The Mother of All Jobs

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by Shanta Everington

It's not so much the 'pram in the hall', as the sticky fingers on my laptop and the voice in my ear screaming, 'Mummy!'

After a much needed break with my family over Christmas, I scheduled in some writing time for January. I was about to start work on my second article for The View From Here and wham! my son was too sick to go to nursery.

I do nearly all my writing when he is with someone else or asleep. But there are times when you find yourself in a fix. Children are unpredictable and don't care much for deadlines and diary appointments. But, hey, nobody said it would be easy! I swapped notes with some other writing mothers to share challenges, benefits and survival tips.

Rachel Pattison runs a freelance writing business and is working on a novel. Rachel agrees that time is the main challenge.

'I used to write during my children's nap times but now my two-year-old doesn't nap during the day, I can only write in the evenings once both girls are in bed,' she says. 'By then, I am tired so it's not ideal. I have to be really disciplined and prioritise carefully.'

UK author, Kate Lord Brown, a finalist in the ITV People's Author competition 2009, is working on her third novel while raising her family. Kate discusses the inherent contradiction of being a writing mother.

'Writing is essentially a selfish, solitary career - writers tend to enjoy their own company, need peace, space, time to work. Raising a family is one of the toughest, most challenging, selfless and wonderful things you can do.'

US based Dawn Colclasure, author of Burning The Midnight Oil: How we survive as writing parents, tells me that guilt can be one of the hardest aspects of balancing writing with parenthood.

'When my oldest was a toddler, I'd spend several hours a day writing. I missed out on a lot of one-to-one time with her and I never forgave myself for that,' says Dawn, acknowledging how difficult it can be to balance the demands of parenting with a writing career. But she believes it is doable. 'It's all about managing your writing time wisely and making sure you are still there for your children.'

With her second child, Dawn doesn't devote several hours of each day to her writing. 'Some people may criticise this and say, "Isn't your writing important to you?" Yes, it is. But my children come first.'

Rachel loves being able to fit her work around her children. 'The children are my top priority and if I can build up my writing business while they are young, that is a bonus. Freelance writing sometimes entails a late night or two to meet deadlines but mostly the hours are very flexible.'

We all felt that our children provided inspiration. 'Thanks to them,' says Kate, 'I have known greater love, joy, pain and fear than I thought possible. This richness of experience is a huge, unexpected bonus in terms of my writing. I think having a family also makes you raise your game - you discover ambition you never knew you had.'

Time becomes precious and you somehow manage to fit all sorts of things into an already hectic schedule. And for me, sleepless nights aided creativity as characters started speaking to me in that space between sleep and wakefulness.

Dawn also stresses how having a writing parent can encourage children to develop their creative sides. 'My daughter is aware I write stories, so this has inspired her to write stories, too.'

I would have to agree. Even at three years old, my son likes to sit next to me, mark making with his pencils, declaring, 'I like writing too, Mummy.'

Kate and Dawn both talk about the importance of getting support from other writers. 'It helps to shares your tears and triumphs with a group of people whose eyes do not glaze over as you talk about your work, or think you are mad to keep a notebook in your nappy bag,' says Kate.

Dawn adds, 'Non-writers just don't get this writing thing. I have found a camaraderie among other writers who do.'

We all agree with J G Ballard that the 'pram in the hall' doesn't have to be a hindrance. 'The pram in the hall can be the greatest support and stability you've ever had,' says Kate. 'Just like a desk, but with wheels.'

And wheels can help you get where you want to be. It's only since my son arrived in 2006 that my own writing career has started to take off. I've now had two novels published, and one of my short stories was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize 2009. I've just been commissioned to write a parenting book, which certainly wouldn't have happened before I became a mummy!

Okay, that's quite enough for now. Let's get the finger paints out.

Photo credit: ulybug

1 comment:

Michael J. Kannengieser said...

"When to write", is a very personal thing for each author. As a parent myself, I often wrote in the early hours of the morning because my family was asleep. Now that my children are older, I still write in the wee hours because it is a habit I cannot break.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the writing process.