Actual, real tips for writing with a baby

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, in which I live-blogged a day of trying to write with a baby. I realized, as I read through the post, that although I complained about not being able to find helpful hints about writing with a young child in the articles I’ve read, I didn’t actually include any of my own.

I mean, I read my “takeaways” again, and “Get a babysitter” is probably the worst advice I’ve ever given.

Anyhow, I’ve had a few restful hours to reflect on yesterday’s experiment and I do have some tips because some of the things I did yesterday worked. So here are a (very) few tips for writing while watching a four-month-old by yourself. What works for me may not work for you, but give these a try:

This thing is worth its weight in gold.

This thing is worth its weight in gold.

The play-yard is your friend. I tried the swing, the crib, the exersaucer and the bassinet. It was the play-yard that helped me the most. (You know, it’s that mat thing with toys hanging off it.) I got most of my writing done while my son was next to me, swatting the dangling toys and listening to music. Sit on the floor or on a big bed and put your baby next to you on the playmat. Then grab your laptop or journal and get to work. Your child will be occupied by the mat and happy to be near you.

Make sure your lunch is easy to assemble. This was just luck on my part. I’d planned to make a sandwich, but found that my husband had made a vat of split pea soup. A bowl of that made for a quick lunch. When you’re watching a kid and trying to write, no one has time for a sandwich.

Have an idea of what you’re going to tackle ahead of time. Knowing what I was working on ahead of time helped me to get something done, even when I was being interrupted often.

In fact, just plan to be interrupted. Probably best not to go into this thinking your kid will nap and you will write a certain number of words. That way lies madness.

Lastly, remember that this is just a writing day. In yesterday’s post, I wondered if the work I did was any good because I was so distracted. But none of that really matters. It’s like any other writing day: you put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and you write. Sometimes you write well. Sometimes you don’t. The important thing is that you’re writing, baby or no baby.

Writing with a four-month-old: a live-blogging experiment

I'm sure this will go well.

I’m sure this will go well.

Today I’m trying something new. I am live-blogging my attempt to write while home alone with a baby. I’ve read a few things about tactics for writing with a young child, and those articles were not terribly helpful.  So today is an experiment. I’ve got a baby carrier, a bouncy chair, a play-yard and my laptop. All I need now is luck. Wish me that. I will be updating all day.

11:30 am  – My husband has the dog with him today, so I don’t need to worry about walking her. I’ve done a metric ton of laundry. I’ve nursed the bairn into submission and put him into the crib, so I should be able to start… crap. Diaper change. DSC_0018Oh god, no, I was wrong. It’s a diaper blowout. I’ll be back.

11:48 am – Okay. Baby cleaned and put in the play yard. New laundry started. Surfaces Cloroxed. NOW: It’s been a while since I worked on my novel, and I am a little blocked in places, so thanks to some advice I saw from a friend who was in my MFA program, I’m going to journal about the problem. Maybe that will help me write around the block.

12:16 pm – I’ve got to ditch the internet. It’s distracting me. So I’m logging out of Facebook except on nursing breaks. Despite a diaper change and distractions online, I have been journaling about my novel and I’ve made a little progress with character development issues, but now the baby is fussing. He’s probably hungry. And I just realized something. So am I.

1:20 pm – The baby and I are both fed. I’ve realized that although I’ve made some headway with character development, I cannot find the first copy of my manuscript, which is what I was working from. I am giving myself five minutes to find it and if I can’t, I’m winging it.

1:23 pm – Found it. Baby is in the crib. Let’s do this.

Tire yourself out, my child.

Tire yourself out, my child.

2:01 pm – I’ve done 254 words worth of writing. I’ve also changed a diaper, eaten a plum and wandered around for a few minutes Iike a lost soul. Finally I accepted that if I don’t get the baby into the exersaucer soon, he will never go down for his nap and I have hopes for naptime. They aren’t big hopes, but they are hopes. So that’s where he is right now, bouncing in the saucer. The good thing is, although I’m working in drips and drabs and this pace is frustrating, I am working. I don’t know if I’m producing anything of value, though.

2:45 pm – 300 more words written. That’s more than the 500 a day I used to hold myself to, so I guess, technically I could stop now. But I haven’t written at home in a while, and this is an experiment, so I’m going to continue until my husband returns. FOR SCIENCE. It’s time to feed the baby now, though.

3:39 pm – The baby is fed and changed and it could be that most golden, elusive, glorious time of the day: naptime. My son doesn’t like to nap, but sometimes he does actually go to sleep, despite himself. In the meantime, he might at least be quiet for a little while and I may be able to write some more until backup arrives. I hope.

3:55 pm – Naptime turned into an Olympic gymnastic floor routine, and I spent my writing time alternately trying to prevent head injuries and researching crib bumpers, so that didn’t really work out. Now I’m keeping him next to me in the play-yard on the bed, and he’s practicing his vocal exercises instead. These are as distracting as the gymnastics, but not as alarming. Now, to make one final push at writing.

4:42 pm – Feeding the boy again. Between the feeding and a changing, I’m getting less done than I did this morning. This kid is active. How does one tire out a four-month-old? Is it even possible? I’ve written a few words though.

4:54 pm – The experiment has ended: 781 words, three outfit changes (baby’s, not mine) and one load of laundry later, my husband has returned and I’m shutting it down.And what do you know? The baby is sleeping. Because of course he is.

So, after a day of writing alone with baby, what’s the verdict?
The take-away of this experiment is probably that sensible people get babysitters. Well, no. I think the take-away is actually that I produced more today than I did before I had a baby because I was always pushing to get words on the page before he started to fuss. But quantity is not quality — while I got more written than usual, I do wonder if it’s any good compared to my normal output. I can’t tell, because I’m too tired right now to know good writing from bad.

Also, and this is probably open to interpretation, it’s hard to know if my parenting also suffered because I was trying to do two things at once. I mean, I did all the things I’d normally do on a day home with my son, and he was even by my side more than he usually is, but I was focusing on writing rather than housework or walking him at the park. So was I a worse mom because I was working and watching him? I don’t know. Only he knows for sure, and he doesn’t speak English yet.

Well, it’s been real. I’m going to put this baby down, save my work and find the Pinot Grigio.

Want tips for writing with a baby? Check out my next post.

 

Rejection is awesome. Here’s why.

Today I got such a nice rejection letter from a literary journal that it made my day.

IMG_0215

My wall of rejections. (It’s been my blog’s background for years.)

I know. If anyone had told me when I was starting out that a rejection letter would make my day someday, my eyes would have rolled so hard that they would have come loose.

But this rejection letter, from a journal I love and respect, was a thing of beauty. It included the words “very impressed by your writing” and suggested that I send something else in the future.

If it had been an actual letter rather than an email, I might have clutched it to my bosom.

I’m reasonably sure it was a form letter, but that doesn’t bother me. Not even a little.

The “Good” Rejection

I’ve heard from editors that journals have at least two form letters on file to send to rejected writers. One is the “encouragement” letter (dear X, we love your work but it’s not right for our journal) and then there is the other one (Thank you for sending your work to us. We cannot accept it at this time). I am always thrilled to get the first one.

Yet the second kind of letter isn’t so bad either. A teacher in my MFA program used to say that she was immune to rejection because she was always submitting. She’s right: if you submit enough, you do get used to rejection. You also get used to the idea that the rejection is not personal. Your work isn’t terrible; it really isn’t right for the journal, or there isn’t enough space in the journal for your piece this quarter. It’s not about you. It’s about the journal’s needs. If your piece doesn’t fill those needs, well, try again somewhere else. No harm. No foul.

Real Writers Get Rejected

I used to hate rejections. An old writing group of mine held rejection letter burning parties on Valentine’s Day. That sort of catharsis can be really helpful, but I found, after a while, that I no longer wanted to burn my letters (especially if I actually got a paper letter on real letterhead or even one of those little rejection slips). I started taping the letters to the wall in my office, not as a reminder that I had been rejected, but as a reminder that I’d actually sent short stories out.

Whenever I feel like I’m not actually living the writing life, when I envy someone else’s success, or when I doubt that I’m a “real writer,” all I have to do is look at those letters. They remind me  that not only am I producing work, I’ve also had the guts to send that work to journals. ,

And this is important, because although I don’t mind being rejected by journals, I still hate submitting to them. I hate it with a passion.

But that’s another blog post for another time.

I’m off to print out an email and hang it on the wall. Then I’ve got a short story to resubmit.

 

 

My novel was my baby, but now my baby’s my baby, so how exactly do you write with a baby?

There are two things I’ve heard/read about writing with a baby.

The first is from Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: “I used to not be able to work if there were dishes in the sink. Then I had a child and now I can work if there is a corpse in the sink.”

The second is a column in the Guardian by Maggie O’Farrell, author of The Hand That First Held Mine. I will not pretend that I’ve managed to nail down O’Farrell’s writing-with-the-baby-sling approach (he squirms!), but I can now understand Lamott’s point about the corpse in the sink. The thing is, I can’t make that work yet. Let’s be honest: the novel might howl for my attention figuratively, but the howls of my son are literal. When he needs me, he needs me. The novel can always wait. His naps are still unpredictable enough that I can’t concentrate on what I’m writing. I’m only writing with part of my attention. The rest of my attention is on him, listening for that next cry.

So sometimes, if it’s me and him at home alone, I don’t write. Sometimes I choose to unload the dishwasher, or throw in laundry. The laundry is less complicated, and demands less of me than the latest chapter of my novel.

But I still have to write.

I have to produce a chapter a month for DinoLand. (Although I wrote a backlog of material for the serial, I am getting to the end of that now.) I have a freelance career. I have to write the final novella in the Resistance series. I have to finish the second draft of my drag queen novel.

And also, I don’t feel quite like myself if I’m not writing fiction. Some people go for a walk to clear their heads. I write stories.

So the writing has to happen. But sometimes it just doesn’t. And that can be pretty frustrating.

Right now, I’m dividing my time into Stay-At-Home-Mom Days, Work Days and Writing Days. On days when my husband is away, I just concentrate on being a mom. On days when he’s home, I work on my freelance career and what writing I can, and once a week, I pack up the child and my laptop and head to my parents’ house where my wonderful mother watches the baby while I go to my dad’s office and write.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, but for now, it works. I do worry that I’ll have to come up with something else when my son is walking and talking, but possibly by then I’ll be used to being a mother and able to write fiction more frequently again.

Parents who write, how do you make time for your work? Does it get easier or harder?

 

Chapter 4 of DinoLand is up this morning at Geek Eccentric.

It’s aliiiiive. Or rather, it’s liiiive.

Chapter 4 of DinoLand is posted at Geek Eccentric as of half an hour ago.

In this month’s installment, the zoology team attempts to help a sick brachiosaurus. How do you do that? With armored vehicles, a team of acrobats and tranquilizers fired from a cannon. While praying. With a few ambulances on standby.

How does it go? That would be a spoiler. Click over to Geek Eccentric and check it out.