Sunday, 17 October 2010

Writing and Parenting: How to have your cake and eat it too

by Natasha Lester

No, I’m not about to wax lyrical about how, upon launching What is left over, after, I have just given birth to my fourth child. If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know just how I feel about the birthing/writing metaphor.

But sometimes I do wish I could write my children and parent my books. Then I could yell at my book whenever it refused to do what I wanted it to, cajole it with cake when I needed it to go a little faster or pop it into bed when all else failed. But I’m not sure my children would be happy with only having my attention for two hours a day when the book was sleeping. And nor would they appreciate any attempts to edit out their tantrums and replace them with etiquette and decorum. Just as a book needs drama to make it work, so too does motherhood!

The question I get asked the most when people find out I’m a writer and that I have three children under the age of five is: how do you find time to write? My question to them is: how can you not find time to do something that you love? I love writing. And I love my children. So I do what I can to give both the attention they need.

Writing (mostly) fits in well with a life overtaken by children. All I need is a laptop, a desk and a couple of hours of quiet time. The beauty of having the kids so close together in age is that they still have day sleeps. At midday in our house there is no sound other than the tapping of a keyboard and gentle snoring. Yes, it means that I’m quite pedantic about sticking to a routine: if I don’t stick to it, then I don’t have time to write. And when the kids are awake, I want to spend as much time as I can playing with them. I don’t want to be running to and from the computer, juggling paragraphs and playdough.

The other question people always ask me is: but how do you make sure that inspiration strikes when the kids are asleep? I subscribe to the theory that writing is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Ideas, dialogue, sentences and other inspirations come at any time. The key is to record them when they come. Early morning when I’m feeding the baby is, for some reason, a big ideas time so I have a notepad next to my bed. Driving in the car is another – the handsfree voice recording function on my phone is my best friend on those occasions.

Taking those inspirations and turning them into characters and paragraphs and chapters is the part that requires perspiration, time and focus. And this is the part where you get to have your cake and eat it too – I’ve discovered that the best writing always happens when it’s accompanied by, not just sleeping children, but a big plate of cake and a hot cup of tea!

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