKY we are able to arrange this schedule between us to get work done, but I want to stress that the only way both of us can get anything close to a full work day is by staying up late and NOT DOING ANYTHING ELSE. It has been years since we've just chilled in the evening or sat on a sofa or owned a remote control. It's like a distant dream. Even pre-Clementine it was rare, now it's never. )

But I have to say I'm thinking of trying Kelly Sue's method, above. Maybe not 3 am. But 5 am? I'm a morning person. When I work at night, it's not highly productive. So what if I went to bed earlier and got up earlier? Thinking back, pre-Clementine, when I finally got motivated to FINISH A NOVEL after years (35 of them) of not finishing novels, a key part of my shake-up was to get up at 5. I'd slog down the stairs, make coffee, and flop down at the kitchen table. I loooooved those dark quiet morning hours. Love love love. Blackbringer was the result. (Have you read it? My beloved first novel!)

I've tried uber-early-rising since Clementine came along, but she has had this mysterious sense of my consciousness and would wake up when I would, however quiet I was. But maybe it's worth another shot. Deep breath. Maybe TOMORROW MORNING. Maybe I'll even revisit the kitchen table.

(When the kitchen table was my writing place, I always tried to keep it beautiful and inviting: tidy, with a lovely tablecloth, fresh flowers, no clutter. A comfy cushion on a bench. And in the winter months, a blanket for the frosty morning hours.)

(all photos via Pinterest.)

How about you? Writing moms and dads? Does this strike a chord?


heidi said...

Definitely. I also have two children, and during the school year I write when they are busy there, but this summer has been pretty much a wash. My husband is great, but works a lot (not from home). I hire a babysitter twice a week, but I also want to spend time with my kiddos, so it's a tough call! I couldn't do the all-nighters...I need my sleep and like you and Clementine, my kids wake when I do. They are wicked like that. ;)

Amber Lough said...

I think I could write an entire essay on this subject. I am, at this very moment, sitting down to work and only have the time b/c I'm visiting my parents and my mother is playing outside with my kids. I am holed up in my room, with my laptop on my lap b/c if I sit at the table, THEY WILL SEE ME.

I've tried many time to wake up early, but my daughter has some sort of psychic connection and will wake up whenever I do. NO MATTER THE TIME.

They only way I could finish my novel was to send my children to childcare/preschool, and to do that, I had to take out a loan. Honestly though, for us, it was worth it on both sides. They got lots of friends and lots of playtime with adults who weren't distracted by writing, and I got some pages written.

Summer is hardest. I only get about 2 hours a day, unless I skip sleeping.

How does anyone write all night long and then stay up with their kids?! I would crash after two days of that. And I'd be inept as a writer/mother/human.

Writing around children is hard, but it's do-able. We all just have to find what works, right? And the thing that works sometimes doesn't work for long, and then we have to find some other novel way to get the job done. :-)

Anonymous said...

My son is five months old at the moment, so it's only recently that I've managed to get back into any sort of writing groove at all. I'm the opposite of you, in that I am the exact polar opposite of a morning person: all my best work gets done at night, and happily - for now, at least - that's something my routine can accommodate.

I get up sometime between 6 and 8, depending on when the Smallrus wants his first feed, after which we both go back to sleep. We wake up again for the second feed, stay awake for an hour or so longer, and then both go back to bed again, usually until sometime between 11.30am and 2pm, depending on how long the feeds have been and how sleepy he's feeling. I get a little writing done during his afternoon nap, but my big stretch is from around 8pm till 2am, when he's asleep for the night (my husband goes to bed around 10pm).

Basically, things got a lot easier when I decided that any work done during daylight was a bonus, rather than the goal. I can watch TV and read during the day (for now, while he's small, though I'm aware that won't last) and work in the evening, but it'll be interesting to see how that habit evolves as he gets older.

seedlessgrape said...

I don't have children, but I work a full-time job and try to squeeze writing in on the side. It's so hard! So far I haven't managed to make the leap to wake up super early in the morning to get writing done before work. Maybe I should try it, though. You know, with a biiiiig cup of coffee.

Elizabeth Poole said...

I have a 17 month old, and writing time has evolved as he has. When he was an infant, I didn't get anything done because I was so exhausted. Then around the 5 month mark it got better, and I started getting in 30 minutes here, an hour there.

Now that he sleeps through the night, I write during naptime, and sometimes at night if I'm feeling up to it. I'm not a morning person, and like you, if I wake up early he seems to know and wakes up too.

I don't understand how you get any work with Clementine awake. How do you distract her? I tried writing from the laptop while the son is awake, but he senses that I am trying to be productive and tries to climb up my leg. Usually the morning is for cleaning, prepping dinner, and playing with him. I'm hoping when he's older I can write while he's awake, but right now it's nearly impossible.

Cleo Li-Schwartz said...

This is kind of unrelated, but did you happen to be in Shelton last night? I could have sworn I saw you and your daughter.

Unknown said...

Ahh, my wonderful Google Drive app. If I'm not post-it noting ideas for dialogue, there's the option of tapping into my phone key points to to tidy up later on the laptop.

My 'later' is alternative evenings, between 8 and 11pm, when its's Daddy's turn to do bedtime. HOWEVER, she is a 2.5 year old, and with that, highly boisterous, resistant and inquisitive, amongst many more lovable and endearing qualities. The penalty, though, is her innate (I like how we all think they have some kind of sixth sense about these things) awareness of what Mammy is doing anytime she reaches for a pen or mobile device. She immediately quizzes "Wha you doing?" or orders me to "PUH DA DOWN, MAMMY!" You have to smile :)

Anonymous said...

I work full time in Government, have three kids, and publish.

I get up between 4-4:30am. I write before my full-time job and after. I could not do this without the most understanding family ever.

I go without sleep and manage about five hours if I'm lucky. But I do it because writing is more important to me than sleep!

Cristina said...

I get up at 5 am to write and it's when I'm the most productive. I put a clock in my kids' bedroom (they are 4 & 6) and the rule is, they are not allowed to get out of bed before 6 (they are super early risers). If they wake up before 6, they can play or read quietly in their room. This way, I'm getting at least an hour to myself. Then, I write whenever they are in school, and in the summer, whenever I can find the time.

The husband is an illustrator and he works ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Usually, he's getting ready for bed as I'm waking up.

we hope that when both boys are in school full time, he'll be able to go to a normal work schedule. sigh!

Erin said...

I am having a very hard time writing these days with a 2 and 5 year old daughter and a full time job. I get every other Friday off and I try to really hack away then. Other than that I'm pretty lucky to get an hour a weekend during naps and the occasional lunch break at work. I wake at 4:45 each morning so I can get ready and get the kids ready and usually after carpooling am not home till 6 at night. I usually fall asleep exhausted after the kids fall asleep, which leaves no writing time at all in the evenings. I have hope that it'll get better in a few years when they're a bit older.

Lyra said...

Writes all night long?? 3 a.m.??

Good Lord, that's dedication.

When people ask me how I manage to write, it always gives me pause. The fact is that all of us are making a decision to create something and it takes time. Even when we're not writing it takes thoughtful time, which all of the moms and dads out there can agree does not happen when you have a little one tugging on your sleeve every other sentence.

I work full-time and get up at 5 am anyway so earlier isn't really an option. I commute as well so I'm gone from my house, my family, my kids, twelve hours a day. So, awhile ago I decided to mitigate the pain of that I'd use the time on the train to write, an hour in the morning. Because I'm gone so much, the time with my kids is with them, you know? The guilt becomes unbearable when I've tried to work when they're around and with three of them someone is always around.

I don't have much creative juice at night, but I found that I can edit in the late hours so I do that after the kids go to bed. And so the writing isn't quick but I managed to finish a book that way.

So, like the rest of you, the answer to the question "Where do you find the time?" can be summed up in that we don't sleep much which is different than not needing sleep.

My need for sleep is less than my need to not miss a single solitary thing in this short life.

Unknown said...

Preaching to the choir, Laini!

My Muse works the nightshift--following the elusive threads of inspiration that didn't completely unravel during the beloved bedtime routine.

Juggling writing ambitions with the full-time Mom/ part-time sanity gig is always a struggle. But, just like the third-world torture levels of sleep-deprivation that come with raising tiny humans, the sacrifices we make to bring our story into the world are well worth it.


Anonymous said...

Oh, this absolutely strikes a chord - although I'm in awe of those schedules. Seriously impressive! I've worked at home (freelance journalism, now novel writing) since I had my first baby, and used to set the alarm for early morning sessions (mornings are definitely my best time). These days, both kids are at school, which really helps... Although I procrastinate more. And they *do* have a lot of holidays when they're with me 24/7 ;-) Reading this has reminded me how much I've let my routines slip, to be honest. I'm setting my alarm for six tomorrow (baby steps).

Melanie Stanford said...

Loved this post. It's so hard to find time to write with kids and I love hearing how everyone does it differently. I've got four kids but this September three will be in school full time. I usually write right after lunch until they get home and I have to start chauffeuring them everywhere. Of course, now that it's summer, it's much harder to find time because they are all at home and want to be constantly entertained.
It's a balancing act, that's for sure!

Unknown said...

Love this post. I am so lucky to have a 10 year old who is very self entertaining (we're all a bit hermit-y) Still it's a challenge. Folks want to eat every day. Every. Day. What's with that?
On the unlucky side, I didn't get hooked on writing novels as I now do until 2 1/2 years ago. I didn't have to juggle around a baby or toddler. I have bad restless leg syndrome though so possibly my sleep is worse than any mom out there. LOL
I try to write while my son is in school and sometimes in the evenings. I think a set schedule would do me good-9 to 2am or such. I'm a night owl and that's when Devin is asleep and my legs would keep me up anyway. :)

April White said...

It's summer. Which means no school for my 6 and 10 year old boys.

So I wake at 5am, before the chickens, when the dog just rolls over and gives me "the eye," and I write. Then when the boys wake up and after the essentials of food and whatnots are doled out, the earphones go in, I plug into my music, and turn them into white noise.

They know they can tap on my shoulder if it's really necessary, or if there's blood, and because I work in the room where the legos and swords are, they don't feel like I'm neglecting them quite as badly as I am.


And school starts in exactly one month, but who's counting?

Joanna Roddy said...

At first I read this post and experienced a rare episode of comparison-induced anxiety (rare because I try not to compare). Laini Taylor writes at least 8 hours a day? She has no leisure time? How can I possibly live up to that?!

I'm a mom of two kiddos, 1 and 3 years old, and I'm in the revision process with my agent on my first manuscript. It's taking FOR-E-VER. (Sandlot, anyone?)

I'm also a SAHM and part-time teacher and get two hours two mornings a week to write while my husband goes in late, plus one day a weekend between breakfast and dinner time. It's not bad, but it's not enough.

I've tried writing after my kids go to bed at night, but I find by then I have nothing left to give to anyone or anything. I was inspired by the idea of waking up way before the kids and giving my best to MS first.

It's 5:00 am and I woke up at 4:00 today to work. This has inspired my husband to go in to work early too and come home in time for me to have a late afternoon work session before dinner. This is new, but I'm thinking it's going to work. Thank you for the prompting.

I'm in Seattle, so there's some solidarity knowing another West Coast writer is at the kitchen table typing away until they hear that familiar tiny voice calling from the bedroom too. Cheers!

Unknown said...

wow! So interesting! it's almost as if you took me by the shoulders and yelled, "wake up, Britt!" I must act. do. make. create. I don't have to wait.

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