GUEST POST: How to be a Writer and a Stay-at-home Parent

mom pic (Katie)Congratulations! You are pregnant, or your partner is pregnant, or the long wait for adoption or fostering has finally come through and someday soon you, yes you, will have the dreamy, exhausting, and joyful job of being the stay-at-home parent to the new love of your life.

But… writing? Is this the death of writing? This modern life is full of depictions of parents who are 100% career go-getters or 100% nurturing mamas, but the middle ground? Does it even exist?

Well, here I am three years later with two kids and a daily writing practice. In the last three years I’ve gotten an agent (hi awesome Linda!), been nominated for a Nebula Award, published a bunch of short stories, polished two novel manuscripts, and written a third book. How does this wonder woman do it? Uh, well, poorly and with lots of missteps, but here’s some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Before the kid even comes, figure out what you are going to do badly. If you want to write and have kids, something has to give. Me? My house is tragically, annoyingly, and terribly messy. It bugs me constantly and makes me feel like a loser. When people come over I clean up a tiny bit but mostly they have to hang out in my dirty house and pretend it’s not gross. But whatevs, I’m writing books, baby.

2. Give up the idea that you have to write a certain way. Once upon a time when you were first learning to write you found out how to trick your brain into writing and now it feels like “This is How I Must Always Write.” But trust me, you can learn different ways. I used to have a solid four hour chunk to write where I would listen to spacey Pandora stations and sip perfect cups of Turkish coffee. Now I carry around a little notebook to jot words in, type one-handed, and outline so I can do micro-chunks here and there. I’m learning dictation software and will get wetware brain implants to write the books for me as soon as they are available. (Why yes, I am a scifi writer. How did you guess?)

3. Parenting always comes first. You have a chapter you are itching to write and your kid gets sick? You have a brilliant idea you have to write down or you will forget and your son is teetering toward some stairs? The kid comes first. Find your Zen with this and don’t beat yourself up about it.

4. That said, when you really need to write, wake up at 4 a.m., or stay up to 4 a.m., and zombie through your week with caffeine. Your friends and family will wax poetic about self-care and making poor life-decisions but you know what? You’ve got to feed your writer soul sometimes.

5. Pick your projects carefully. Some manuscripts have four interwoven plotlines, twelve protagonists, and is the first book in a five book epic fantasy saga. Other books are picture books. Choose wisely.

6. Realize our culture is ridiculous and dumb about always being productive all the time forever and ZOMG, I just lost five seconds reading this sentence. Life is long. Writing is a marathon not a sprint. Sometimes unproductive times (like the three weeks you just lost to a collicky baby) are the well that you can draw on for ideas and brilliance later on.

7. Do your first drafts suck way more than they used to? Mine too. Sleeplessness and the endless work of parenting does not make for a brilliant and focused mind. Repeat after me: I can revise. I will make this shiny. Anything done poorly can be hacked at until it’s pretty, or at least beautifully ugly.

8. Kids are little for only a moment. My wonderful grandma, who had three kids and then went on to become a prominent Swiss psychoanalyst, says you have to focus and love your little ones because when you are ninety-six, like her, you will look back and remember what a short, bright blip having babies and toddlers was. So don’t have your head so much in the clouds and the stories that you miss this wild and amazing piece of life. That said, I’m going to go play with mine.

Some caveats on the things that make my current life possible:

I have the ginormous financial privilege of getting to be a stay-at-home parent.

My babies are easy. Some fantastic babies and kids have temperament, disability, illness, etcetera that make them a lot more work.

I have a partner I get to co-parent with. Lots of folks go it alone and I have no idea how this is done, but I am in awe of them.

I also have supportive family in the town where I live.

I don’t have any physical or mental illnesses or disabilities (knock on wood).

Headshot KatieKatherine Sparrow is a young adult science fiction writer and mom. She is also a consumer of ice cream, an urban hiker, and a robot made out of steel and love. She’s working on a book about monsters and the kids who love them a little too much. Her website is: katherinesparrow.net

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9 responses to “GUEST POST: How to be a Writer and a Stay-at-home Parent

  1. I absolutely love all of this. I felt for a long time like all of my creative thinking was sucked from me when I became a mom, but it was redirected. I didn’t write much the first couple of years, but I spend that creativity wisely and now it’s seeping back into my writing practice.

  2. I am a full time mother of four…newly divorced…employed full time as a social worker helping those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless…a writer with three completed books; one self-published… and I can assure you that I will continue writing until the end of time. Nothing can get in the way of things that I am passionate about. Over the years I’ve learned balance and so will you. So, Never Give Up…Never Surrender.

  3. Lesley C

    This is one of the most insightful posts on parenting I’ve ever seen, Katie! Definitely sharing it around!

  4. I love # 6. I been kicking myself around all week (note it’s only Wed) about all the crap I haven’t had a chance to do. You just gave me permission to pace my level of unproductiveness ( is that even a word?) Who cares! #WriteOn!

  5. Wonderful reality check and encouraging post. It’s nice to read a glowing reminder that it’s not “either/or” but a rewarding balance of children and art…and that it’s par for the course to live in a messy house. Thanks for a great post!

  6. Yes to all of it. I’ve got the dirty house to prove it. I also love Michael’s comment about checking envy at the door. Family does come first, and it takes forever to write a whole novel. It’s too easy to get jealous of the people who can crank out a book or three a year. But I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.

  7. R.L. Saunders

    Yes, totally, to all of this!

  8. Love, love, love, love, love this. I am a stay-at-home papa–and this is all so true (even though I don’t have the wise Swiss grandmother to verify it.) Yay for messy houses, but happy and creative children. Yay for scratching out a sentence here or there. Yay for caffeine. Yay for always keeping a beginner’s mind, and for checking envy at the door (i.e. how come other parents write two books a year, and have spotless sunrooms?) Yay for supportive partners. Off to retweet this all over the twitterverse.

  9. I used to think I could only produce pages while sitting in a coffee shop sipping a double espresso out of a porcelain cup and writing in a notebook bought from a particular stationer on the Left Bank of Paris. Now that I’m suddenly stepmother to an energetic ten-year-old, I realize I CAN write at home–and on the computer no less! Thank you for this excellent post.