How to Survive the Rough Years… and Keep Writing

This idea – of being a parent-writer – is pretty much the core of why I’m even doing this blog. In a way, you’re all seeing my trial and error process as I figure this thing out – and it’s definitely been a hit or miss process. But at the end of the day (so far, anyway) I’m proud of where I’m at and what I’ve done (most days, anyway).

The truth is where my life is Right Now, I’m totally in survival mode. So much of what I do, day-to-day, is still being handled on autopilot.

And you know, that’s okay.

Of course, there are times when I need to step back and actually look at what I’ve had (or still have) on my plate. I need perspective, and really, a reminder, for all the things I want to do and all the reasons I can’t.

Right now, anyway.

And you know, it has been a crazy year. From the rough end to an otherwise normal pregnancy, needing a C-section and the oh-joys of recovering from that (not to mention the normal transition of a going from one kid to two, and how the oldest didn’t exactly have a say-so in gaining a brother). Then there was Kate being a late-talker and how the medical community freaked out with their doom and gloom evaluations, to now where I’m in a better, happier place. I just haven’t slept in four months (thanks baby Eric and your stupid, nonstop teething – but hey we’re almost there – I think. I hope.).

Survival mode means doing what I can, when I can.

Survival mode also means not taking those moments to breathe, reset, and really get down and connecting with my kids. At least, not often enough.

Survival mode also means this last bit of baby weight is hanging on because days are rough and sometimes I Just Need Chocolate.

I recently listened to a podcast, In the Boat with Ben (thank you to Irette Patterson for the heads-up!) and their first episode talked about surviving. And they know something about surviving with six kids and both being musicians and writers themselves. But what really struck a cord was when the wife defined surviving as when she was so busy she couldn’t take the time to connect with her kids. To be with them physically, emotionally, to have her whole focus on them.

I loved that definition because I’ve found it’s one of the first things to go in my own parenting (right after patience). But it also eases my own guilt. I’m not alone in this struggle. I’m not the only who, when I’m so busy, can’t seem to take those moments to reconnect and simply be with my kids. It’s nice to know that right now, especially right now, I don’t have to be a perfect parent.

(Although, see my last post about trying to be perfect and always in control… perfection leads to madness, my parenting friends. Best not to go down that road as much as possible.)

It’s also extra challenging because I’m striving to be a different kind of parent than how my parents raised me. From the idea of punishments and rewards, schooling and how children learn, to teaching my kids principles to live by rather than a never-ending list of rules….

All of that takes patience and energy, especially when it comes to rewiring my own childhood experiences… often ones I didn’t know where there until it came out my mouth (and then decided I didn’t like it and needed to change).

Survival mode also means writing when I can.

Just this week I looked at my 15 minute slot, saw that Kate was limit testing and bouncing off walls, and I knew trying to write would just lead to anger and frustration and tears. Probably from both of us. At that moment, on that day, my life situation wouldn’t let me write.

And that’s okay too.

I tried, I evaluated, and then I moved on.

But the next day I did write and in fact, got in 30 minutes.

It’s not much, but it was something. Those little bite-sized bits of success will lead to one story, then another. Right now, in survival mode, that’s all I can manage.

Also, my life situation really dictates the kinds of stories I can write.

I have a big epic fantasy series that’s (sort-of) patiently waiting in limbo, but my brain just can’t handle the complexities, the over-arching plot and twists, the depth of world-building going on in there. Heck, I’m not even willing to tackle a novel of any kind simply because the brain is running on empty.

But it also helps knowing this isn’t forever. That when I look back over this five or ten year time, and the slow rate I’m producing new words, it’s just going to be a tiny blip. These years aren’t going to matter, really. Not when I plan on writing until the day I physically and mentally can’t.

Still, it can be hard when I look at all the unfinished projects and barely-started series. There’s so much I want to do, to write (and I won’t even talk about the publishing side of this!). And it’s hard to keep positive sometimes. To keep my life and what I am accomplishing into perspective.

But for the most part, I am. Thanks to my own trial and errors, and also the help and advice I’ve gotten from other professional writers and parents.

Here’s just a few tips I’ve gathered, and I’m sure, barely scratches the surface….

Look at each day, not at the big, giant picture. Focus on the small successes, the tiny steps forward. It’s a heck of a lot easier to stay positive that way.

Recognize you are in a different place from other writers. You know those types, the ones who are writing and putting out book after book, making one short story sale after another. Right now, your primary job is getting through the parenthood-trenches. That means your focus is on patience, understanding, love, and oh, more patience. (Your friends are also probably sleeping a heck of a lot more than you, so cut you and your creative brain some slack. Brain needs juice to do its thing.)

Read for pleasure. If you can read, if you can switch off the parenting-brain and lose yourself in a good book, chances are you’re ready to start writing. Another good sign is if you’re dreaming up stories when you do snag some sleep. Do the smart thing and jump on that energy. Who knows how long it’s going to last (translation: How long before your kids shake things up again. Which they will. Soon.)

Have fun. This is my favorite. Whenever I look at my writing and it feels like work, like it’s this thing I need to do back when I had a regular day job, I immediately hit the brakes. I’m not writing because it’s work. I’m writing because I love it. It’s fun. I get to go and make up these cool worlds and cool characters who, when my subconscious is going strong, do things that surprise even me!

Yeah. It’s those surprises, it’s that fun, which keeps me coming back. Keeps me writing even through these early parenting years. Even now with two small kids, too much coffee, and not nearly enough sleep.

But here I am, somehow, still going strong.

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