Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Sticky Manuscripts:
Writing with Children in the House

By Katherine Dalton
Copyright 2008 by Katherine Dalton, All Rights Reserved

Your office is set back at the corner of the house, overlooking the garden of roses. Your desk is solid oak, with matching bookshelves on either side. All your notes, papers, and hard copies are filed neatly in their folders. Over the sounds of your clicking keyboard float the sounds of Bach and Chopin. The nanny has taken your children to the park and you have the next four hours to yourself to write.

Yeah, right!

If you are lucky, you do have one room that is used for your writing, but your desk is an old table or plasterboard $99.00 job from the local superstore. Your filing system is, well, let's not even go to the sticky notes, the dry erase markers used to make notes on the window, and let's pretend not to smell the cat box that's in the corner because it is the only place the kids can't get into it. It sits behind the five boxes of reference books that need a shelf, which you have been promising to either buy or construct out of cinder blocks and old sheet metal.

You have this, if you're lucky.

Most of us do not have a private place to write. We monopolize the kitchen table between meals and homework, or hide away in the bedroom to jot down a few pages before we need to help the middle schooler construct a solar system out of fruit. We listen to the TV blaring cartoons or whatever new song our teenager is raging to. Bach is misinterpreted as the word 'back' misspelled.

How does one write a salable story when there are children underfoot and teenagers demanding to use the computer? If done carefully and with craft, you can write, and even be able to sleep.

Writing, even when you have little ones, is something that can be accomplished with a few tools of the trade. "The trade" being parenting, not writing. Back when your little one came home from the hospital you were given advice on how to make sure you could stay rested and keep up with your bundle of joy. Now is the time to go back to that.

When your little one is sleeping, if you have children that young, instead of zooming around the house cleaning, sit down and write for thirty minutes. If you have to work during the day, sit your kids down with you and have them do their school work while you write. If your children are older, they probably have a limited amount of time on the computer; give yourself the same limit. If you have two computers, set them side by side so you can watch Jr. surf while you write.

You have an entire house at your disposal; check it out and see what it can do for you. Does your bathroom have a lock on the door? Take ten minute breaks and sit in there and jot down notes on a pad of paper or on your laptop. When your little ones go to bed, relax on the couch and, while watching the news, draft out the dialogue that has been humming in your head since suppertime.

No, this is not the ideal way to write -- fifteen minutes here, half hour there, ten minutes there -- but it will get the job done.

Remember that first story you finished? The one you lovingly printed out to show your writing group? Yeah, the one that Junior spent hours using the first ten pages of for his monster truck drawings, and that the baby burped up on the final three pages of. How do you keep that from happening a second time?

Do you have an off-limits room in your house? Even if you do, how many times has the toddler ransacked the place? Does placing something on the top shelf create a overwhelming temptation for your four-year-old to climb and get it, just because?

You can get a trunk, in a variety of colors, at the local super store for about $20.00 US dollars that comes with a latch you can padlock. It is well worth the money. They are large enough to hold all your writing supplies and you can lock it for safety. You can toss a small throw over it and use it as a coffee table if space is limited. Or you can put a latch and lock on a bottom drawer of your dresser.

We have to be honest with ourselves here: our lovely children are, no matter how well behaved, creatures of deplorable nature. They use those adorable eyes and cute little fingers to get into anything and everything. They were born without shame. Do not fear the lock; it has saved many a manuscript, I am sure.

Some of us are on a very strict budgets, and just cannot afford to have child care for those times we must have silence. This is when another of those "just brought home from the hospital" lessons works wonders. Share child care! If you have a friend that needs a baby sitter twice a month so she and her husband can go out, take her little ones, in return for her taking yours twice a month so you can have a few hours of uninterrupted writing.

If you are lucky enough to have a supportive spouse, make a "just them and kids" day. Every other week have dad (or in the case you are the dad, mom) take the little ones for an outing. To make it even more special, and not strain the budget, find things that they can do for free, and you set the plans. Send them off and hit the computer. Just remember, do this for your spouse as well, as they are sure to need a break for their pastime or dream as well.

Do you only have angsty teens in the house? Most of the time that problem takes care of itself because they tend to be self sufficient. However, you can use your teens to make your life easier. To clear the house out for a few hours, bribe them with movie tickets or the car keys. Do this on the same night that you pay for your wife to spend the evening at a spa or send her off with a gift card to the local mall. Do it on a Sunday when your husband is off at his buddy's house watching the game.  Have your teen take your younger child to the local fast food place. Use your imagination and I bet you can come up with all kinds of ways to get them out of the house for an hour to two.

Now, you have the house to yourself, it is a mess, the dog has puked on the carpet, again, and the cat box needs to be cleaned. What do you do? You clean up the puke or it will stain, then apply butt to chair, fingers to keyboard and write. That is a must. No matter how much you plan, bribe, and manipulate, if you don't write, you have wasted valuable time. All that other stuff can be taken care of when the troops get back. If the cat box is stinky, just move to another room!