Hold Fast to Dreams (Or, How to Pursue Writing while Juggling Young Kids and a Full-Time Job)

Dreams
Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Filled with snow.

Though I’ve always loved reading, I did not grow up with dreams of becoming a writer. Those dreams came as I explored my commitment to education, equity, youth, stories, and social change. Writing, like most things I’ve pursued with passion, sits at the intersection of these pillars. I believe that writing stories is one way I can make a difference in the world. And what else are we here for, but to make a difference in this world that sorely needs change?

But, with a full-time job (that I believe can make a difference in education) and two young children, making time to write is no easy feat. Between meals and drop-offs and cleaning and baths and laundry and oh, my job, and errands, and family time, and maybe exercise, I don’t feel like I get enough quality time with my kids, let alone to time to sit down and write. And yet, writing occupies my thoughts – as dreams are wont to do – all the dang time. I want to be writing all the time. I wish I could be writing all the time. But I can’t be writing all the time.

So, here’s how I hold fast to dreams.

Here are a few ways to keep barreling toward dreams while juggling a job and young family (and/or whatever else one might be juggling):

1. SET GOALS. This turns writing from a fun past time into serious business.

I write down writing and other goals in my New Year’s resolutions and hang them on the wall. I write down more writing goals at the SCBWI SF/South Golden Gate Conference in March. Lately, I’ve given myself a daily word count goal (1000 words). My writing goals are burned into my mind; I think about them all the time because the desire is so deep it sometimes hurts.

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2. MAKE A SCHEDULE.  This makes writing a routine part of each day and week.

My family and I plan around writing time which means a) it will actually happen, and b) I have peace of mind knowing I have set aside time to write. Until recently, my writing hours were Monday – Thursday, from whenever my kids fell asleep to midnight. Now that the baby is on a more consistent sleep schedule (HALLELUJAH!), I’ve been trying out the #5amwritersclub and writing from 5 – 6:30 am, and it’s been AMAZING. Turns out, I can write more in 1.5 hours in the morning than I usually can in three hours at night. I also enjoy evening family time more because I’m not rushing the kids to bed in order to write. So far, it’s been win win.

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3. TREAT WRITING LIKE A JOB (THAT YOU LOVE). This means, barring emergencies or very special occasions, writing time is for writing. It is not optional.

During writing time, I don’t make plans to socialize with friends, I don’t attend social church activities, I don’t turn on the TV, I don’t pick up other projects, I don’t clean the house, I don’t exercise. I do those things at other times, and the least important things fall off the radar. I’ve made sacrifices in order to prioritize writing, because I feel like it is one way I can make a difference.

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I have this quote on my desk. Photo credit: Holstee.com

4. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF QUIET MOMENTS. This means looking for and allowing inspiration to surface in the rare opportunities we have to be still.

I’ve thought of words and sentences for multiple picture books while nursing. I explored the plot and characters of my first YA novel while riding in the backseat on a long road trip. I’ve teased out characters and plot points while snuggling my kids to sleep. Creativity comes in the quiet when I forgo the temptation of my phone and let the ideas come forth.

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What is more inspiring than a pair of sleeping baby feet?

5. MULTI-TASK TO KEEP LEARNING. This means finding ways to keep learning when we are busy but our minds are otherwise free. This also means we constantly keep writing at the forefront of our minds.

I don’t have time and can’t afford to attend many writing conferences or workshops. Instead, I listen to writing podcasts in the car and when I exercise; I even purchased an underwater mp3 player so I could listen while swimming laps. I read picture books to my kids and YA when I am standing in lines, waiting at the doctor’s office, handling business in the bathroom (TMI?), waiting for my computer to load, and getting ready for bed. The best way to improve writing is by reading, right?

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6. FIND A COMMUNITY. This provides the support, feedback, empathy, understanding, commiseration, encouragement, and occasional kick in the pants needed to continue pressing forward when things get hard. Which is always.

My critique groups make me laugh, give the best feedback, and shower me with encouragement. We send each other updates and rejections, as well as news about our families and travels. I volunteer with my local SCBWI chapter, and I love our local conference. This year, I attended Kweli’s The Color of Children’s Literature Conference where I met so many writers and artists of color in children’s publishing. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring experiences I’ve had on this journey. I’m still learning the social media landscape, but I’ve also learned so much just by following leading voices – particularly those speaking out about representation – in the industry.

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Note to self: Take a group pic next time I get together with my critique group. Until then, please enjoy this creative commons photo.

7. BE FIRM BUT KIND. This means…whatever it needs to mean at any given time. No excuses, except when they’re valid.

Kids get sick, the news cycle traumatizes, work gets extra busy, relatives come to visit…Life happens. I am a stickler about my goals and I push and push and push, but once in a while, I just can’t do it. And it’s okay.

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8. MAKE TIME FOR FAMILY. This means setting aside writing and work and giving 100% to the kids…and the hubby!

My writing days are Monday – Thursday. Now that I write in the morning, I’m testing out Fridays too. But, everyday after work and all weekend long, I set aside the laptop and I turn all my attention to my family. On the weekends, I almost never open my laptop and I rarely know where I put my phone. I try to be completely present when I get the chance to spend time with my kids – and my husband appreciates having a few nights to hang out too!