Question of the Day: "How Do You Juggle Writing With Motherhood?"

This is a question I get asked a lot, so I thought I’d try to sum up an answer. It’s a topic that many writer-mothers talk about. My writer friend Allison Winn Scotch wrote about it here recently. And Christina Katz wrote a whole book on the topic. It’s called Writer Mama, and you should check it out if you’re a mom and at all interested in writing.

But here’s the thing for me: I started my writing career before kids and just didn’t want to set it on the back shelf when the kids arrived. I wanted to both a.) continue writing, and b.) be a full time mom who was there for her kids as much as possible. So far, I’m making it work. Am I tired? All the time. Do I complain? Yes. Do I secretly long for the days of grade school? I’m not going to lie, yes, sometimes. My boys are 1 and 3 and I have a full writing career. I blog for daily (5-7 posts per day), write one to two magazine articles a week, a monthly column, and am now halfway through my second novel. Here’s how I fit this all in with the kids:

*I have a supportive husband. Granted, he likes the paychecks that my writing brings in :), but he also knows that I do what I do because I love it, and it fulfills me. So, Jason doesn’t squawk too loudly when I have to write through a Satruday afternoon when he’d really prefer that we go to the beach as a family. Yes, we do go to the beach (and do other fun stuff) as a family, but weekends aren’t just 24-7 fun–I work on weekends!

*I’m not afraid to work nights. I know a lot of people who dread working in the evenings. For me, it’s when my creativity blossoms. Maybe it’s because the house is quiet and the kids are in bed. Probably. Sure, would I like to hit the couch at night and catch a few shows? Yes! But I’ve gotten ahead in these crazy, chaotic years when the kids are young by sacrificing veg-out time by working nights, knowing that working in the evenings isn’t going to be forever. The kids will be in school soon enough and life will change yet again.

*I ask for help. Let me start by saying this: I do not have a full-time nanny, just occasional babysitters and a mom (“nana”) who is an ever-present and loving influence in our house. I couldn’t do what I do without my supportive mom. I schedule interviews and important calls during times when I have nana or someone else around, and somehow, it works.

*I really, really love what I do. Perhaps what makes this all so doable (writing books, magazine articles, blog posts), is that I love it so much. I’ve been at this career for 10 years now, and I’m grateful to be someone who truly loves what she does. This makes it easier to keep plugging away when the kids have been Gremlins all day and I got 4 hours of sleep the night before. (I have those days a lot.)

*I keep a strict schedule. When you are a work-from-home mama trying to juggle it all, you’ve gotta live by the schedule. I do. On days when it’s just me flying solo, I have my mornings set with my kids–music class, play time, library visits, etc.–then back home for lunch, then naps, then 2 hours of writing/interviews, then mama hat again, then dinner prep, then bedtime, then writing again. Somewhere in between all of this I check in with my husband and say “hello, how are you.”

*I have an office adjoining a playroom. Now, many people would say, “how do you ever get anything done with the kids playing so close to your office?” While it can be a little loud (even with the doors shut), I like that my office isn’t down in a sound-proof basement or upstairs bedroom where I can’t hear the kids or be present. Even when someone is here watching them, I like to keep my ear open and know what’s going on. Call me anal (because, frankly, I am), but this arrangement works for me. Plus, when they’re behind the baby gate watching Sesame Street in the morning, guess who can catch up on email and finish a deadline? Yup! I highly reccomend an office next to a playroom (if you can swing it).

*I have a Blackberry. A lot of people warned me that having a Blackberry would stress me out. Not so! I can’t imagine life without it, actually. Here’s the thing: If you’re a mama, you spend less time sitting at your desk than most writers. You’re refilling sippy cups, changing diapers, kissing owies, you know, the usual drill. And especially when I’m out with the kids, it’s nice knowing that I can put out a fire quickly from my phone rather than wait for things to pile up for my return. Oftentimes my editors just have quick questions that are easily answered via Blackberry. I’ve emailed back about big and little things from locations as varied as Gymborie classes, music class, the park, the grocery store (which is, coincidentally where I read an email from my agent on my Blackberry telling me that I landed a terrific German book deal!).

There are probably a zillion other little tips that are escaping me at present, but these are top of mind. I’ll be writing more about writing (both magazine writing and book writing) in the months ahead, so stay tuned!

Writer mamas, how do you juggle it? What are your secrets and favorite tips?

  • June 27, 2010

    These are terrific tips. Thanks for giving us an insight into your life. You are so organized, talented and driven- I think that’s what sets you above the rest. I love your Vitamin G posts and I can’t wait to read your novel.

  • June 27, 2010

    Thanks for sharing your secrets to successful juggling! Good luck with your writing career!

  • June 27, 2010

    What a great post! I’m not a mom (eventually I hope!) and I don’t do nearly as much writing as you do but this was really helpful information!

  • July 2, 2010
    Jennifer Perrow

    At this very moment, I have a large DO NOT DISTURB sign pinned to the front of my t-shirt. This is true. My kids are 13 and 10, and I have some writing deadlines today. Every time my kids are tempted to bug me, they see the sign, and so they know they’d better have a GOOD reason for interrupting my work. It’s kind of primitive, but it seems to be working…at least for today!

  • July 22, 2010

    Sarah, you are so, so inspiring to me. I watch you do this and am just in awe. You are such a great mom and I love learning from you.

  • July 22, 2010

    What a GREAT article about juggling writing with anything, really! I don’t have kids, but as a single gal trying to juggle multiple jobs with dating (a full time job in itself weeding through the bargain bins to get to the treasure!) pets and life, this article really speaks to me. Thanks for the encouragement and great ideas! 🙂

  • August 25, 2010

    wow, 1-2 articles a week in addition to your book and blog etc? i’m amazed!! you really juggle everything so well. now that i have a baby, i’m even more impressed. (those little charmers are so time consuming!:) xo

  • November 11, 2010

    I am always looking to other woman as examples of this. I really appreciated your practical insight. You are a wonderfully busy lady. You are being a mom to your kids and fulfilling your passion. Gives me great hope and encouragement.
    Thank you.

  • April 22, 2011

    Lots of good practical advice here–thank you. My novel came out in August 2010 and we decided to homeschool this past year so my kids (3, 6 and 9) could go on book tour–it’s been part crazy, but also amazing.
    I just read a quote that said something like “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” Yep. I mostly gave up TV and movies and I was inspired by my mother-in-law to try the early morning thing. Here is my essay tribute to her.

  • June 15, 2011
    Tabitha Harwell

    Great post! I know it’s a little old but I think it holds wonderful information. I, too, am a writer/stay at home mom and finding the balance was, and still is, hard. Knowing when to put the mommy hat on and when to put the writer hat on are the most important parts of my day. I do admire you for writing a book, while maintaining your regularly scheduled work, mommyhood and wifehood – that is a feat I will attempt once school starts 🙂

    P.S. – Just downloaded Violets of March on my Kindle – can’t wait to start reading it!


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