The baby suddenly pulls away from the breast, tossing her arm back. The stealth mama waits, breathing steadily and deeply in the hope that the baby picks up the pattern and stays asleep. Ever so gently she extracts her arm out from beneath the baby’s head, at the same time pushing the side of her face down onto the baby’s chest with a steady pressure. Arm free, she gradually slides her leg out from underneath the baby’s leg. She puts one arm down to the floor feeling for the pillow she dropped there earlier, and holding her weight with the one arm, she flips out of the bed onto the pillow, no mean feat for an out-of-shape 45-year-old mother. Once she hits the floor, she waits with bated breath, listening for the familiar sounds of a child’s awakening. After two minutes of silence, she rapidly crawls toward the door, then quickly retreats downstairs on a secret mission. This same maneuver is repeated several times a week, sometimes failing miserably when the stealth mama ends up spending an hour in the rocking chair instead of in front of her computer where her mission is accomplished.
I cannot count the number of times someone has asked me how I find the time to write. I have a friend who always wanted to be a writer and would occasionally work on a story or an article but waited until her three children left home before she really got serious about her writing. She often commented that she couldn’t really write while they were home because there were too many interruptions. I understand the dilemma; I live it every day. But I’m not waiting for my children to grow up; I’ve been doing freelance writing for 16 years, ever since my fourth child was an infant. That first article, along with the pay stub showing I was paid $50.00 for it, is in a frame that graces the wall above my desk. In the ensuing years, I’ve given birth to four more children and over 125 more articles. I’ve had one book published and an essay in the first Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. While my friend waited for her children to grow up, I wrote.
I’ve had others ask me how I find time to write when I have six home- schooled children underfoot all day. It isn’t easy, but if a mother wants to write or needs to write, she can find a way, even if it means sneaking out of bed before everyone else is up. These five simple steps have worked for me. They can work for you, too.
1) Write. This step might seem obvious, but writing is a mental exercise, and a writing brain can get out of shape. Mine always seems to go on a brief hiatus after the birth of a child, and because I have given birth to five children since I started freelance writing, there are some dry spells in my writing career. Except for the year after my fifth was born, and I was committed to a monthly column for our local newspaper, I basically took a year off from writing after each birth. That said, during those foggy post-partum days, I continued to write, albeit journal entries and letters to friends instead of the articles I normally work on.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it is a handy excuse for procrastination. If you are a mother, then the ideas for an article, essay, or book are all around you. If you truly are a writer, there is no end to the ideas. If you’ve given birth, nursed a baby in the bathtub amidst floating toy army men, or watched your toddler crouch over an ant hill, you have the beginnings of an article or an anecdote that can be shaped into saleable material. I’ve sold articles that were based on each of those subjects. Just start writing! If you don’t have the energy or the time to work on a full-blown article or a chapter of your book, just write a letter to a friend or a page in your journal, but keep writing.
2) Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. Ideas come unbidden, at the oddest moments. As a busy mother, it is unlikely the idea you had in the grocery store is going to remain in your head long enough for you to get home and write it down. If you have a notebook in your vehicle and another one in your purse, when that idea hits, you can pull over to the curb or stop running errands long enough to jot it down. And, if you are lucky, the baby will fall asleep in the car seat, and you can write some more while you sit in your vehicle in the driveway until naptime is over. Keep a notebook in the bathroom or on your end table. During the past year, since the birth of my eighth, all I was able to accomplish in the way of writing was to fill many notebooks full of ideas and some partially written articles. Then during the month after my youngest turned one, I worked on those notebook ideas and essays and put together six articles from the mess. Of those six, four have been accepted, and the other two are still making the rounds. I’ve since sent out another four articles. And I still have a wealth of ideas to work on!
3) Don’t wait until the timing is perfect for your writing, or it isn’t going to happen. Another friend of mine told me she could only write when she had large blocks of time to sit in front of the computer, time she didn’t have when the kids were out of school. She also insisted she couldn’t write long-hand, only with a word processing program. Needless to say, since large blocks of time are hard to come by as a mother of young children, she didn’t get a lot of writing done. My advice? Get over the self-imposed regulations that prevent you from writing. Write in the car while waiting to pick up the kids. Write at the library while the kids search for library books. Write in the bathroom, sitting on the lid of the toilet while the kids take a bath. Just write! What did writers do before there were lap-top computers? Before word-processors? Rough drafts weren’t done on typewriters, they were written on pads of paper. Go to the local discount store and choose the pads of paper and notebooks that make you feel like a writer. Big yellow legal pads? Colored steno notebooks? Whatever it is that pleases your senses in the texture of the paper or the colors or the size, splurge and purchase it. Do the same thing with a pack of pens or pencils. My children know that the Papermate Flexgrip ultra pens I always have on hand are my ‘magic’ pens. Occasionally one of the kids will come running from a writing project of his/her own and ask to use one of my magic pens. That is all you need to start writing: paper and a pen or pencil. I always polish my writing at the computer screen, but my rough drafts are just that, rough, and usually quite a mess.
And, speaking of messes, if you put housework before writing, you will always find excuses not to write. With six children at home and their inevitable projects along with my books and papers, our house will not likely win any prizes for neatness, but we are a very creative family, and it shows. I doubt I will ever regret not having kept a neater house, but I would regret it if I never followed my dreams of writing
4) Take your writing seriously. No one — not your husband, not your children, not your mother, not your friends — is going to take your writing seriously if you don’t. It took me years of feeling frustrated before I finally told my husband I needed writing time. I started going out for breakfast to write, but still felt guilty about leaving him with babies and even more guilty if I spent money and time on something that wasn’t making money.
While selling articles is my ultimate goal, not everything I write will sell; my writing is still important to me, and in fact, has become necessary for my mental well-being. Writing is my creativity unleashed. Spending day after day changing diapers, nursing an infant, wiping noses and little bums is an important job in itself, but the monotony of those endless tasks of mothering could drive me positively mad if I didn’t have an outlet for my creativity.
5) Read. The most prolific writers I know are also avid readers. Reading is another way to keep your mind active. Read the kinds of writing you want to emulate. I get the most reading done after I have given birth. I’ve got it down to a science, the one-handed page turning behind a nursing baby’s head. Paperbacks work best, but if I am lying down with the baby, I can even maneuver magazine pages. I love searching the Internet or writer’s guides for new magazines I haven’t seen before and have come across good markets for my work that way, too.
Don’t neglect the writing magazines and books about writing. Writing is a craft, and there is always room for improvement. Every month I look forward to such magazines arriving in my mailbox, giving me a boost to keep writing. As a home-schooling mother, I’ve found the same principles that apply to my children’s learning apply to my own. My girls are the better writers and readers in our house because they read and write all the time. It is the same for me. The more I read about writing, the more and the better I write.
The stealth mama turns on the baby monitor and the computer almost simultaneously. She pushes back the sleeves of her pajama top and pulls the notebooks from the bag she carries with her wherever she goes. In the dark house, only the light of the computer screen and the red glow on the monitor light her path as she begins her secret mission. Her fingers hit the keyboard and can barely keep up with the thoughts and ideas that have been brewing in her brain for several days. Her last two missions had been aborted when a child awoke and needed rocking back to sleep. Today she writes frantically for an hour, cutting and editing, relishing the adrenaline rush she gets from working with words. Deeply satisfied, she leaves her post to put on a kettle of water for tea. As the sun and the members of her house rise, she sips her hot cup of tea, shuts down the computer, and greets her family, all the while mentally preparing herself for the next secret mission.