When my kids were between the ages of twelve to five months, I read a quote by somebody who said that the writer will write when the fear of doing nothing outweighs the fear of writing badly. And suddenly, in October 2015, I realized I was there. Fueled in part by the reality that teaching community college the following semester would require me to work really, really hard in three counties for below minimum wage (adjunct professor plus childcare costs!), and we couldn’t go on like this, with my husband working 7 days a week, I suddenly saw through my own mental noise.
It’s not that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to write. It’s that I chose to use my time in ways that negated the possibility of writing a book.
All I had to do is lower my standards, a lot. Like to the ground. I basically had to just chop them off at the knees and move on.
So for those of you “creative” moms who have a hobby or talent you’re just not using because there’s no time, I’ve created a list of Twelve Easy Steps to Doing Creative Work while Parenting. (I’ve written it about writing but I imagine it applies to most art.)
- Yeah, you know that nap time that lasts 1.5 hours (maximum), during which time you’re expected to accomplish Everything Since the Beginning of Time? Yeah, you just get to write now during that time. That’s all. Just write.
- Forget the laundry. The hallway. The toys in the living room and the piles on the couch. Forget it all. Step over it. Step on it. Sit on it, near it, in it to get to your computer to write. Neglect everything and do the thing.
- Do this thing even though there’s a good chance your art will never earn you a dime. Does this make sense? Of course it doesn’t make sense. But neither does living a life solely pursuing things that make sense. You know, we’re going to die someday.
- Put the toddler in front of TV. Feel guilty. Even feel super guilty but do it anyway because only the tenacity of A RABID IRRATIONAL BULLDOG WILL GET YOU THROUGH THIS. Plus we all survived the eighties, when we were babysat by MTV and Nintendo. Or was that just me?
- Learn to write absolute drivel. Silence the voices telling you it’s absolute drivel by writing anyway. Always write anyway. Do not read what you’ve written already because you’ll realize not only should you stop writing because you’re terrible and shouldn’t bother, you might want to find bridge to launch yourself off of, because you’re that bad. LEARN TO LOVE THE DRIVEL. Do not find bridge.
- Cry on days when the toddler is in preschool for 2.5 hours and the baby decides not to take his only reliable morning nap that day because you realize you’ll probably have to do your writing at 10pm after everybody’s asleep, turning you into a miserable zombie yet another day.
- On that happy note, learn to write even though your eyes keep getting blurry. Learn to write when you’re so tired your cheekbones hurt (yeah, it’s a thing apparently. Who knew?).
- Forget home cooked meals every day. Nobody ever died from frozen pizza and macaroni & cheese for a week straight. At least I don’t think they have.
- Consider bathing optional.
- Accept. Help Always.
- Drink so much coffee you wonder how your blood hasn’t bubbled out of your veins. Crash around 2pm but go pick up your kids anyway because you can’t just leave them there.
- Get okay with not brushing your toddlers hair and letting her wear pajamas all day, in and out of the house. While eating mac & cheese. And yogurt, for the 2nd meal in a row. (I said lower your standards and I MEAN IT.)
- Write anyway write instead write because of write when you can’t write. Write when you have nothing to say when you can’t form a sentence when it’s pretty much all adjectives and adverbs and vapid exposition.
Write something, because it’s better than nothing, and if nothing else, you’ll learn that you can do it. You just have to make it ridiculously important and get crazy and not complain about it because you’re the one who chose to have the kids, silly. Now deal with it. I jest. Always, always complain about it. It is the job of the creative to complain about it.
Or don’t deal with it, but write/paint/sew/garden/sing/compose/sculpt anyway.
We may not have a room of our own, but we’ve got a tiny spot on the couch, and it’s calling our name.
And you know what? That terrible, blurry-eyed draft I wrote in November 2014 became a book proposal in November 2015, and a hardcover reality in May 2018.
That spot on the couch? It was all I needed.