© Jane Wenham-Jones
First published in Writing Magazine October 2005
A few months ago you discouraged a reader from giving up work in order to write, on the basis that she might not survive financially. I understand this, as my circumstances mean that we need the regular income from my part-time job and staying at home all day would simply not be an option. When I am there, I have a husband and three young children to look after, who all do lots of activities. I desperately want to write but by the time I’ve got the peace and quiet, it’s late and I’m too tired such an indulgence. So I do wonder, unless one stops work or lives alone, how on earth does one fit writing in?
It’s a good question. There can’t be many parents reading this who don’t empathise, or indeed many people in full-time employment, who won’t know exactly how you feel. It is hard to find time for everything, especially creative pursuits where we need space, peace, time and maybe silence, in order to produce the goods.
The novelist Wendy Holden still had a full-time job while she was writing her first book and only completed her manuscript by getting up early to write for two hours every morning before work. Author Sue Welfare wrote for three hours in the middle of each night, others turn down all social invitations.
When I’m getting to the end of a book (which always takes longer than planned) I sometimes rise at four a.m. to guarantee three hours of non-interruption and have stayed up all night on occasion. I do not, however, recommend you consider any of these options. I know how exhausting one small child can be, let alone three. Wendy herself says, when looking back at her early writing days, “compared to having two children under three… it seems like a holiday now.”
There are other things you can do. Tune yourself to be alert for any opportunity to write. Get yourself a nice notebook and carry it around with, jotting down thoughts and snatches of dialogue, sentences that spring to mind or how you are feeling at a particular time, whenever you get the chance. In the dentist’s waiting-room, for example, outside the school gates or when you have to stand around in a queue. Keep your writing muscle exercised and your mind turning over ideas. Then, when you do have a precious half-hour to yourself, you’ll be raring to go. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that there’s nothing like being prevented from writing to make you really productive when you finally get the chance.
Is there a local writing group you could join, for an evening a week, when your husband is home? You may meet others who share your difficulties and it will be a regular, guaranteed time to focus only on your desire to write. Do you have a friend with whom you could swap babysitting? If she writes too, even better but you can strike a pact in any case. Maybe you can have her kids round to play while she does her embroidery or car maintenance, in return for her having yours while you bash out a short story. I have always regarded the video-player as the greatest of childcare inventions. Tell the children you’re all going to watch a favourite film and once they’re absorbed, you can scribble things on your lap and make the right noises at the exciting bits. Sports days and school plays are another fine chance for a spot of surreptitious writing.
The moment your own offspring leave track or stage, whip out your pen. Put it round the playground that you are a freelance journalist and nobody will think you rude. On the contrary, they will be delighted, assuming you are taking copious notes on the feats of their little darlings. When your husband asks what you’d like for your birthday, tell him a day to yourself. Earmark a weekend where he takes the kids out for lunch or to a theme park and leaves you in blissful solitude at your desk (NB this is unlikely to go down well on your wedding anniversary). Find a place in the house – however tiny – where you keep your writing things and can sit and work in spare minutes. When I began, it was in a cramped corner of my husband’s study. Now I have converted our largest spare bedroom to a room of my own and equipped it with kettle and fridge. Who wants relatives to stay, anyway? You really won’t get anything written then!
The important thing is to establish that your writing takes equal importance to whatever everyone else likes to do. I am concerned by your word “indulgence”. Please don’t feel guilty about writing or think that you don’t have a right to something of your own. I don’t know your family but I would hazard a guess that your husband has some sort of hobby or interest, be it golf or the gym or going to the pub to watch football. Writing is equally valid. Drum this into the kids too – you say they do plenty of activities themselves. Make it clear you need to as well. They may end up wanting to take a blunt instrument to your computer, as my son does to mine, but it’s all character-forming. At least they’ll have something to say in the future when they’re interviewed about having a best-selling author for a mother!
Finally, the great thing about children is that they grow up. It does get easier and before you know it, they will be grunting teenagers who disappear for long stretches on pursuits of their own and you’ll have a whole lot more time to yourself. Do what you can in the meantime, make sure you enjoy it and hang in there!