When I speak at writing events, one of the most common questions is how to find time to write when life is just so busy for everyone.
We all struggle with this regardless of our family situation and I'm happily childfree (by choice), but I have lots of friends with children who juggle multiple conflicting priorities.
Today Ali Luke, author, blogger and Mum of two, talks about her situation and gives some tips on finding time to write.
If your days are anything like mine, they involve lots of noise, fun, mess, squealing, laughter, laundry … and not much time to yourself.
Whether you're a mum, dad, or other carer, and whether you work or not, finding even a few minutes to write can seem next to impossible.
I've got two little ones (a two year old daughter and a baby son) and while I love them dearly, writing has definitely fallen a bit by the wayside over the past couple of years.
And all the great time management tips that worked for me when I was a student, when I was working full-time, and when I started my own business?
Turns out they don't easily apply to life with two small and unpredictable children.
Here's what I've learned along the way. (And I'd love to hear your tips in the comments.)
Make the most of any writing time you DO have
If you have any time at all to write, squeeze the most you can out of it. Earlier this year, I could sometimes fit in a 15 minute slot of writing while both the little ones napped. (Sadly, my two year old has now dropped her nap!)
While 15 minutes might seem like nothing, it's long enough to make real headway. I actually found I wrote more in some of those 15 minute sessions than I used to manage in an hour or two when I was a student.
Even if you can only find five minutes to write, perhaps after you've had some time to unwind in the evening and before you tackle the dishes, use that five minutes.
If there's someone else responsible in the house, let them listen out for the kids while you put headphones on and forget about the world around you.
Consider which projects to commit to
I often urge writers to stick to and finish one or two projects, rather than starting half a dozen. When you have small children, this is doubly important. If you only have a few minutes here and there to write, you want to be making measurable progress.
If it's realistic (and I know it often won't be), you might want to focus on short projects where ‘the end' is easily in sight. That could mean short stories rather than novels, or blog posts rather than non-fiction ebooks.
You may also want to hold off on any projects that are going to have a steep learning curve, or require tons of research, so that you can spend most of your writing time actually enjoying writing.
Of course, sometimes as a writer you don't so much choose the project as it chooses you and if you really want to be writing your epic fantasy trilogy or your weighty academic textbook, then by all means go for it!
Get a great team behind you
I'm lucky that I have no idea what it must be like to be a single parent and huge kudos to anyone reading this who's managing a little one (or several little ones) single-handed.
If you do have a partner who can help, make sure you're both getting some time for yourselves and for your own needs. Self-expression and the chance to pursue your dreams are needs, so don't let anyone suggest you should forget about writing for now.
Enlist other supporters, too. That might be your parents. I'm really lucky that mine live just round the corner or try your siblings or close friends.
If you can pay for help, do. We have a wonderful cleaner who we found when our oldest was three weeks old, and it's made a huge difference.
If you're a stay-at-home parent, don't feel that you have to do everything yourself. Just as you'd hire an editor and cover-designer to help you publish a high-quality book, there's nothing wrong with hiring professionals to tackle tasks for you while you get on with the important work of being a parent and of getting your writing done.
Don't feel guilty
There are enough guilt trips involved in parenting – so don't let making time to write become yet another one.
I mentioned above that self-expression and the chance to pursue your dreams are things you need. Your writing is important. You deserve time to write, and your well-being will suffer without that time.
(It doesn't matter whether you make money from your writing or not. It doesn't matter if your writing is literary or not. What matters is that you feel happy when you write – or at least happy when you've written!)
I struggled with this one after my second baby was born. I felt like I should be able to set aside my writing for a few months. It took an episode of Charlie Gilkey's podcast The Creative Giant Show to change my mind: Cultivating Creativity During Motherhood, with Lucy Pearce.
Of course, one huge source of writer-guilt is not writing. As a parent, you're inevitably going to have days when you planned to write but it just didn't work out. Whether it's a childcare crisis or plain exhaustion, if a writing session doesn't happen, don't beat yourself up about it.
Its not easy to be a writer mum or writer dad – but it is possible. I'm definitely working this one out as I go along, and I'd love your tips on how you manage, or managed, to fit writing around small children. If you've got suggestions, or questions, just drop a comment below.
Bio: Ali Luke runs Writers' Huddle, a community / teaching site for all writers, with monthly seminars, in-depth ecourses, supportive forums, and more.
It's only open for new members until Friday June 12th, and we're about to start a new Summer Challenge for accountability (and prizes)! If you think you might be interested, check it out now.