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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Secrets of a Writer Mama by Joanne Rendell

People often ask me how I’ve managed to write and sell two novels while a.) being a stay-at-home mum, and b.) being at stay-at-home mum with a four year old son who is homeschooling/unschooling/not-bothering-with-that-whole-school-thing and therefore is always by my side…or thereabouts.

Well, if any of you’re interested or crazy enough to want to try such a motherhood-meets-author lifestyle, here’s five insights and tips:

1. rearrange traditional sleeping schedules – I have managed to train Benny into sleeping incredibly late in the mornings. In fact, he gets up at noon. Yes, noon! This means, of course, that he also stays up late at night. Now, I know a lot of mother’s would shudder at the thought of their children staying up beyond nine because they need their “me” time with a glass of wine and watching The Late Show without the whines of “mama” ringing in their tired ears. If your such a mama, this sleep routine might not be for you. However, if you can stomach it and you can train your child into enjoying The Late Show and pouring your wine for you, I’m telling you there’s a whole lot of writing you can do between 8 and noon every morning while Sleepy Head is still in the world of Z’s.

2. sneakily sharing childcare – If you manage to train your child into this sleep routine and you have a partner in the house, this means childcare will be shared for a good proportion of the day. For me, I only really have to care for Benny on my own from noon to 6ish each day. Brad comes home from work after that and Benny’s whines, demands for juice, and pleas for more books to be read to him, can be equally divided between us.

3. educational kid’s DVDs – Yes, I rely heavily on the TV for those moments when I need to simultaneously do the laundry, reply to my editor’s email, update my blog, finish the paragraph I was working on that morning, and finalize the details for Benny’s afternoon play date. I only put DVDs in the machine for Benny and don’t let him just idly flick between channels (while sitting in his underwear). I get to choose what he watches, therefore, and I’m careful to pick DVDs which are teaching him things which I, at that moment, am currently too preoccupied to teach him. Thanks to the Leapfrog DVD collection, together with Word World and Between the Lions, Benny is pretty much reading – if sentences like “The cat sat on the big mat” count as reading.

4. reading in the bathroom – A lot of people already do this, I know. But if your going to follow tips 1-3, you must take bathroom-reading very seriously. Every time you go – yes, every time – you must commit yourself to quickly reading a few paragraphs, ideally a page. It leads to a herky-jerky feeling with novel. But, there is little time to read if your writing in the mornings and entertaining your little ‘un in the evenings. And reading other novels is a must for wannabe and established authors. So bathroom reading is essential. I have finished a good number of novels while sitting on the john, getting those delightful red marks on the back of my thighs and a slightly chilled behind!

5. surround yourself with good people – A sympathetic mama-crew is essential. Of course, they don’t have to all be mamas. They can be dads or nannies too. But what is important is that the people you hang out with must be understanding. They mustn’t grumble if you’re always late for play dates because you just had to answer that one comment on your blog or someone posted something interesting on the online writer’s forum you belong to or an interesting chapter in a book meant you couldn’t get off the toilet. Your crew must smile and nod when you blather on about a scene in your novel that you’ve been struggling with for weeks. Furthermore, they should understand that talking about this tricky scene is far more important to you than talking about children’s learning levels or whether a four year old boy should be standing to pee or sitting. Most importantly, they must not judge you for your seemingly crazy lifestyle.

So there you go. Not a life for everyone, I understand. But it works for me, and my novels, and my sanity. Plus, Benny doesn’t seem to complain too much…yet.


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