Writing with Kids, Inspired by Kids, In Spite of Kids
It is not at all true anymore that writing is a man’s profession. Thankfully women have broken into the world of literature despite centuries of exclusion, and in our chosen field—children’s and young adult literature—women actually make up a majority of today’s voices. And many, maybe even most, of these women writers are moms. Motherhood is considered a valuable part of the human experience, useful to the story spinner in a hundred ways. But what isn’t immediately obvious is that most of these WriterMoms are moms of older kids. Their kids are in school full time, at college, or even grown up with kids of their own.
What is more rare is the WriterMom who writes with a baby on the breast or a toddler underfoot. Or, heaven forbid, both. It’s not rocket science to figure out why this is the case. It’s hard to write in the snippets of time you (might) get to yourself, in space carved out from blocks and bananas and burp rags, in a brain that is foggy from sleep deprivation and a body that is charged with wacky hormones.
But it is possible. Sometimes.
My son is going on five. And I have a 9-month old daughter. And I just can’t imagine trying to wait until my kids are six and ten to get back down to business. So I have to believe that writing with young kids is possible. Sometimes.
And as with everything Mom-related, I think the key is flexibility. I don’t have eight or even four hour stretches, but that’s ok. I write when I have a couple hours of childcare, or when I can keep my eyes open during nap. My “office” is a sunroom off the living room and it’s right in the middle of things, but that’s ok. I can escape to the bedroom in the basement with my laptop, or to a café when I really need the kids to leave me alone. The situation isn’t perfectly conducive to creative productivity. But what do you know, the writing can happen anyway. Plenty of writers work around a day job—my day job just happens to cling to my knees when I mention I might take out the garbage.
The work itself, of course, changes. Although I’ve worked on novels since my son was born, they now move forward at a glacial pace. I have written lots of picture books. And poetry. And flash fiction. And blog posts! I need projects that I can pick up and work on and put down again in short stints of writing time. I need projects I can play with in my head while I do dishes or take a shower. My writing shifts accordingly. And although I’m eager to publish another novel, I have to believe that changing gears is also okay. That it’s preferable, even, to let my life influence my work like this. When my baby is learning to walk I write a learning-to-walk board book manuscript. When my son sleds his first hill solo, I write a sledding picture book manuscript. When my belly grows or shrinks or grows again I write poetry about it, because, after all, these things inspire poetry. And vomiting. (More vomiting than poetry, by far. But still.)
So it’s not like I have a magic formula for WriterMomming with young kids. But here is what I do know: it can be done. Because it has to be done. For my sanity’s sake, and for the wellbeing of my children who need to see their mother fulfilled—not later, not someday, but right now. While the mac and cheese is bubbling and the diapers are on rinse cycle. I am writing, right now.
Molly Beth Griffin graduated from the MFAC program in 2009. Her newest book, Rhoda’s Rock Hunt, will be published later this year by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. To learn more about Molly and her writing, please visit her website.