Tuesday, October 4, 2011

{Guest Post}
Karma Wilson talks about multi-tasking

Today is the last day to enter for a chance to win "Bear's Loose Tooth" by Karma Wilson. All you have to do is answer the prompt on the giveaway post and you'll be entered to win. And, you know, somebody's gotta win ...

Until then, how about some writing-while-mothering wisdom from Karma herself? The mother of three kids, Karma published her first book -- "Bear Snores On" -- in 2002. Since then, she has published more than 30 children's books. You can read more about her here.

Welcome, Karma. Thanks for sharing some insights to those of us with stories waiting to be told.

Deadline and kids, are the two mutually exclusive? When my children were little, it seemed to me that they weren't. Writing with small children running amok felt impossible, and I missed more than one deadline. However, I managed to get a system down that worked for me. Here are a few tips:

1. Adapt to YOUR environment.

I read a lot of advice telling me to find a secluded, quiet place to write--EVERY day. Usually as I read these helpful tips I had a toddler at my feet demanding food, a baby on my lap demanding boob, and a list of "to-dos" that I should have been reading instead of writing tips. We were poor, so hiring a nanny or building a secluded dream office was out of the question. I just needed to write.

I quickly learned to have food at the desk to hand to children. I also learned how to breast feed and type at the same time and ignore to-do lists during any firestorm of inspiration. And as a survival skill I became adept at tuning out background noise and zeroing in on the manuscript I was working on.

To keep the kids involved I would stop every few minutes and read what I'd written to them to gauge their response. This served the two fold purpose of letting me know if I was writing boring drivel that kids would hate, and showing my children that writing is a process requiring rewriting and hard work to get perfect.

This approach won't work for everybody, but if you are anything like I was you may have no other options. So learn to adapt, because writing, like so many professions, is survival of the fittest.

2. Force yourself to take breaks.

Once you get the first tip down it's very easy to get so engrossed in writing your masterpiece that you FORGET you have children! Then suddenly you hear a blood-curdling scream and realize that you have zoned out while your child climbed on the roof. Not fun or desirable, and certainly a damper on further creativity. This is why it's important to time yourself take some breaks to give the kids undivided attention.

You also need to take breaks for your own creativity to reset, and to keep from getting repetitive stress injury. Writing may seem like mostly mental work, but sitting hunched over a desk all day pecking away at a computer can lead to physical problems like back injuries or repetitive stress syndrome. Back in the day I had to set a timer, but these days there is nifty software made specifically to help you take timed breaks--Skirocco Take a Break is a good, free program that will give popup alerts when it's break time.

3. Beat them out of bed

Sometimes a little quiet is the ONLY way you will get something accomplished. These are the times you need to try and get to bed early enough that you can beat the rugrats out of bed by a couple of hours.

For me, it was the research and networking more than the writing that required solitude. If I needed to search something up, or take part in an online discussion about getting published, I had a very hard time focusing with Sesame Street music in the background. So I made it habit to get up very early, rev myself up with double strength coffee, and sit in the quiet of the morning to get some critiques done or research the market.

Some people find they would rather stay up after the kids went to bed. That is also an option. Just make sure you get enough sleep to actually keep your brain functional, or writing progress could slow.

4. Write ANYWHERE!

I have written books camping, sitting in restaurants, driving down the road. I have scribbled phrases on ketchup-stained McDonald's napkins and old doctor bills. There is never, EVER a time that writing is off limits. But be sure to keep a tablet and writing utensil on or near you at all times, because sadly I've also written a lot of great books, poems and stories "on the go" and forgotten them because I didn't take the time to write them down. I have a nagging suspicion I forgot a best-selling, timeless classic somewhere along the way, and it's now gone forever, floating in the creative black hole.

Is writing with kids a challenge? Yes. Is it worth it? Also yes. But breastfeeding while typing isn't a skill for the faint of heart.

What about you? How do you balance what's important {writing, working, or anything else ...} with what's ultimately important {raising your kids}? Now, back to filling my son's cup and answering my daughter's questions ...

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