When school’s out, don’t let your writing go with it

image As I scrolled through my Facebook this morning and no less than 10 “hilarious” cat videos that made me appreciate my own cat’s general indifference to everything, I came across a post from talented writer, blogger, wife, mother of three and Sisterwives member Gretchen Weber Kelly. She mentioned how she has come to the realization she can’t write with her kids at home.

Please join me in attempting to appear utterly shocked by this admission.

OK, we can all stop because she’s not buying it.

With summer vacation less than 10 weeks away for many schools… There! THAT’S the face we were looking for!… Gretchen was asking for suggestions, advice, the name of a harmless sleep aid that could induce a three-month hibernation period for her children, or any tips for maintaining her writing momentum through the summer while her kids are at home. Her question made me think of a Nickel’s Worth on Writing post from a while back regarding the importance of establishng a writing routine, no matter what that routine is.

When I first started writing in an actual newsroom, my routine consisted of sitting at my desk, staring blankly at the screen and banging on my keys as quickly as possible until it was time to go home, where I would do my actual writing.

Why did I do this?

I was intimidated. On either side of me, journalists were typing feverishly — seemingly non-stop — while I sat waiting for inspiration. My brain was still hardwired for waiting until the kids were asleep before slinking off into the study/laundry room to do my writing — as long as nothing else needed to be done. I was a single parent with two children under the age of 10 at the time, so there was always something else that needed to be done.

I realized two things one night sitting in my luxurious study/laundry room:

1) I needed to push myself to establish a new writing routine that fit my lifestyle and commitments, and
2) By putting my daughter’s favorite sweater through the drier, it was now the perfect size for our neighbor’s Chihuahua.

I couldn’t do much about the sweater, which she’s still bitter about 10 years later. But the first thing — establishing a set routine for my writing — became a priority and it should be for you, too. Married or single, with or without kids, stay-at-home or away-at-work parent, full- or part-time job, setting a writing routine says to yourself and others that your writing is just as important as other responsibilities you have.

Whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours, every day or certain days of the week, making that commitment to yourself as writer — to write without exception, excuse or apology — is something you owe to yourself as a writer. No one objects to your making dinner, doing laundry, ironing or picking up the kids after practice, and your writing routine shouldn’t be any different.

I’ll admit, re-programming myself took time and persistence. And I had to get over the fact that, as my fellow journalists were typing away, there were long periods of silence — some as long as 10 to 12 seconds — echoing from my cubicle. The truth is, my brain actually adapted quickly to having a real writing schedule, much in the same way your body adapts to a workout routine. And I say “your body” because mine still hates going to the gym no matter what time it is.

I realize not everyone has the luxury of writing full time. However, the same rule applies to anyone who is serious about writing. In addition to priming your brain to be ready for action at a set time on a regular basis, setting a strict writing routine says something very important to yourself and others:

I’m a writer and you’re not, so neener neener!

Ok, not really.

…Well, actually, yes — but that’s not my point.

My point is that it says your writing, just like making time for each of your other responsibilities, is just as important.

Bottom line: If you take your writing seriously, so will others.

Unless you iron your manuscripts; that’s just weird.

That said, I’d like to dedicate this post to Gretchen, The Sisterwives and every writer who strikes that sometimes awkward balance between giving all of themselves as parents, while holding on to who they are as writers.

But if anyone knows anything about an actual hibernating-kids sleep aid…


(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

39 thoughts on “When school’s out, don’t let your writing go with it”

  1. A good friend of mine is a professor at a university in Texas and gives me great writing advice, much like you have done here.

    I tend to write more often when not in school than when in school, but lately I’ve been pushing myself (at the encouragement of said professor) to write daily posts. There’s been at least 2-3 days I missed but hey, shit happens. I’m writing, damn it! Now if only my blog posts got more comments I’d be happier. Yea, I know. Shameless attention whore.

  2. I am completely humbled that my whiny Facebook post inspired this brilliance. And this is exactly what I needed to read and hear! I’ve never thought about writing and my brain as a muscle that will become accustomed to a new routine. I’m going to repeat to myself all summer, “If Ned could do it then I can hopefully maybe pull it off” It will be my writing mantra. And I think there may be an online pharmacy that can help us with that hibernating sleep aid if the whole routine and planning thing doesn’t work for me… Seriously, this advice is gold. And a good kick in the ass that I sorely needed. Thank you.

    1. Haha! I never for a monent thought of it as whiny! I think it struck a cord with me because it is something so many writers can relate to. We love our kids, but there is definitely a balancing act involved with being a parent who writes. I’m so glad I could provide a little inspiration, Gretchen — just returning the favor 😉

  3. Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: I’m certain, that, like me, you all think that your kids are “the reason the sun WANTS to rise” and that you love them dearly, even though they exasperate you at times. That being said, what sort of Stepford children do you, Gretchen, or anyone else have, that they actually need to, you know, “interact” with you in any way, LOL?
    I’m only being somewhat facetious; my daughter, at age 10, still tells me she loves me several times a day, and demands hugs if I forget to demand them, but, on an hour-to-hour basis, I am, mostly, merely her food, drink, and internet provider. We played and such, like all parents and kids do, when their kids are younger, but now, heck, I could write a long short story each time she’s here (if not for my laziness and self-loathing), have a meth lab going full-tilt out in the shed (if I were so worthless and ambitious and insane as to do that), AND still feed her and tell her how much I love her, while she feeds her Minecraft addiction. I know I should demand that she and I do more together, like play outside (“what’s ‘outside?’, one’s teen or pre-teen might ask), but most times it’s just enough to just BE in the same room. I love her to desperation, and am very proud of her, but they are pretty self-sufficient (entertainment-wise, anyway) as they get older, aren’t they? Of course, things are somewhat skewed on my end, because her primary residence is across town, and her primary cook and “cleaning-slave” is her stepdad, so I mostly have to take care of just me, whereas you and many of your readers live full-time with their kids, so that’s different.
    If I cut this comment off soon, perhaps the word count will be smaller than your blogpost’s word count.
    Until then I remain,
    Too lazy to write despite having time to do so,
    Yours truly,
    P.S. Great advice anyway, by the way.

    1. Hahaha! We have three teens at home, so believe me: I understand the whole “I-love-you-but-a-with-a-certain-level-of-indifference” thing. It’s a blessing and a curse, depending on how much their hormones are raging that day. And since two of them our my “step kids” (although I don’t really think of them as such), I feel you from both the full-time father and stepfather perspectives.

      All in all, I love them dearly. But there are days when I ask, “So, where are you moving to after high school?”

  4. Need.To.Do.This.Better
    I read a ton (TON) of self-help and writing how-to articles. The one piece of advice that presents as gold thread throughout is what you’ve shared above. Get into a writing routine.
    I have no excuses, but I just can’t get anything consistent established and nobody can fix this but me.
    Thank you for providing a gentle, but much-needed kick in the pantalones You know I value your advice, your positive humor, and your friendship. Thank you, Ned!
    (BTW: Gretchen rocks!)

    1. In the end, it always comes down to making that commitment of a routine. Always glad to give a nudge, but I had to chuckle out loud; I thought I was the only one who used the word “pantalones!” Kindred spirits, we are 😉

      Yeah, Gretchen rocks! And so do You. Mucho!

  5. This is awesome advice! I like “Bottom line: If you take your writing seriously, so will others.” Right now my writing is not a priority. Hence the reason for so few posts as of late. My days are filled with busy work. Sometimes I get to 5 or 6:00 and I can’t figure out for the life of me what I did all day! Grrr… Well that’s not totally true, I actually have some days I accomplish a great deal. I, myself, am in school for 8 more weeks, then my summer will be mine. I have been reading A LOT and taking notes and doing things for my Bible study if/when I have time. I do take care of my entire house, including hubby and animals and I do that pretty well. So most days are somewhat productive.
    I also have other creative outlets like photography and I am going to start taking painting lessons after finals week. So I don’t feel so bad about not writing. When I get a “round toit” I will again post on a regular basis. In the meantime, I read others and stayed inspired! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Courtney 😉
      And there’s nothing wrong with that. It sounds you’re living a pretty full life with lots of creative outlets. You’ll know if/when the time is right to make your writing a priority. When that happens, hopefully this can help you make a plan 😉

  6. i’d like to tie the cats, writing and kids thing all together by stating that my cat loves to stand on my keyboard, bump my writing hand with his head and do whatever he can to stop me from writing. i’ve got plenty of experience with kids so i can take him on, but it’s his constant downloading of apps and his edits of my blogs that are really taking it a step too far –

  7. Very good advice! It’s difficult for me to follow a schedule because I don’t always know how I am going to feel from hour to hour but it makes perfect sense. I like the part about showing others how serious you are about your writing. Muy bueno. 🙂

  8. interesting because I was actually worrying about this TODAY. I started thinking about summer and how I never get any writing done over those months…yada yada…but you’re right. I need to set a routine. My sons sleep really late in the summer, so I need to get up before them and have 2 + hours of solid writing time just for me.

    1. That sounds like a great plan, Beth. And if you keep them up late telling them stories about your youth, chances are they may avoid you altogether until the noon 😉

  9. Your feelings of intimidation in the office reminded me of my university days.

    Whenever we had exams, they would have us fill out thin notebooks…if you needed more space, you just had to raise your hand to receive a second, third or fourth notebook.

    As I would begin to answer my questions, I would always see certain students around me scrambling notes across the page, the constant flipping of paper rattling my nerves as I slowly wrote. Someone would ask for a second note pad…and yet I’m only 4 pages into mine. More notebooks would go around the room, and mine was only half full.

    Oh god, I don’t know anything…these guys know everything! Doom! Gloom! Deep breath, son…persevere!

    A week later, I would learn that I did better than most of the multi-bookers. But they wrote so much, how is this possible? Seems many of them were taking the “monkeys at a typewriter” approach…write everything you can think of (everythink?) and the answer must be in there somewhere, right?

    Nope. Phew!

    So rest easy, Ted. Your inadequacy was all about your lack of skill and had nothing to do with your poor typing habits.

  10. I love this advice. It’s so odd that as a complete OCD lunatic I cannot manage to carve out time when I just say…NO! I’m writing…and just do it. I have written blog posts in under 15 minutes in the half hour I have to swallow a cup of coffee required before facing my family. They have no idea who I really an at 5:30am. Then you said it, it takes re-programming and persistence. I think, like Gretchen, with summer coming up I better get a head start now.

    1. Lol! They may not WANT to know who you are at 5:30 a.m., Sandy 😉 But yeah, making a pre-emptive strike on setting up your summer writing routine is important. There could be lives at stake…

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