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How Do You Write with Kids in the House?

Writing is hard work. Whether it be a novel, short story, or blog post, writing requires a lot of concentration and time. I’ve read many articles since I started writing that give advice on different aspects of the craft: how to start, dealing with writers block, keeping your plot interesting, etc. I’ve read a lot of threads in the forums where published authors talk about how they did it and give tips on how to succeed at finishing, then publishing a book. However, there is one bit of information that I have found lacking in all the reading I’ve done: How do you write anything when you have kids in the house?

Now I am not a published author, I am currently working on finishing my second book, but I do have a fair bit of experience writing with monsters children in the house. When I started writing my first book, I had three boys under three – a three-year-old set of twins and a one-year-old. Somehow despite this, I was able to finish the first draft of my book while, and at the same time, taking care of three toddlers.

I know a lot of you out there have kids and write, I see posts about it on Twitter all the time.  So I thought I might share how I managed it. I will confess though, that I have an ulterior motive. Just because I’ve done well so far, doesn’t mean I know everything. And I’m kind of hoping you have some advice to share with me in the comments. Every little bit helps. 😉 But let’s get to it. How do you write with kids in the house?

Hint #1: Distractions

Okay, I’m probably going to get in trouble for this one, but one of the main ways I get quiet in the house is electronic distractions. At 2 pm every day, my kids get video game time, which lasts until dinner. This gives me three to four-ish hours of semi-silence every afternoon. I say semi-silence because if you’ve ever listened to a group of boys playing video games, you’ll know it’s not really that quiet. But it does keep them from running back and forth down the hall and playing pirates and ninjas behind my head for a decent stretch of time.

Now I’m not saying that you need to park your kids in front of the TV all day to write, but having something that will keep their attentions and doesn’t need a lot of supervision is a great way to get in writing time during the day. Movies work well too, but my kids like interactive things far better.

Hint #2: Write at Night

For a long time the only way I could write was if the house was completely silent. With toddlers, this doesn’t happen unless they are asleep. So during the day, I would clean house, do laundry, pay bills, whatever it was that needed doing that day got done while the kids were awake. Then at 8 pm, it was bedtime and I wrote until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

This method has a few drawbacks, however. One is if you have a spouse or partner, you never get to do anything with them without the kids around as all you do at night is write. Also, you don’t end up with a lot of relaxation time for the same reason. Luckily, I grew out of my needing complete silence phase and now only do the ‘write all night’ thing once or a week or so.

I’ve also seen people who get up super early and write before their families wake up. To those people I tip my hat. Mornings and I are not friends.

Hint #3: Schedules

As I mentioned in the hints above, everyday at 2 pm is video game time and every night at 8 pm is bedtime (for the kids). But this is not the extent of my scheduling. At its peak, my schedule broke down what I was working on every hour of the day. And heaven help anyone who interrupted it!

My schedule is slightly more relaxed now, but I do find that scheduling when I’m going to write, as well as when I’m going to do other ‘must be done’ things in the house, makes my life ten times easier and makes me more likely to actually get them done. Even if it’s just scheduling thirty minutes during the day to jot down ideas or proofread what you wrote the night before, having it set on paper or written on a calendar, makes a big difference.

Hint #4: Get Help

This one is tricky. First, you have to have someone willing to help you by taking over and letting you get some writing done. Then you have to be willing to let them help you. I had a hard time with the second part of that (as my husband will be happy to tell you). I felt bad bothering people and so I tried to do everything by myself all the time, and that really didn’t work.

When I finally let my husband take over once or twice a week after work, I was able to get so much more done it was truly ridiculous. Now I did have to trade off him watching the kids for him getting a night out gaming with the guys once a week, but it was a good trade and it really made both of us much happier.

This would also work if you have a friend or family member that has ever offered to babysit. Let them do it. Get some writing done. You’ll feel better, trust me.

Hint #5: Be Organized

It’s great having a schedule to refer to and keep you on track. But if you don’t have dinner planned out or remember last minute that you’ve completely run out of laundry soap and your kids are still running around in their pajamas at four in the afternoon, then the best schedule in the world isn’t going to help you.

I will admit, I’m still not great at this one. I am very organized online, but you should see my desk! There have been times where the kids have been playing nicely, the housework is done, and I’ve decided to quick sit down and work on my story, only to find my notes buried under piles of mail or lost in my inbox. Having to sort through your entire desk to find something you need to write the next chapter is not only time consuming, when you have kids, it can be a deal breaker. You have a finite amount of time to write in peace, use it well. Keep your desk and life as organized as possible!

Hint #6: Know Your Kids

This one is true for a lot of things when dealing with kids. If you know your youngest gets really cranky before naptime, then that’s probably not a good time to try and sneak some writing in. If your kids bounce off the walls when you feed them chocolate chip cookies, then maybe those should be an after writing time snack. If they fight over one specific toy every time they play with it, then it might be best to hide that toy before you sit down to write.

This is also true with husbands. If it’s game night (football or D&D), then working in the same room as him is probably going to be a bit distracting.

Hint #7: Write With Your Kids

I figured this one out almost by accident and it really only started working recently. If I need to get something written and the kids are awake and bored, sometimes I can get them to have writing time with me. I sit at my computer and type and they color story pictures to hang on the fridge. I can see this working even better with older kids, if they are interested in writing. It’s also a fun way to spend time with my kids and actually get things done at the same time.

I hope I’ve given you some good tips, and I hope you have some for me as well. Overall, writing with kids in the house is hard, but manageable. And I wouldn’t give up writing or my kids for anything on earth!

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13 Comments

  1. Avatar Shack says:

    5am start. Its the only way… 🙂

  2. Avatar JF Jenkins says:

    Great tips! My son is three and if I’m writing in a notebook, he’ll want to write with me too. he gets really excited about “making letters” like mommy does.

  3. This has been a real challenge for me, as with a 4 and 5 year old, distractions don’t last long. 🙂 In fact, practically the only serious writing time I get is when the girls are running around playing behind me.

    Write… get up and get them food… write… get up and get them drinks… write… get up and put on a new movie… write… give the 4 yr old a hug… write…

    You get the idea. 🙂 The Time Weaver was written in this kind of environment, so I’ve pretty much mastered just dealing with the distractions.

    • Avatar Autumn2May says:

      Yeah, I’ve gotten really good at pausing mid thought and coming back to whatever it was I was writing. I guess kids up your ability to multitask quite a bit. 🙂

  4. These are some great tips that can apply to single people too. I always look at my characters as my children (don’t have ones in real life, might as well powder the butts of the ones in my head, right?), but that might be an insult to parents (which I am not trying to do, by the way).

    Great article here, I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year!

  5. Avatar Cheryl says:

    Having 2 kids myself, I totally get and agree with these ideas. Personally I have to write at night after they go to bed because I have a day job. The hubby and I get our time too and I do make time for my other hobbies…reading and games….so it does happen xD

  6. Avatar David Jace says:

    This is a great article, that could benefit a lot of people.

    I write very well at night, but about a year ago, my wife and I were discussing some scheduling, and she suggested that every Saturday morning (for instance) be Daddy’s Writing Time. No distractions allowed, no one is allowed to interrupt him, and I get 3 hours, every time. If I wake up at 5, I write until 8. If I wake up at 8, I can write until 11.

    It’s been wonderful! And putting my creative brain on a schedule like that means that most Saturdays, I wake up ready to write, instead of using the first hour trying to figure out what to do!

    I also recall reading in Orson Scott Card’s “How to Write Sci Fi & Fantasy” (I think it was in there), that many people quit their real jobs so they can come home and write, and end up writing just as much as they did when they squeezed it into their lunch hours at work. It’s critical to find mental space as well as physical space, and I think that applies to time as well. You can’t write about unicorns and wish-granting fairies when you’re stressing about the grocery budget. (Unless that’s the wish you’re asking the fairy to grant? Like being able to sit down at your desk and write, I think sitting your brain down ready to be creative, and ready to be in that story is critical, too.

    All in all, thanks! I’ve just found a new fun place to follow.

  7. Avatar Owen Borseth says:

    Three boys ages 11, 8, and 5. I feel everyone’s pain. My five year old has a ridiculous imagination though and I’ll be using some of his random crazy thoughts as ideas for future books.

  8. Avatar Ashi Labouisse says:

    Three kids ages 12, 8, and 4, and boy do I hear y’all! I try to write for two to three hours a few nights per week and on Saturday mornings while my husband takes the beasties for sports/breakfast/wherever. When I write with my children around, I work on edits; when I have alone time (a.k.a. heaven on earth), I aspire to seminal thought and new material. Bribes sometimes work, usually in the form of digital privileges for my older two and chocolate for my youngest. I finished my first novel, Opium, a month ago, and my agent, Jenny Bent (who’s awesome beyond words) will submit it shortly. Am stricken with terror reading that last sentence.

  9. Enlightening & well written. Since I’ve always been a creature of the night, writing from midnight until dawn is a regular occurrence in my world. For me, once the “little people” developed their own interests, they had little use for me, (other than $ of course). This was not for lack of love, rather, strongly shared independent natures. So we did well bonding by choice & otherwise doing what we wished in our own time. Multiple romances led to multiple familial relationships. This has been a blessing. My father was loving but we knew to leave him alone when he was involved with individual pursuits. My son is this way also, which seems to infuriate his mother. I find their interaction thoroughly amusing as she continues to attempt to impose her will. But they too share a deep love & affection. His name is Jonathan & is an artist who works in oil on canvass & blown glass.

  10. Avatar AC Willi says:

    I know this is an older post but I found it very interesting. I just finished, and self-published, my first book. I also have 4 kids in the house (ages 11, 4, 3 & 3). My favorite tip you gave here is “Write with your kids”. I discovered this, by accident, as well. I find it is the best way to get some “me” time, as well as involve them in the process. My 3 year old twins aren’t as “into” it as my 4 year old and my 11 year old but they will sometimes set down and practice their letters while I’m writing. Their favorite thing is to set on my lap while I write. In fact, the only tip here that I haven’t gotten the privilege of using is “Get some help”. This is because my husband works away and my parents live too far. 🙁 Still, I manage to be productive and creative. Like you said, it’s difficult but not impossible. 😀

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