I think the most common question I get when addressing a group is this: “How do you as the caregiver of your family find the time to write?” It’s a good question. So … here are my secrets to getting published while still schlepping kids around town in the minivan and making dinner every night:
First of all, the writing has to be poetry or fiction. One reason I left journalism was because I was too closely tied with the capricious schedules of my sources, who would frequently call at the most inconvenient times. (used diaper wipe in hand, pasta boiling on the stove) With fiction, most of your work is inside your head, and you can write anytime, anywhere. Which leads me to my next point:
Never go anywhere in the car/van/whatever without a laptop or, at the very least, a journal book. A caregiver often gets stuck waiting, and why should that waiting be down time? Twelve minutes here, four minutes there – it all adds up. Your work at these times doesn’t even have to include polished prose. It can be a time to brainstorm a character’s emotional arc or debate the pros and cons of a particular chapter ending.
Have a particular place in the house where you write, and make sure that every family member knows that when you are working in this spot you are NOT to be bothered. Warning: They will try to poke into your private little world several times until you have trained them properly. Do NOT drop what you’re doing to go help them find the mayonnaise in the refrigerator (It’s in the back, right-hand corner, by the way!) Let them know that they must respect your privacy and focus connected with this writing spot. Let them know (and this goes for your spouse as well) that a happy caregiver is one who gets his or her writing time each day … UNINTERRUPTED!
Promise yourself you’re going to write one single-spaced computer screen page five days a week. You might not think that sounds like much, a page a day, but that page is actually about 1.8 pages of a book, which means that in six months time you will have completed an entire first draft!
If all else fails, and life has been too chaotic to get any writing done, tell your spouse that you want a four-day weekend for Mother’s or Father’s Day. Get a cheap motel room somewhere nearby – but not too nearby – and write, write, write. I have written 40 pages in three days doing this. Give yourself a daily goal in the morning, and if you make that goal then go out and treat yourself for cocktails and dinner, and then come back and write some more.
And, of course, I have to mention the guilt. It’s hard for an unpublished writer to justify the time to write when he or she is not getting paid for it. True, once you sell a manuscript, you start feeling justified very quickly. But until then remind yourself that if you didn’t write you would not be truly happy or whole or challenged, and this feeling of disenchantment and emptiness would creep into your family life in the form of a bad mood; you will be more anxious and impatient. Just as your kids need their social time to be complete, you need this time to reflect and create, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Let them know it is not merely a hobby, but an important part of who you are.
Remember that the Pulitzer prize-winning Canadian novelist Carol Shields, God rest her soul, didn’t publish until she was in her late forties or fifties; she was too busy raising a family the first two-thirds of her life. The good news about writing is that writers really don’t peak emotionally and intellectually until that last third of life, so don’t fret if you’re pushing forty and haven’t yet published that book. You’ve got plenty of time. Raise those kids. Enjoy them. Heck, they make great fodder for books; I’ve written two autobiographical novels based on being a caregiver. But beware: I got in big trouble with my daughter when I admitted on National Public Radio that the poop scene in “Househusband” was real!
Now, go write. And be protective of that writing time. You deserve it.
Ad Hudler’s newest novel, “Man of the House,” will be published by Random House this September. He can be reached through his website AdHudler.com.