Before I had kids, I had a day job in an office. I wrote when I got home, then ate a late dinner, and then wrote a whole lot more. I spent my down time at work daydreaming about what I was working on, rehearsing in a sense, so when I sat down, I seldom had trouble getting the words out. I’d do minimum 1000 words a day, and my absolute peak was 7000. This was the right pace for me.
When I had my first son, Tiny Mr. I, my daydreaming time got co-opted by planning out feedings and milestones, laundry (oh my god, the laundry) and doctor’s appointments. I could think about my book, but much like my sleep quality, my daydream quality went down. Plans to do things like, “Write while I’m nursing” did not survive first contact. I cannot type one handed, as it happens. My first “writing zone” time became “make dinner” time, because Tiny Mr. I cannot wait to eat until 8 or so, and my second became hampered by the fact that Tiny Mr. I wakes up at 7 on the dot, so staying up writing until 1 or 2 was out. Hell, staying up until midnight was only an occasional thing–I was tired.
I ran into the phrase “time confetti” around this point, from the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. I would love to recommend it to you, but as I have no time, it still lives on my to-read stack. Maybe we should start a book club, you guys? With wine? Skype wine? Is that a thing?
Anyway, I can recommend this concept from it: time confetti refers to the little scraps of time you end up with between all the stuff you have to do, which is a term that spoke to me post-children. Where were my six-hour writing stretches? When did I get to “answer the muse”?
In the time confetti, basically.
But don’t lose hope: there are plenty of ways to extend those moments, plenty of ways to tape your time confetti together. Here are some tools that have served me well.
For many of you, the idea of a writing ritual is familiar. You start at this time, in this place, maybe with this drink or that music. You build in sensory cues that remind your brain and your body it’s time to write, and so you find you work better in a particular coffee shop or with a particular soundtrack. Maybe you do it intentionally, and maybe it just happens as you build up a habit.
Anything you can do that tells your brain it’s writing time is on the table, but the best options will be things you can do anywhere and things that you won’t regret doing every day, sometimes multiple times a day (There’s such a thing as too much coffee, trust me, and if you don’t want to hit a point where you dread the taste, leave this one be).
My trick right now is a scented lotion. I keep a little bottle in my purse and a bigger bottle on my desk. When I sit down to write, I put a little on my incredibly dry hands, and inhale. The smell gets associated with writing, and voila! I cut out the dawdling.
Smartphone writing app
Itsy Mr. E, Erin, and phone
I can’t type on my computer one-handed, and while I intentionally chose a laptop that can fit in a diaper bag, it’s not always feasible to haul it around. But if you have a smartphone, you can work on that pretty much anywhere. It’s easier to type one handed. It’s easier to yank out of grabby baby reach. It’s not as pleasant as using a computer, but it’s a good backup.
There are plenty of writing apps and finding the best one for you is likely to be a matter of trial and error–I’ve gone through about five, but finally settled on Scrivener’s iOS app. It integrates with Dropbox and Scrivener on your computer, so anything you add to your manuscript or notes gets pulled into the main file. Also, it auto-saves.
Tiny Mr. I, Erin, a Beco Butterfly, and 30,000 words to go.
This tool only works for small babies, but while they’re teeny, you can drop them in the front pack and multitask working and cuddling, plus getting them to sleep. Again, there are a lot of different styles of front packs and a lot of opinions. I liked the wrap-style Moby at some points, and the Beco for others (these are great to borrow from other parents, by the way). Make sure whatever you get supports your back, and lets you sit comfortably if that’s how you need to write.
Naps are a great time to get work done. Two, sometimes three, hours of uninterrupted quiet? Hallelujah! Let’s get stuff done.
Assuming your child naps. When they get older, they all stop napping anyway, so what then? With Tiny Mr. I, we instituted “quiet time,” and that wasn’t only for my sake. Tiny Mr. I is a very outgoing child, but on some deep, fundamental level, he is also the introverted child of two introverts. He likes people; they’re still exhausting. When he first stopped napping, he would go a day or two and then be an absolute terror. His well was dry. His spoons were gone. He needed some alone time, some quiet.
So for an hour a day, he would go to his room. He listened to podcasts or audiobooks and plays with quiet toys. He did puzzles, built Legos, colored–and then he’d come bounding out, happy and ready to go! And I got an hour of work done–win-win!
The additional benefit of this is that now he understands when he needs some down time. He’s in school now, so there’s no enforced quiet time, but often he comes home and tells us he’ll be in his room for some quiet.
“Play Alone Toys”
Quiet time is great, but it cannot be deployed on the fly. You’ve got a deadline. You’ve got an idea you need to get down. You’ve got an interview you need to do. There are kids out there–I hear, anyway–who can be told, “Go play for a bit” and entertain themselves. As I said, Tiny Mr. I loves people
That’s when we pull down the “play alone toys.” These are special. These are rare. They only come down when Momma needs to have her space, and so they are kind of exciting, even if it means you’re not getting attention.
Play alone toys can be anything that piques your kiddos interest, but a few requirements:
- They only come out when needed.
- They can only be played with by kids.
- They need to be toys that your kids don’t require help with. It defeats the purpose if you have to stop to open containers and connect pieces (looking at you, Hot Wheels).
Our last rotation of play alone toys included some Junior Legos, a puzzle book, and a Play-Doh fun factory.
Write Or Die
I mentioned I use Scrivener, and I know people can get evangelical about how it changed their lives. But I’m here today to ask if you’ve heard the good word of Write or Die, and to ask you to let Kamikaze mode into your heart.
One of my problems with making the time work for me is starting. Left to my own devices, I want to get comfortable and noodle and ponder and circle the problem a few times before I attack it, but by then the baby’s awake and my writing time for the morning is done. Write or Die 2 takes that away. You set a word count goal and a time limit. Then you look inside your soul and decide if you’re a carrot person or a stick person: you can be rewarded for reaching your goal, or receive consequences for slipping.
I am a stick-person. I find the most motivating way to use Write or Die 2 is to set it to “Kamikaze mode.” Then I start writing and if I stop, the screen starts to turn red. If I don’t get to typing, then an alarm sounds and a scary picture appears (like a big-ass spider). If that doesn’t get me going, Write or Die starts eating the words I wrote. Chomp-chomp-chomp.
I have fifteen minutes before an appointment and a great idea for that scene? I can get the beginnings out without my noodly, daydreamer tendencies getting in my way. I don’t actually lose those tendencies, mind, I just periodically shelve them in favor of getting things down faster. And recall when I said my pre-baby speed was 1000 an hour? It’s doubled with Write or Die.
There’s a web-based app you can try, or a paid download with more features. You can turn off the spiders and give yourselves kittens, or turn off the backspace and really rough draft it!
Now it’s your turn: what are your tricks for getting writing done in the time confetti?