Writing With Baby

by Jill Byington

When I was pregnant and working full time, I looked forward to leaving my job and staying home to be a mother. Along with the noble motive of wanting to give a child my full attention, I had a sneaky ulterior motive (who ever has pure motives?)I was looking forward to finally having the time to give free-lance writing a serious try.

After all, I reasoned, how hard could it be to stay home with a baby? As far as I was concerned, full-time mothers who couldnt manage a creative side career with all the time they had at home must be disorganized, lazy, or just not interested in anything but TV talk shows. I was none of these things, so I thought writing at home and bringing up baby at the same time would be a simple matter of getting organized.

Obviously I was unprepared for motherhood. After giving birth it took me several months to regain my emotional balance, orient what was left of my brain, and figure out how to get words down on paper again. I knew it could be done. I had only to look at the newspaper and the library bookshelves to see all the material written by mothers. Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Erma Bombeck became my heroines.

I learned a few things during those difficult months that have allowed me to carve out time to pursue my writing. It is a simple matter of getting organized, if you consider continuous minute-by-minute re-organization to be simple.

These tips, incidentally, also apply to the many stay-at-home fathers who are also pursuing free-lance writing careers from home (except the parts about hormones, nursing, and giving birth).

1. Expect to write nothing for at least six months.

Along with the incredible hormonal changes you experience after having a baby comes household and financial disarray that I can never hope to describe. As Antoine de Saint Exup?ry wrote when trying to explain what it was like to fly a small plane through a cyclone: "I do not know how to convey its violence except by piling one adjective on another, so that in the end I should convey no impression at allunless perhaps that of an embarrassing taste for exaggeration." In other words, you have to be there.

Infants sleep a lot, eat a lot, cry a lot, fill a lot of diapers, and require a lot of collateral equipment especially in the first few months. So, give yourself and the baby time to adjustwhats six months over a lifetime? During that time, though, try to fit in little snippets of writing. For example, if you can type at a computer keyboard with a large piranha attached to your chest, then you can write while you are nursing a baby, and more power to you.

2. Expect to write nothing thereafter.

If you wake up with plans for the time you are going to write, but the expectation that it probably wont happen, then whatever you do manage to write that day will be a joyous gift. This sounds irrational, but you get that way after you give birth.

Children have a way of disrupting the best laid plans of mice and moms. Just when you settle into the outline for a new essay, your child will snag some ancient dropped pill from the teeny tiny crack under the kitchen cabinet and swallow it before you can tackle him. Now is the time to call the poison control center, but not the time to work on your outline. In all likelihood you will have to give the child a vomit-inducing substance and he will choose to let fly on, guess what, your outline. Give up the outline for the time being, fall back, and reorganize your day.

3. Get some sleep.

One of the great goals of motherhood is to get the baby to sleep through the night. Infants are more skilled at manipulation through sleep deprivation than cult leaders and motivational seminar gurus. The first night you go to bed at 10:00 p.m. and the baby doesnt wake you until 6:00 a.m. you will leap from your bed singing like Maria Von Trapp.

The baby will continue to sleep through the night after this for approximately two blissful weeksjust enough time to get you addicted to sleep again. Then he or she will start getting teeth and wake up several times again at night. Then come the colds, the nightmares, the loud music, the late dates. Face it, youll be tired for eighteen years.

So, if you sit down to write and find that you have, once again, nodded off and made a greasy forehead print on your paper or computer screen, go take a nap. This is most easily accomplished while the child is also taking a nap (see tip 4).

I forced myself to write while exhausted once but only managed to fall asleep at the keyboard. Strangely enough, my fingers kept typing though my brain was asleep (no, it wasnt while writing this article). The result looked like an ancient dialect of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. Or perhaps it was my sub-conscious speaking baby talk through my fingers; I read the result to my then-infant son and he seemed to understand it.

If you do take a nap, be sure to set a timer to ring in half an hour. A half-hour nap is long enough for you to refresh yourself, but not so long that you get too groggy to think. It will also leave a last smidgen of time while your child is still napping for you to get some writing done.

4. Make sure your children get some sleep.

DO NOT clean the toilet while your child is napping. This is your time to write, unless it is dirty work day (see tip 5). At about six months of age your child should settle in to taking two naps a day. At about twelve to sixteen months you will reach the dreaded one-nap threshold. Guard nap time jealously. Do not let the child "drop" nap time even after he or she ceases to sleep during the day (at about age three or four). Children can learn to have quiet time for one to two hours every afternoon while Mommy writes, or so Ive been told. Well see.

5. Set aside one day a week to do the dirty work.

You cannot spend all of your time either writing or with baby. You do eventually have to take the time to kill those things that are wriggling around in the bathroom. This is better known as "housework."

I have found that trying to maintain order by doing a little bit of housework every day is distracting and takes away time I could be spending with my son or writing. I have also found that I cannot write if I have visual clutter in my surroundings or if something smells bad under the sink. So one day a week I blitz through the house, scrubbing, dusting, laundering and vacuuming everything that gets in my way.

While I clean my son watches videos, which he doesnt get to do other times. Unless he decides to "help" me, he stays out of my way. This way my house gets very clean and stays cleanexcept for the things that need to be picked up dailyfor most of the week so my obsessive little cleanliness gene will leave me free to write.

6. Hold that last thought.

One essential element of motherhood is the ability to accept interruptions with grace. You cannot expect to write whenever you want to, but you can always expect to be interrupted when you do find time to write. There is nothing you can do about interruptions other than to react positively. Cultivate your remaining memory so you can fit right back into the slot you were filling when you were last interrupted.

And remember this, if you were writing brilliantly yesterday when you were interrupted, you are also able to write brilliantly today. Maybe you will write something different today than you would have written yesterday, but that isnt necessarily bad. This attitude will keep you from becoming a shrieking banshee if your child wakes up early from his a nap and interrupts your train of thought. Lets put it another way: If Coleridge had been a mother, he would have finished Kubla Khan, the whiner.

All the same, you cant rely totally on your offspring-challenged memory to get you through interruptions. If you are changing a diaper and you suddenly have a brilliant thoug

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