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Overcoming Chaos: Writing… with Children

When I began my freelance career I had no office and no door to shut to block out the rumblings of everyday life. Heck, I didn’t even have a computer (yes, yes, insert age joke here.) On the flip-side, I also had no email, no social media, and no drop-everything cell phone distractions to keep me from writing. I had instead a toddler, two school-aged kids, a dog, and a husband. Oh, and my writing space?  A corner of the dining room in the center of the high-traffic area between the living room, kitchen and downstairs bathroom. Chaos Central.

And somehow, amid the cacophony of daily life, I still managed to write. How? I developed a few tricks to smooth the routine, carve out writing time and overcome the chaos. If you find yourself in similar straits, these ideas may work for you.

Rotate a play date.

Try swapping play dates with friends and relatives. The concept is simple, your child goes to their house to play for a couple of hours when you need to hunker down and work and in exchange, their child comes to play at your house to give them a couple of free hours. My best friend and I did this on a weekly basis from the time our youngest kids turned three all the way up until the middle of their elementary school years. We scheduled our most important “gotta-focus” work around the times we knew the house would be quiet.

Control communications.

I will never forget the time I carried the telephone into the bathroom and locked myself inside so I could talk to an editor while my children fought like starving hyenas in the background. Yeah. That sounded all sorts of professional. After that, I made it a habit to schedule my phone calls for quiet time. I can hear you now: But I don’t have any control of when my editor will call. What if it happens when little Johnny is swinging from the ceiling fan while little Susie keeps time by beating my best stew pot with a wooden spoon? The answer my friend, is simple: Let it go to voicemail and call back during a quieter time. For the longest time, my core communication time took place right after lunch because that’s when my youngest took a nap. Later, it happened early in the morning right after everyone left for work or school. The point is, you know the rhythm of your day. Choose the quietest part and make your calls then.

Use drive time.

At one time, I was a parent with three children who attended three different schools. Add in the extra-curricular activities like sports, music lessons, gymnastics and more, and you get a lot of driving time. A. Lot. I don’t know about you, but some of my best ideas happen when I’m behind the wheel of a vehicle, helpless to capture them.  Enter the digital recorder.  I used it to keep those thoughts and ideas from getting lost in the carpool shuffle. Now most smartphones have an app to do the same thing.

Make story hour count.

In my opinion, one of the best services offered by the library system is Story Hour. For sixty minutes, my little captain of chaos was entertained with a story and a craft while I sat nearby working on my notes and reading research material. Sure it was noisy and a little chaotic at times, but he was entertained and I got more done than I would have working at home.

Do the homework shuffle.

I see this tip aimed most often at adult students who are working on degrees while raising families. That doesn’t invalidate the advice for work at home writers. If your children are school-aged, sit down and work on homework together. Of course, for you, the homework is whatever deadline or writing project you are working on.

Are you a stay-at-home/work-at-home parent? How do you get your writing done?

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