No I don’t mean Sellotaping your children to skateboards so you can get round ASDA in under four hours.
I mean being Creative, and at the same time, being a Parent, to children, whom you also created. There is a laboured metaphor in there somewhere but you can unpack it yourself. Its beyond me.
When you are a writer, there is a mighty struggle to get yourself sat in the chair in front of the keyboard and actually write the thing. Whether you are a full time, part time, evenings or weekend writer, you will experience Days of Much Writing and days where it is torturous to put fingers to keyboard at all. You may have complex mechanisms in place to try and achieve more Days of Much Writing and less Days of No Writing. You may have a system that just works. You are a writing machine. A Writing Express Train barrelling toward that deadline at supercharged lighting speed! Yay you!
Oh wait, you’re pregnant? Your partner is? Not long to go, just finished the nursery, all excited…wow. Okay. Settle down now. You need to hear this, my writer-soon-to-be-parent.
All writers who suddenly have an actual baby, experience the utter vertiginous terror that comes when you realise that baby does not care whether you are having a Day of Much Writing, or a Day of No Writing. Babies just have NOW. Not day or night or weeks, or any of that. They don’t ramp with any of our grownup chronological bullshit. They are just little biological factories intent on growing as fast as they can and working out how to get nearer to the cat. They do not give two explosive mustard coloured shits for your word count or, for that matter, for your deadline.
When you write for a living and you have children, you have to set your brain to a special mode, which, like platform 13 ½ is between two more regularly used clumps of grey matter.
On one side of your brain you have FRANTIC. Which is where you spend much of your time, doing laundry, driving to school, buying food, paying bills, and assembling a bookcase while a toddler casually tears pages out of your books just within earshot. This is the zone you used to inhabit when you had a deadline, and the adrenaline would pound through your fingers as you bashed out the last two thou in a caffeine induced mania like a GODDAMN NINJA, and handed in your work and smiled and danced and hugged your spouse and said I DID IT! and YEAH!
This is now where you mostly live.
You will use that jolt of adrenaline hunting for tiny unshat underpants at 8:45am when you forgot it was PE day, and the baby is biting the toddler, and the car MOT was up last week, and you do not know what was in your shoe, it might have been toast, but you put it on anyway. The second jolt might see you through the school run and halfway to lunchtime, but as soon as you slam a plastic bowl of microwaved spaghetti hoops down in front of the little monster, and sit down yourself to speed-eat a sandwich, your brain will engage the second side of your brain which is SLOTH.
Sloth is the thing that staples you to your bed despite the sounds of warfare coming from the kids room. Sloth is the thing that stops you sorting out the huge pile on the dining table and makes everyone eat off their knees. Sloth is the body and brain’s natural and completely morally sound reaction to spending 80% of your time in FRANTIC.
Sloth is the thing you fall back to when you have a moment to yourself. An uninterrupted poo. A shower where you actually wash and condition your hair. The morning your mum has the baby. The day the toddler goes to nursery.
SLOTH IS PLEASURE.
FRANTIC IS PAIN.
When you are a writer and you have children, you have to balance your internal compass to the exact tipping point between the two and keep it there. If you approach work in FRANTIC the way you do the housework, you might write a lot, but it will just say SHITSHITSHITSHIT and your editor will fire you. If you try and attempt it in SLOTH you will just stare at Facebook or water the plants, or daydream about getting the garage converted into a studio, and wind up on Pinterest three hours later, with your spouse/parent arriving with your kids, and saying “hello love, did you get lots done?” and your stomach will drop, and your bowels become water because you had that time, and WASTED IT LIKE A SLOTHFUL BITCH.
Don’t do that.
Instead, make lists of what you have to do, writing, emailing, editing, contacting people, booking for conventions, or whatever and then do them methodically. Set yourself a word count or a page count, or any goal that is neither totally unachievable nor easy. Promise yourself lunch when you get half way. Promise yourself Netflix if you make it to count before the kids get back.
Some writers might find they still have need of their old ways, their systems and habits. Some might even find that they are able to work more efficiently now they have a small crying person, a living sword of Damocles hanging over them. Sometimes it’s just the kick up the arse you need to be productive.
Since having my children, I do more on my Days Of No Writing than I used to do on my Days Of Much Writing. For some reason this hasn’t materialised into huge wealth or success, and I do not give myself more credit for doing it. The disappointment at this realisation is second only to the lack of fanfare when I stopped smoking. Thirteen years of not smoking later, and nobody has given me a certificate, or a bouquet, or a ticker tape parade. BOOOO.
I tread that razor sharp edge between FRANTIC and SLOTH as best I can, and on the days when FRANTIC wins, and I make mistakes, or send things off un-proofed, or schedule masses of nonsense to post automatically on Social Media, I give myself a pass for getting anything done. And when I lapse into SLOTH and sit staring at Edwardian Boots for an hour, or browsing ice cream recipes, or wondering if I could make my hair be in a fishtail braid, I give myself a pass then, because leisure, like work, is a tough thing to achieve these days. You have to grab the moments where you can. You’d go mad otherwise.
October 5th 2015
This was written as part of a Parenting And Writing Blog Tour. I will put the links to posts by other people in the comments under this post, so you can read them too.