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Kate

Why You Shouldn’t Get a Puppy While You’re Pregnant (And Why You Should)

We decided to get a dog long before I got pregnant with our son. Arrangements were made. We picked him up, fluffy and adorable, and carted him home. Two days later, I discovered I was pregnant.

Puppies make morning sickness so much worse

I brace my hands on my thighs and blow out a huffing breath. I glance over my shoulder at the puppy, his haunches tucked under him comically as he doodles on the grass. I start to heave. I look away. I think about how it will feel through the plastic bag, warm and soft and giving under my fingers. I heave harder.

DISGUSTING.

Puppies are gross. There’s no getting around it. There will be accidents and Smells and mystery substances, none of which mesh well with a body that wants to upchuck at the slightest provocation. And then you’re heaving over the toilet and you have a waggling, enthusiastic fluffball trying to wrestle because you are CLEARLY having fun without him.

…but on the other hand…

Babies are gross, too. And if you’re worried about how you’ll handle the diapers, the spit-up, and the Unidentified Viscous Substances, taking care of a puppy will teach you pretty quickly that it’s a lot easier than it sounds. It has to get done, and you love the little stinker. So you do it.

Puppies will disrupt your sleep

Hoping to get a few last months of solid sleep before the discomfort of third trimester and the pure chaos of a newborn? I sure was! Instead I spent several weeks hoofing it outside every night between midnight and three AM at least twice, wrapped in a bathrobe and holding a flashlight while the puppy voided himself explosively into the grass. And that was when we got lucky, and got him out of the crate before the apoocalypse hit. Then there was the separation anxiety that meant he cried unless one of us slept on the concrete floor next to his crate. And all the times we woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of Brave Pup Vs The Evil Dog Bed.

…but on the other hand…

By the time the actual kid arrived, we were really good at not sniping at each other when roused in the middle of the night. We had communication strategies in place for when we were both tired and grumpy, and systems for trading off responsibility and sharing the load. I missed the sleep, sure. But at this point I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in over two years. A few months on either end doesn’t particularly move the needle.

Puppies are sheer unadulterated chaos and disruption

LORD CHAOS REIGNS

We used to snuggle in our TV corner and watch a show most nights. The dog couldn’t handle that. He’d chew on the couch, crawl under it, fight with cords, try to escape, pee. Walking him was a nightmare (and continued to be until he mellowed at about 18 months-2 years). The bill for things he destroyed (mostly my things) was not small. Any time I got into a rhythm with writing, the dog was there with a mouthful of Kleenex or a funny story about why there’s that dripping sound in the next room to pull me out of it.

…but on the other hand…

As much as a dog can increase your blood pressure, they’re also great at relieving and redirecting anxiety. And that was a huge boon for me. The truth is, we got Vonnie in large part because I had a miscarriage. We had always wanted a dog, but we were being sensible about it. And then I lost a pregnancy, and we had this sense of… why are we waiting for what we want? We don’t know what’s going to happen in life, and we can handle what comes at us, even if it’s all at once. Getting a dog was something we could have certainty about. Having him around while I was waiting to pass the first trimester mark, and then waiting for viability, and then waiting for delivery, was an immense comfort. I never stopped being afraid that my son wouldn’t make it into the world, up until, after he was whisked away from me following a difficult and worrying delivery, a doctor called over her shoulder “He’s perfect!” And for all those months of worrying and hoping, the puppy was my frenetic, adoring, cuddly companion.

Dogs and babies don’t mix well

Or at least, not without constant supervision, careful training, and a lot of savvy. The internet is full of videos of stressed-out dogs an inch away from biting, with babies mauling them and adults laughing. If you don’t know how to read your dog’s stress cues, if you don’t know your dog’s disposition toward babies and chaos thoroughly, if you make an assumption at the wrong moment–it can lead to disaster. Your dog doesn’t even need to lash out to hurt your child.

We spent a lot of time teaching Vonnie to be gentle with the baby because he liked him so much he wanted to treat him like a puppy. When the baby was only a few days old, we all nearly died of heart attacks when the dog hurtled down the hall and launched himself blind onto the bed where the baby was being changed. Luckily, Dad was there to scoop the baby up, and no one was hurt. We had much stricter procedures after that for closing the dog gates. But it was very nearly a disaster, and we’ve never forgotten that a 60lb dog can do a lot of damage, intentional or unintentional, to a fragile baby.

…but on the other hand…

They freaking LOVE each other now. Seriously. How cute. Is this.

Answer: Really cute. Now that the little man is old enough to chase and throw toys (not very far) and scratch his ears, Vonnie is completely on board.

Walking Vonnie every day also gets me out of the house and moving. And gets me twenty minutes, twice a day, without the baby, to have my own music (sorry, Caspar Babypants and Moana, but there’s more to life than you) and my own thoughts.

Getting a puppy ramped up the difficulty of balancing baby, pets, and career. But I’d do it again.

I mean, not really, I’m never doing that again, it was bananapants. But I don’t regret it. But we’re not getting another puppy. Holy shit. Are you kidding? Of course not.

But, I mean. Look at ‘im.

Writing & Pregnancy: First Trimester

Challenges: You feel like warmed-over road kill. You suddenly feel like you have an expiration date on your productivity. You might be struggling with anxiety and worry about being pregnant, or about the viability of your pregnancy.

Bonuses: You might be still riding the excitement high. If your symptoms are mild, you can keep up your normal routines fairly well. There’s no baby-prep work to take up your time yet. You have plenty of time to plan and daydream.

My most vivid memories of my first trimester involve standing outside in the early morning, trying to pick up petite doodles of puppy poo without looking at or thinking about them, lest I start gagging.

I had a fairly mild first trimester. Only threw up once, gagging on a vitamin. Queasiness was a constant companion, I was frequently tired, and I had daily headaches for which I could take nothing but the occasional Tylenol… but all in all, not that bad.

Pregnancy, I find, skews your perspective swiftly and without mercy.

For most people, the first trimester is some kind of miserable. Frequently, you haven’t told anyone why you’re puking and tired and irritable. If you have, you get the special treat of having people suck in their breaths a little and intone “Isn’t it a bit… early to be announcing?” (When interacting with pregnant people, a good rule of thumb is to assume that you are the fifth person today to say any given thing. Fifth repetition still nice/useful? Go for it. Fifth repetition likely to send pregnant human into frothing hormone-fueled rage? Keep your damn mouth shut, Janice.*)

What does any of this have to do with writing? Odds are, the first trimester is going to find some way to fuck with your productivity. I work best in the mornings. When I woke up every single morning with a splitting headache, that went a bit awry. I would love to tell you that I have a dozen fool-proof methods for staying productive while suffering the equivalent of a three-month flu, but the truth is, I don’t. You don’t know what your first trimester is going to look like until you’re in the thick of it. You don’t know how your routines are going to hold up. You’ll be better off if you have rock-solid writing rituals and practices beforehand, but there’s no guarantee they’ll survive contact with reality.

So here are my two truths of writing while pregnant:

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Be kind to yourself.

These may sound familiar, because they’re pretty much the foundational truths of writing and parenting in general.

If you are the sort who always sits down at exactly the same time to write exactly the same number of words, and that has stopped working, view it as a blessing. Now is the time to train yourself to write in your vomit-free moments; to transcribe sentences on the phone while up at night unable to sleep because of your pregnancy-induced jitters; to learn to write longhand because the screen suddenly gives you headaches. It’s a time to be realistic about what you need to get done over the next few months, and create a plan for accomplishing it. But it’s also a time to cut yourself some slack, to learn to listen to your body and hear when it tells you to let some pressure off of yourself.

Meet your deadlines, if you have them. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to finish your life’s work before d-day. I did not do this. My first trimester was a blur of panic, anxiety, and the conviction that I needed to somehow write an inventory of novels in six months that would last me until my last kid hit kindergarten.

Be flexible. Be kind. Write what you must, what you want to, and what you can, in that order. And if your production drops off? Breathe. Relax. Refocus. There are years ahead, and the only thing you’re racing is yourself.

 

*If your name is actually Janice, please feel free to insert “Denise” or “Carl” here. As long as you then keep your damn mouth shut.

Writing & Pregnancy

Tip #1: Get as much done during your pregnancy as you can (which may be less than you think).

Tip #2: don’t get a 9-week-old Golden Retriever puppy two days before you find out you’re pregnant.

When I saw that second line show up on the pregnancy test, I started to laugh. “Well, this should be interesting,” I called to my husband, who was chasing Vonnegut, our brand-new minion of chaos, across the living room. Vonnie had been home for a day and a half. So had I, fresh off the plane from a week-long writing retreat on the other side of the country. The retreat had been a last hurrah, as we both suspected that any month now we’d be getting ready for the ultimate vacation disruptor. I’d written forty thousand words in five days, over half of what would become I AM STILL ALIVE. I didn’t even know I was pregnant and I was already frantic to get as much writing done as I could before the kid arrived.

This was my strategy, in all its complex tactical glory: write as much as I humanly could while I was pregnant, so I could slack off for a bit after the birth (you know, like a few days, max).

It was a great strategy. You should totally try it. Just know that I completely failed at it, and everything turned out fine.

Over the next nine months, I had two books published and wrote another book and a half. Meanwhile, Vonnie’s bladder capacity slowly got better while mine slowly got worse. My borderline panic continued to mount. So did my excitement. By the time I was in my third trimester, I struggled to get anything done unless it was baby-related. Painting the entire apartment (badly)? Sure, no problem. Stringing a sentence together? Impossible. It was too hard to focus on imaginary worlds and invented lives when thinking about my future was so all-consuming.

As the “subtle” comments about age gaps between siblings start flying at family gatherings, pregnancy and writing are on my mind. I’m determined to learn from my mistakes and my successes and be a hell of a lot nicer to myself this time around, so stick around next week and I’ll start diving into what worked, what didn’t, and provide an ongoing catalogue of the things that puppy destroyed.

Techniques for Producing Words Despite Your Precious, Beautiful Screeching Howler Monkey, Part III

Read Part I and Part II of this series!

Part III, or: I Could Keep Doing This Forever But Three Is a Good Number. Our final two tips/techniques are…

Word Sprints and Accountability Buddies

The problem: You feel isolated while writing. Or you don’t feel much motivation with only yourself to disappoint. You have a deadline and no energy. Writing lacks thrill.

For some folks, there’s nothing like external pressure and accountability to get things done. I often find that one of the best ways to get things done is to kick in my competitive drive, which my family can tell you is… intense. (I was banned from playing Magic: The Gathering with my brother as a child, and I’m still not really allowed to play competitive board games. It’s. Um. A problem.) And similarly, I’m far more likely to get something done to avoid disappointing someone else than if it’s a purely personal goal. I love deadlines with a passion, but they aren’t always forthcoming.

So this is actually two techniques rolled into one. First, group (or paired) word sprints: Find a buddy, set a timer, and WRITE. It’s like a joint Pomodoro. You can make these as long as you want, but I always find that they don’t work if I go longer than 30 minutes at a stretch; I no longer treat it like a sprint, and devolve back into bad habits. At the end of the time, compare progress. If you’re the competitive sort (and cheerful about it) you can crown a “winner” for the sprint; otherwise, you can just cheer each other on. At the very least, this forces you to admit to another human being when you cheated and checked Facebook for fifteen minutes.

Longer term, having a writing group or critique partner waiting on your words creates external accountability and gives you deadlines that exist as more than personal goals (but are nonetheless more flexible than your editor’s). Even just talking about something publicly can ensure that you work on it, just to avoid the awkward conversations about “What ever happened to…”

Spreadsheets

Problem: You need an excuse to make a spreadsheet. You feel insufficiently motivated without a visual indicator of progress. You don’t have enough spreadsheets in your life. 

If you don’t find spreadsheets inherently intoxicating, this may not be as effective for you. But really, is there any problem a spreadsheet can’t improve? Especially a color-coded, conditionally-formatted spreadsheet?

I love spreadsheets to track my writing. Admittedly, I’m not great with daily wordcounts in spreadsheets; I usually have only a couple weeks of tending to a spreadsheet in me, tops. So I stick with them for short term goals, but if you have the diligence to check in every day with your spreadsheet, they can be a great tool.

They can give you a visual indicator of progress, and a quick visual motivator. Format your cells so that they turn prettier colors the closer you get to your goal. You want that cell to be green, don’t you? The green of the sea. The green of a verdant forest. The green of a sparkling emerald. Not that muddy yellowish color it is now! Keep going!

It’s also great for spotting patterns. You can see when you wrote more or less, and try to figure out what was different, and if you can make changes to hit more of those green days and fewer of those red and yellow days.

My machete draft spreadsheet, not yet green.

The main thing I use spreadsheets for is actually deleting words. When I do what I call a machete draft to get rid of word bloat or trim down an overlong manuscript, I always plug everything into a spreadsheet so that I can see where the words are coming from, target areas that haven’t been touched as much, and generally enjoy the numbers ticking down.

A warning: This kicks my self-competitive mode into overdrive, and it’s hard to turn off. My husband starts making sad noises, the dog paws at the door, the baby fusses, but I MUST write more words. The house may be a wreck but THAT IS THE GREENEST FUCKING CELL YOU HAVE EVER SEEN IN YOUR LIFE.

…So there you go! Six quick techniques to sample to stay productive while your child attempts to slap your keyboard because he KNOWS that’s how you make Caspar Babypants play. Not that I’m trying to restrain a wailing, dancing toddler right now. Nope. Okay, gotta go…

Techniques for Producing Words Despite Your Precious, Beautiful Screeching Howler Monkey, Part II

In Part II of our ongoing series (you can find Part I here), we’re going to touch on two more tricks/techniques I’ve used to get going when I’m stuck, frazzled, and staring at the screen blankly.

Changing the Medium

The problem: You just can’t get started. The task feels too immense; your words seem inadequate for the story in your head. Your creativity is gummed up, and nothing will flow.

The technique: Use a different medium to write. It’s as simple as that. If you’ve been writing at a computer, write longhand. If you’ve been working on your laptop, work on a desktop computer. If you’ve been writing in Scrivener, try Word to get started. Maybe you even just try a different font, or write in an email to yourself, or dictate into a recorder. The point is to alter the format enough that it feels slightly unfamiliar.

This is actually a trick that I use every time I start a new project. When I’m smart, I set out to do it from the start, but usually it takes a few failed attempts to get going before I remember how necessary it is. I write novels, and the process from the first draft to final proofreading is long and involved. By the time I send a manuscript off, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to draft; my “muscle memory” is primed for revising and perfecting and tweaking. To break myself out of that mindset, I need to change the environment I’m writing in.

Part of this is reducing the pressure to make things perfect on the first go. Writing on a tablet or in an email feels somehow less official, and lets me relax about the quality. Writing longhand only ever lasts me a few pages at the most, since my mind outstrips my writing speed, but it lets me see the uneven handwriting, the insertions, the scribbling out that screams “draft!” and releases me from the pressure of polish.

Start With the Zeroth Step

The problem: You just can’t get going when you sit down to write. You know what you should work on… but here you are, chuckling over a video of an ostrich with a slinky. And now the baby is awake, and you’ve lost your chance.

The technique: This one is more of a tip than a technique, I’ll admit. And sometimes it seems too obvious to mention, but it’s been of immense help to me. It’s simple. Instead of making the first item on your to-do list to write something, the first item on your to-do list is simply to gather any necessary materials and open the relevant program. That’s it. That’s the one thing you have to accomplish first.

It sounds silly, but it’s remarkable sometimes how difficult that first hurdle is, and how easy it is to drag your feet. But opening a program isn’t stressful; it’s a click of a button. And then once the page is staring you in the face, there’s no hurdle, however small, between you and starting to type.

So if you find yourself never even getting started, and instead dithering with other tasks and distractions, try setting yourself that goal. You don’t have to write. But before you do anything else, you at least have to open the damn file.

In Part III, we’ll cover accountability partners, word wars, and spreadsheets (you know you’re excited about spreadsheets!).

Techniques for Producing Words Despite Your Precious, Beautiful Screeching Howler Monkey, Part I

In the early days post-baby, I didn’t have any deadlines—only ambitions. This past summer, with the baby now not only walking but sprinting and babbling and having a mini nap strike, I had to write 120,000 words in two months. In between, I had a dozen less intense deadlines, and I had no choice but to put my butt in the chair and get the writing done. Sheer necessity got me through a lot of the time, but there are a handful of techniques I found helped me stay on task and plow through the work.

As with everything since having a baby, the key to getting words onto the page has been experimentation and flexibility. Try things out, see what works for you, and go for it. You may find that a technique that doesn’t work one month works the next, so don’t be afraid to circle back and try other methods if you start hitting a wall.

The Minimal Minimum Word Count

The problem: The work feels overwhelming. Failure to reach your goals repeatedly has left you frustrated and dispirited. You want to get back into a regular or daily writing habit, but you just can’t achieve consistency.

The technique: Set your daily word count goal (for whatever days you deem “writing days” ahead of time) absurdly low. 200 words, or 100, or even 50. No more than that. And knock it out. I don’t care if you have to describe your hero’s hat for two hundred words. You can do it.

If you can keep going, do it! And if you can’t, remember that you still made your goal. Even if that 201st word is more elusive than eight hours of sleep, you’re making progress. Two hundred words every day of the year is 73,000 words. That’s a novel! Unless you’re Erin, and then it’s a first act. But the real value here is that you’re getting into a habit and engaging yourself mentally with the work.

I admit that I have never been able to stick to this method for more than two days. I don’t have the right mindset for it; I’m too self-competitive, and the word count balloons to what could only be called “minimal” on a cosmological scale by the third day. But I always hope that my readers are nicer to themselves than I am.

Baby Pomodoro

The problem: You have trouble focusing; you get distracted by the latest publishing scandal or political dumpster fire; you have trouble carving out large chunks of your day to write.

The technique: The Pomodoro method has been written about extensively. Basically, you choose an interval of time (I use 25 minutes) and you set a timer. While the timer is running, you are on task. You do not check Twitter. You do not wander off to find a new chew toy for the dog. You do not Instagram your latte. You write. When the timer goes off, you set a new timer for your break interval (usually 5 minutes, with longer breaks every few Pomodoros).

Baby Pomodoro is much the same. Just with more interruptions. Here’s how it usually goes for me:

8:00:00 – Siri, set a timer for twenty-five minutes.

8:03:45 – Siri, pause timer. [Remove baby toy from dog’s mouth]

8:05:12 – Siri, resume timer.

8:08:17 – Siri, pause timer. [Remove dog toy from baby’s mouth]

8:09:32 – Siri, resume timer.

8:15:54 – Siri, pause timer…

 “Twenty-five minutes” becomes more like forty, but at the end of it I know I’ve completed twenty-five minutes of actual work. And as long as the timer is running, I’m working. I may need to stop to keep my creatures alive and out of each other’s fur, but the twenty-five minutes gets done.

Bonus: “I’m in the middle of a tomato” is a great “don’t bother me right now.” It assures your spouse/child/the fireman trying to get you to evacuate that you are, in fact, working (and not tweeting about how your office is on fire but you just need to get a few more words in) and that there’s a concrete end time when you can take a break and converse, do the dishes, or evacuate.

Read Part II of this post now: Changing the medium to shake loose some creativity and a trick to get past “butt in the chair” to “actual words on the page.”

Embracing Chaos (Or: Bringing Your Baby to Writing Group)

Nothing prepared me for the amount of isolation I felt after giving birth. I was astounded by how desperate I was to return to my old routines. For me, that meant gaming and writing group. A week in, I was ready to leap back in, but it wasn’t like I could leave the baby behind—he still wouldn’t (and would never) take a bottle, for one thing.

And this is where it became important that my friends are fucking amazing people. My gaming group played in our living room and passed the baby around lap to lap. My writing group conducted a critique of a short story (this one), hollering a nuanced analysis of the underlying themes over a screaming baby as I rocked him desperately.

As a new mom, overwhelmed by love and fear, feeling my identity shifting and crashing like tectonic plates to create a whole new, chaotic landscape I couldn’t begin to map, I needed to write. I needed to remain part of my community. I needed to know that motherhood was not shutting the door on the most important parts of who I was, or cutting off the relationships and people I valued most.

The baby disrupted meetings. He bogged down games. He distracted everyone. But I had a community of people who prioritized supporting each other, even when it made things less than ideal and efficient for a little while. I could trust my writing group to let me lean on them during a period of intense upheaval, and they trusted that I would get my own feet under me when I could. It was disruptive. It was an imposition. It was temporary, and for me, it was a matter of survival.

A few months ago, my parents hosted a house concert to celebrate my brother’s wedding. The musicians’ childcare fell through, so we hired someone to watch both babies upstairs. Neither child cooperated. And so much of the concert was conducted hours after bedtime, with a baby on “stage” in Mom or Dad’s arms and another grooving in the front row, shoulders waggling to the music.

Life is imperfect, and babies want to get into the midst of things. Sometimes the solution is to stop thinking in different spheres of life and work and creativity, and let them all get messy together.

Musical Chairs, Office Edition

I started writing again before I could walk properly, clawing at a sense of normalcy—trying to convince myself that my life wasn’t completely different. Despite the fatigue and the fact that I couldn’t actually sit upright for more than five minutes at a time, it went well. The great thing about many newborns is that they’re basically potatoes. You can stick them next to you wherever and they’ll sleep.*

It didn’t last long. He started to wriggle, to roll, to play, to peep, to crawl, to stand, to walk. Every few weeks, our pattern shifted. And we quickly figured out that it’s a hell of a lot easier to move a desk than convince a hyper toddler that just because you can REACH the keyboard, doesn’t mean you should SMASH ALL THE KEYS.

So here are the office configurations I’ve gone through, as the baby has gone from a potato that poops to a cat-tackling, phone-stealing, music-obsessed tornado.

The new desktop model is working out well.

Potato

Pros: Sleeps a lot. Can’t escape. Few opinions.

Cons: Complete, utter exhaustion. Newborns are kinda boring. Sitting hurts. Baby slings: why so complicated?

I probably shouldn’t have gone back to writing as soon as I did. But I needed to prove that I could, and newborns have the advantage of being easy to keep track of and prone to sleeping all day. I could prop Oberon** next to me just about anywhere and just write. We were living in the basement apartment of my parents’ house when he was born, but we’d taken over a ground floor bedroom, and I mostly wrote at their kitchen table (stairs being no bueno thanks to my baby’s bigass head).

(Safety note: don’t leave your baby on a table or asleep on a pillow. I was never out of arm’s reach; no babies were dropped in the making of this photo.)

With a newborn, make sure your set up is flexible. The baby’s going to nod off without notice, and you’re never going to know how much time you have before it’s off to the milk-fueled races again. If you have the benefit of a small, light laptop, get used to writing wherever you have a safe space to set both it and your baby down. But really? You have a newborn. If you can (I couldn’t), take some freaking time off. You deserve it.

Cinderella’s animal friends did shit for her. These guys just mooch.

Wiggly Potato

Pros: Still a good napper. Is always right where you left him. Have now mastered hands-free nursing.

Cons: People look at you funny when they find you propping your keyboard on your kid’s legs, for some reason. Cat competes with him for lap time. This changing diapers thing is getting old.

Okay, so we have to swaddle him now. But he still naps easily in the midst of whatever’s going on, and drops off to sleep all on his own.

I spent a lot of this stage with a wireless keyboard on my lap and the TV serving as monitor, with the baby tucked next to me on the couch. And the cat on the back of the couch, rubbing against my head. And the dog at my feet. I was like the world’s most frazzled Disney Princess.

Getting your kid used to napping in the midst of the daily action, rather than tucked away in his room, is a huge boon at this stage. Eventually ours grew out of the ability to sleep anywhere there was stimulation, but for months we could just tuck him next to us like this. A routine might be starting to develop, and your brain might be starting to reboot a little. You might benefit from a dedicated work/nap location. Or, if you’re in desperate need of more sleep, keep taking time off and take naps with your baby. You still deserve it.

The morning staff meeting is called to order.

Wiggle Worm

Pros: Kid just gets more fun when he can move and interact. Naps start happening on a predictable schedule. Able to critique flaws in three-act structure and identify use of leitmotif.

Cons: Inching toward mobility, and thus ability to cause trouble. More opinions. WRONG opinions.

At the four month mark, we moved out of my parents’ house. The new house has a huge master bedroom across the hall from a petite room perfect for an office or nursery. I claimed it as an office at first, letting the baby wiggle contentedly on a blanket at my feet or nap in his rocker. He would spend hours kicking the toys hung over his blanket, with the dog watching in forlorn envy.

I loved having my own, dedicated office. But bedtime was a nightmare. Swaddling ended, and he wouldn’t sleep except in my arms. We decided he needed his own room and an earlier bedtime, and I waved my office goodbye. We moved my desk into the master bedroom, gated off half of it, and made that half a baby paradise.

The baby rebelled. He screamed and cried, clinging to the bars, even though I was right on the other side. So we moved my desk inside the baby jail. Problem solved.

There’s an ever-evolving list of things that need baby proofing as babies become more mobile and mischievous. This was the stage where things changed almost every day, moving gates, desks, crib, and so on. We made lists of small pain points during the day, and brainstormed layout changes that could address them. Stay flexible, and make your workspace suit your needs; don’t try to warp your behavior, much less your baby’s behavior.

A room of one’s own. Sort of.

Wiggle Pig

Pros: More and more of a person. Less hyperdependent on having me and only me around. Able to formulate internal arcs for primary and secondary characters and interrogate psychological verisimilitude of character’s interior landscape.

Cons: In a beatnik phase. Won’t stop smoking and keeps insisting we “hit the road.” Also likes to grab the mouse and/or keyboard and/or me at the least convenient moments.

This summer I had a major deadline, and so Mike took point with the kid. Which meant it didn’t make sense anymore to have my desk be in the baby’s space. Plus, he’s been getting less and less content to play around me, and wants to play with me, which means most of my writing is done during naptimes anyway. So we moved our den into the living room, and moved my office into the den. Once again, I have a dedicated office. It’s usually strewn with toys, but it’s my space. When the baby is awake, I hang out with him in his space. When he naps, I work.

Moving furniture around into new configurations has always entertained me. We’re constantly talking about how we could reshuffle things to reflect how we actually use our spaces. Staying flexible and creative like that has meant that every time the kid comes up with a new way to cause chaos or shifts his schedule and needs, we can set up the house to support it.

If you can have a dedicated writing space, even just a corner of the living room that is all yours, I recommend it. Being able to sit down and know in my bones that I’m in work mode—even if, as right now, my desk is covered with one baby shoe, a stacking cup, and a monkey with a rattle in its belly—keeps me from feeling completely consumed by the mom side of my writer-mom identity. I can close the door on the dirty dishes and the cat and the floors I really, really need to vacuum, and focus on my work. It helps me remember for a little while that I’m not a full-time stay-at-home parent–I’m a working parent. And it’s time to work.

So, how about you? How does your workspace support both your parenting and your writing—or what about your physical space is a barrier to getting things done? I’d love to hear about your solutions and your challenges.

 


*(Some newborns are Wailing Potatoes. Mine was a very quiet potato, and people frequently forgot he was in my lap for hours at a time.)

**Oberon is my child’s internet nickname, not his actual name. We did not name the child Oberon. Promise.

Conception

When I was four years old, I informed my mother that rather than bathe my children, I would simply “sell them away.” Around the same age, I wrote my first short story on the back of a phone bill and declared that I would write books one day.

I think my priorities were pretty clear.

I always assumed I would have children; I never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was married that it occurred to me that the two might be in conflict. For reassurance, I turned to that font of endless good advice: the internet.

This was a mistake.

Writing and parenting, I discovered, was in fact impossible (and possibly immoral). Horror stories abounded. Your brain will turn to mush, they said. Forget writing, you’ll be so brain-dead you’ll put your pants on backwards. You’ll put writing in the same dusty, forgotten box as sleep, date night, and conversations that revolve around something other than poo.

I found well-respected authors advising writers not to have kids—or if you’re foolish enough to ignore that, stop at one. Whenever a conversation about writing and parenting cropped up, the discussion devolved into a litany of difficulties, one writer after another declaring it impossible to have small children and write.

I did the sensible thing: I plugged my ears, said “lalala” really loudly, and plunged ahead.

Then, three months pregnant, with my first novel stumbling its way through a lackluster debut, it became impossible for me to tune out the people—women in particular—telling me to give up on getting any writing done for at least the first year. Or three years. Or until the youngest is in school. Or out of school.

They said it like it was a gift. Like they were letting me off the hook. Instead, it terrified me. Writing is my livelihood, and the thing I love most that isn’t a person. I had professional obligations that wouldn’t magically go away for a year (or three, or ten). I had anxiety and depression inextricably linked to my ability to produce words.

So I did the smartest thing I could have under the circumstances and emailed Erin (who had just had her second child less than a month before) in a flailing panic.

“O wise and benevolent Erin,” my email reads. “You write. You do not appear to be, as these writers assert, a cyborg, independently wealthy with a staff, or a myth (I’ve met you and everything!). So please, tell me: am I doomed to write nothing but facebook updates about the consistency of my child’s poo? Or is there hope?”

Erin’s email was exactly what I needed: optimistic, practical, funny. You can do this, she told me. In detail. (There were bullet points.) So I started reaching out more to my community of writers, and instead of asking about parenting and writing as a general topic, I asked for stories of success. I asked for practical tips to make it work. I asked for solutions.

It turns out that when you stop asking can I write with kids and start asking how to write with kids, the conversation changes.

That’s the conversation I want to have here. My son is sixteen months old. In the past sixteen months, I’ve written almost half a million words, had a novel come out, sold another one, revised and rewritten and despaired and rallied and changed so many diapers and, yes, had a lot of conversations about the consistency of poo. I hope that talking about how I’ve succeeded and where I’ve failed will help the worried mother or mother-to-be—or father, or parent—find strategies to get words on the page. To balance book and baby.

And hopefully, to sell one of them.

The book, I mean.

Obviously.