Full disclosure—this post is slanted toward welcoming the bombshell that is a newborn into our writing lives, biologically or otherwise. I can’t personally speak to adopting, fostering or having guardianship of slightly older children, etc., however I respectfully theorize that any which way we expand family, it’s challenging and mind-blowing. And you aren’t getting any writing done either. (Right?)
I’m a graduate of the Novel Incubator and a first-time mom of a 9 month old. In those 9 months since baby debuted, I’ve discovered that about 99% of the advice (substitute “helpful hints” or “fake news”) we newbies receive regarding Baby Life is impractical. Everyone—including Google—is unreliable. Except maybe our pediatricians and that one mom we know. It’s not that the advice is outdated, so common sense it’s insulting, or contradictory—though often it is—it’s that for whatever reason, likely due to something watched on Netflix during gestation, our special yet utterly typical baby is completely atypical. The advice never applies to them. But we’re talking the Writing Life here, and our fresh struggle as brand-new parents to find the time, energy, creativity and mental clarity to write. So hopefully some of these tips apply to you.
During pregnancy I believed the tales everyone spun about how much time I would have to finish my novel when the baby slept. Except according to the experts that’s when new parents should also sleep. And except, come to find out, my baby wouldn’t sleep except in power-nap bursts overnight, and daytime-napped only in my arms. You know what sleep deprivation does to your mind and body? Same effects as intoxication. It makes you prolific, funny and highly attractive.
Wear him, they said. He screamed child abuse. Put him in a swing or bouncer, the infant version of a dog crate, they said. He deemed it barely tolerable. (We’ve come to realize he hates being tied down. I cringe when I think of his future relationships.) Easiest solution? Get a babysitter. Right, of course! (Smacks forehead.) If you don’t have an inherently strong support system, you’ll use all of this non-existent free time to network, materialize reliable childcare out of thin air, then try not to focus on what your “economical” vocation is costing you as you type more check-ins than actual prose. So here is my hard-won wisdom: Write when the baby sleeps unless he or she doesn’t sleep in which case you should be sleeping while the baby writes.
Finding the energy to write is easier. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that writers must recharge to remain writerly. Partly that consists of sleep. Check that box. Our passions/interests are the other part, and segue into creativity, one begetting the other. Perhaps you’re the type of writer energized by being outdoors. Or perhaps you amass creative energy among others. Nothing motivates you to put pen to paper or fingertips to keys more than the thrum of a Capital One Café. Burnt coffee, strangers’ financial anxiety raining plot arcs all around you…ahhh.
The baby adapts to your life, so get back out there. Bring that wee insomniac (with adamant aversion to safety restraints) with you—head for the trails, head to the bank. Pull that stroller alongside, open up that laptop or notebook, take that first sip of quadruple espresso Red Bull latte and let it go cold while you rock the stroller back-and-forth with one hand, hold the bottle with the other all while keeping the laptop in your periphery—until the moment you notice that the dark patch on baby’s pants is not part of your chocolate croissant. See how rejuvenated and exhilarated you’ll feel when you leave the Café nine minutes after arriving. (Because after all, your life is over now and it’s all about the baby.) Heck, I’m growing re-energized just fantasizing about re-energizing. Just like I’m fantasizing it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
Onto mental clarity. You’re so fulfilled thanks to the 24/7 baby blissing-out—which is all you need to thrive, you don’t need to write! Heck you don’t even need food, water, sleep or oxygen amiright?? The mere scent of that precious creature sustains you. So this tidbit of advice is probably so common sense it’s insulting, but here goes: if you absolutely must write, then you need to focus. No more online shopping with Scrivener minimized in the corner. No more hygiene, no more tidying up when that notebook is staring you in the face every time you pass by with another dirty diaper that you just had to clean right then, when you could’ve been writing.
Remember our friend sleep deprivation? It also compromises short term memory. Hooray! Problem solved. You don’t need a lot of distracting facts or feeding schedules getting in the way of your focus. As a new parent you are in prime mode to wait until that adorable black hole falls asleep, recall what it is you wanted to write, and write it well.
Look at me. In 9 months I’ve written—this. And a hundred frustrated and/or desperate missives fired off to friends, family and Facebook while sobbing at 2:37am. New Parent Life is the new Writing Life. One filled with greater perspective, empathy and understanding—of what pain and suffering truly means, especially if you or someone you know endured 51 hours of labor (which I cannot wait to translate into my next crime thriller). It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing. Just when you think you can’t take any more, or you’ll break, you take a little more, don’t break and still don’t get any writing done.
Or here’s something real—writers exist who understand your inexplicable compulsion to string sentences, build worlds and tell tales. Reach out. Those of us with babies wish we were writing too. We’ll support you while line editing your email. We’re sometimes also willing to trade our babies for writing time. Babysitting. I meant trade babysitting.