Writing Tactics for Parents: How to Quiet the Little Anklebiters for Five Minutes So You Can Write a Few Words on This Blank Page Goddammit
As I begin this blog piece, my 5-year-old sees that I’m typing on my laptop, skips over, looks at the screen, and says, “Mama, whatcha doin’?” Irony? In the truest sense, no, not irony. But if Alanis Morissette can get away with pissing on Webster’s Dictionary, so can I.
Parenting two small children is not the easiest task in the world. The constant noise, peanut butter hands, snotty noses and “poop bonanzas” (what my 5-year-old calls messy diapers) means you have to be Mother Teresa just to deal with it all. And if you don’t happen to be Mother Teresa, then you need alcohol. Lots of it.
Convincing the scrawny carpetbaggers to be quiet so you can type words—well, it is a near-impossible task. But I have developed the following tactics that I will now share with the rest of you bleary-eyed parental battalions:
Once the spawn are in bed, sleeping peacefully after destroying our house, my husband and I feverishly work on our musical about life in the Amazon River Basin, set to Justin Bieber’s “Believe.” Sure, bedtime isn’t foolproof, due to the constant requests for “more water,” “more stories,” and anything that will delay the inevitable trek upstairs. If your child is younger, you might even endure hours of screams, blanket readjustments, rocking, whatever will lull the tiny noisebox to sleep; only to loudly kick a random toy while creeping out of the room, and thus have to restart the entire process. However, once the house is completely quiet, the writing can begin, and it sometimes lasts until the wee hours. I suggest strong coffee.
I have been known to sneak my laptop into the bathroom and quietly close and lock the door. This takes ninja-like skills. Then I dive into my scholarly tome, The Id, Ego, and Super Ego: A Case Study of Jake ‘The Bachelor’s’ Inner Turmoil, while also taking care of bathroom business. It’s the essence of efficiency. Writing as much as possible within that timeframe is paramount, due to the inevitable attraction that children have to closed doors. Like moths to bright lights or zombies to brains they will come, and you will not be able to concentrate once they’re pounding on the door, repeating “Mama” one hundred billion times.
So be warned, and don’t forget to wipe.
Backyard Bang Out
This isn’t what it sounds like—get your mind out of the gutter! In this particular tactic, we push the kids out the back door so they can ramble around together, poke bugs with sticks, pick flowers for us (cue the “Awwww”), get ant bites, eat grass. You know, the usual. Now, expect your mini-yous to come to the back door every minute asking question after question. You must prepare for this. Telling them to find a bug indigenous to Asia should net you a few paragraphs on your latest corporate espionage/YA-hybrid short story.
If you don’t have a backyard, try the basement.
Only to be used in dire circumstances, this technique will allow you to eke out a few tweaks to your in-progress children’s book, Nuclear Fallout and Me. Simply tell the miniature humans you want to play hide-and-go-seek, have them hide, then skeedaddle to your laptop and pound away. Depending on the ages of your apron-grabbers, they will wait anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes. Write like the wind, fellow prose pusher.
A cupcake or six will go a long way toward awarding you some time to scribe your graphic novel on the mating habits of the Spodochlamys latipes beetle (not to mention, give your child diabetes. But we’ll probably have a cure for that soon, right?). Strap that toddler in his high chair or pre-schooler in his seat, plop a sweet in front of him, and go on with your bad self. Check on your sugar-sauced minion in about 3.5 seconds, which is roughly how long it takes kids to eat sweets. I’m usually able to jot down FOUR ENTIRE WORDS during this time. That’s 1.14 words per second.
Of course, it’s forgivable to lavish your confection-stuffed cherubs with even more snacks and continue your frantic coleoptering.
To summarize, in the words of Bill Cosby, “The truth is that parents are not really interested in justice. They just want quiet.” And this is doubly true for author-parents, soldiering on amidst the sound of screams and scuffling footie-pajama’ed feet. Keep at it, brave word wizard. One day, you will pen your magnum opus, the world’s first bizarro-historical nonfiction.
And we’ll pretend not to see the PB&J smears on the manuscript.
Heather Nelson is a nonprofit Executive Director and Founder who lives in Austin. She studied English Literature and Psychology on scholarship and served as a Teaching Assistant at the University of North Texas. She is an active member of LitReactor.com, a Facebook junkie, collage-maker, film nerd, Raymond Carver lover, and moscato aficionado. Having penned poems since she was twelve, in recent years she has put on her big girl panties for her own blog, and for short fiction and novels. She is writing her first one, which she describes as “Fight Club for soccer moms.” Dinner parties, Vicodin, a homeless intersexual prostitute. She hopes Chuck approves.