Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Article Wednesday: Writing Between Diapers

By: Mayra Calvani

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” --C. G. Jung After a bad night of hardly any sleep, you’re sitting at the computer staring at the blank screen. You wonder if you’ll be able to do it—finish that article, short story or novel which you started months ago. The urge to write is overwhelming, yet you freeze. Not only are you exhausted, but the baby, who you put to sleep less than half hour ago, is whimpering in the crib. Your four-year old has just barged into the office and is tugging at your elbow begging for a snack, even though he had lunch an hour ago. This is hopeless, I may as well quit, you say to yourself while trying to suppress a scream. To your horror, you suddenly find yourself sympathizing with those animals that eat their young… Don’t despair. Calm down. I’ve been there and know perfectly well what you’re going through. The truth is, you can write, but you need to have four things: The Right State of Mind Before you plan a schedule, putting your mind in the right frame is the most important think you’ll do. Remember your kids will not stay small forever. Time passes quickly (I assure you it does!) and soon they’ll be old enough to go to school. Until that magical day arrives, though, you’ll have to “steal” time to work on your project. Wanting to finish a whole novel in one month at this point in your life is unrealistic. Don’t focus so much on the “end product” but on doing a little bit of that “end product” at a time. Little paragraphs are what articles, stories and novels are made of. The important thing is steady progress, and as long as you take steps to fulfill the road, you’re on the right track. These tiny bird steps, however small, will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you guilt-free to enjoy your life and family. Good Physical Condition You might think, “Good physical condition? I thought this was an article about writing.” Well, you’ll bet it is. Let’s face it, moms who care for small children are always tired. And tired people don’t’ particularly like to sit at the computer and write; they want to collapse on a bed. Moms urgently need to raise their energy levels! A good diet and a little exercise can do wonders to raise energy levels. Eat high-protein foods and lots of fruits and veggies. Stay away from white flour and sugar, as well as junk food. Go for three meals a day with one light healthy snack in the afternoon and one before you go to bed. Stay away from those high-energy bars, though. They are so high in carbs your sugar levels will sky rocket and then pummel down, making you feel even more tired and hungry than before. Low fat cottage cheese and a couple of almonds, with a bit of fruit are a great choice for a snack. Drink plenty of water! Scientists have found that dehydration is one of the main factors in making a person feel tired. Finding time to exercise may be difficult, that’s why it’s a good idea to do it with your child. If you have a stationary bicycle or other exercise machine, do 15 minutes while the toddler watches the Teletubbies. You don’t have to exercise a full hour. Even 10 minutes will do the trick. Take your baby for a walk in the stroller at least 3 times a week, preferably in the mornings when it’s fresh and quiet. It will calm your nerves, rejuvenate and even inspire you. Your baby will love it, too. Not only will he/she enjoy the “sights and sounds,” but it will probably make him/her tired and eager to take a longer nap later in the day—just what you’re after! A Well-Planned Schedule Okay, so you have the right state of mind and are eating well and exercising. What next? A well-planned schedule that fits your lifestyle and plays around your strengths and liabilities is a must. But keep an open mind and don’t be unrealistic. If your baby naps in the afternoon, don’t set your writing time in the mornings, or vice versa. How much time each writing session will last depends on your lifestyle and children’s habits. You may choose to write half an hour each day or one hour every other day. It’s up to you. The important thing here is to keep it approachable and to stick with it. There’s one thing I strongly advice: If you can manage it, don’t take more than two nights off from your project. Not only will it stall your momentum, but it will give your brain to much time to come up with self-doubts and excuses for procrastination. You may be asking yourself: But how do I get rid of my children!? If your children are old enough to go to nursery school, your problems are solved. Just set your writing schedule during those hours. For those of you whose children are still at home, there are other possibilities: Write early in the morning before your children awake, during their daytime naps and after they go to sleep at night. (See why you have to keep yourself in good physical condition?) I have a friend who wrote two books this way. If you can afford a babysitter—maybe your neighbor’s teenaged daughter—to look after your child while you write on the next room (that way you can keep a close eye on them) then go for it! Write while your toddler watches his favorite video movie. He wants to watch it again? Go ahead! This is not the right time to consider the effects of too much TV on children. Go to the local library and write while your child listens to Story Time! Almost all libraries, and even bookstores, schedule story times for children. Take advantage of these. If you have a writer friend who is also a mom, enlist her as your “writing partner,” take the kids to Mc Donald’s and write while your kids play in those weird game tunnels. “Hey, wait a minute!” you think. “You said to stay away from junk food.” Nice try, but even McDonald’s now offers a good selection of salads and fruit cocktails. Besides, I never said one hamburger once in a while will kill you. You might even reward yourself with a hamburger… AFTER you’ve fulfilled your minimum writing quota for that day. Invite your writing-partner mom or moms for a “writing morning” at your home and write while your children play together. You may take turns with your homes. Also, as a group, you can consider hiring a sitter for these occasions. Writing with a support-group of people who are in the same situation as yourself is usually very rewarding and productive. Plus it’s a lot cheaper when each of you contribute to pay for the sitter. You may even want to start a club and meet once a week. Determination None of the above will prove helpful if you lack the determination to stick to a schedule. Think about it. Do you want to reach the age of seventy without having accomplished your goal—that masterpiece of a novel that will land you multiple contracts, fame and fortune? You’ll never know unless you take the first step. Family, and especially your children, should always come first, BUT don’t use your children as an excuse not to write. The truth is . . . life is so hectic there NEVER will be a “perfect” time to write. I assure you, if not children, later you’ll come up with something else as your procrastinator. It may be difficult to follow the schedule at first, and you may need to modify it, but eventually you’ll be glad you did. Otherwise, you’ll live with self-guilt, self-loathing, disappointment and frustration. Do it. Start today. Now. Don’t forget: Frustrated writers are frustrated moms. Frustrated moms are unhappy moms. Artistically fulfilled moms are happy moms who can give themselves to their loved ones without reservations.

Mayra Calvani is a freelance writer, reviewer and the author of several books for children and adults, including the award-winning, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. She's had over 400 articles, reviews, stories and interviews published online.


  1. I just loved that last paragraph. I copy and pasted it (with her name!) so that I can look at that when I've had it up to my ears!


  2. Mayra, great article. My kids are grown (two still at home, though), but I have a partner and seven dogs as well -- boy, do I have things clamoring for my attention. Thanks for the great tips.

    At least I can always walk our dogs for much-needed exercise {grin}.

  3. When Mayra contacted me about sharing this article with all of you, I just couldn't say no. Not only because I've known her for a few years via the internet, but because this is exactly how I'm getting myself back into writing and soon hope to reopen the doors to SFC.

    Thanks for stopping by and I hope you all will share your suggestions and even an article or two with us.

  4. Thanks, Mayra! This is a wonderful article. Thanks for the great tips!

    Irene Tsai,
    Chinese-English bilingual book

  5. Good points, Mayra. Like Margaret, my children are grown, but I'm always a mom first (well, now, it's grandma first). I go to the Y three times a week. All I need now is to stick to a schedule!
    Thanks to you and Virginia

  6. I would like to add one more thing:

    I've used this one myself a few times. The cost of a mani/pedi or spiffy birthday gift can run $70/ $75 easy.

    A mani/pedi gives you a couple hours of peace. And it doesn't last long after you've dug through the dirt trying to find your child's favorite toy that his sibling burried, but can't remember where.

    Bithdays are fun and the gift is usually welcome, but you're back to the diapers after you blow out the candles.

    For $75, you can get a motel room. Think about it. One full night. Check in at check-in time and check-out right at the check-out time. You get a quiet room that you didn't clean and won't have to clean. A bubble bath to fire up the thinking process, uninterrupted writing time, full control of the TV remote, more writing time, a full night's sleep, and more writing time.

    Yes, this is easy when your spouse is home, but if he/she travels for work, get the grandparents on board for fun night with the kids. Maybe, time with their aunt? A sleep over at a friends (Yes, you'll have to repay the favor, but it's worth it).

    Great blog!

  7. Hi all,

    Sorry I'm a little late but thanks for your comments and thanks to Virginia for featuring my writing here! :-)