Balancing childcare and Creative work by Niamh Boyce

Did you make a resolution to make time for creative work this year? Here are some tips from some very successful writers…

Some time ago, (in pre-Covid days) I asked a group of authors how they balanced writing and taking care of children. Their answers are more relevant than ever this January, considering all we are juggling now! Hazel Gaynor, Margaret Scott, Ruth Long, Cat Hogan, Lorna Sixsmith, Louise Phillips, Shirley Benton- Bailey, Maria Duffy and Carmel Harrington are all very successful authors with books filling many a library shelf… and here’s their thoughts….

‘Forget the housework,’ says Shirley Benton- Bailey  ‘and let the lot of them find what they need when they need it. I find whenever I down tools, my family are a lot more resourceful about getting what they need than they’d lead me to believe! She recommends online food shopping or getting your partner hooked on Aldi. ‘I have totally outsourced Aldi to my husband now, and won’t be taking it back!

Contrary to the notion that it gets easier to find time as the children get older, Carmel Harrington among others (myself included) finds parenting now demands just as much if not more of her writing time. She writes ‘every morning while they are in school, and after they go to bed, but throw in chicken pox back to back, broken arms for both of them (you couldn’t write it) and various other life curve balls, I’ve just not got the word count done.’  Carmel decided to write through the weekends. ‘It’s tough balancing it all, but any working mother will tell you the same…. there will be a lot of late nights and weekends. Somehow or other, I’ll get there. And so will you.’

Maria Duffy agrees, ‘the juggling never really stops, no matter what age they are and the guilt is always there. I tend to do a lot of my writing at night when everyone is gone to bed. I can get way more done without any interruptions. It does leave me exhausted the next day, but I try to pick nights when hubby is around the next morning so he can hold the fort while I get a lie-in. There should be a mandatory week in September when all mothers are made go to a spa to recover!

Louise Phillips also finds early mornings best – as it’s the ‘most guilt free time although it’s all about juggling, including the guilt!’ Keep a notebook or page of your manuscript on you at all times, so you can write or revise whenever you get a second, advises Ruth Long. She often writes in the car, at naptimes etc. ‘I type things up later. It’s also important to look after yourself, so if you set a writing word count for a day make sure it’s a minimum, and anything on top of that is a bonus and will make you feel better.’

Hazel Gaynor finds it useful to break the days/weeks up into work time and family time – as much as is reasonably possible. She also finds ‘it often comes down to getting up very early to write for a few hours before the boys are up, or staying up late after they’re in bed. That way I at least feel I’ve made a start before breakfast etc…’

Lorna Sixsmith comments that summer camps (remember the days!) aren’t always that helpful – ‘They’re so short, and as I live half hour drive from most. By the time I’ve got them there, it’s time to collect them…. add to that,’ said Lorna, farmer and writer, ‘a husband who says ‘can you stand in a gap for 5 min’ and an hour later…!’

Cat Hogan  empathises ‘I spend my days crippled with guilt. The grass is up to my knees in the garden and I can’t see out the window with the grime! I’ll write in the morning when the half man is in school (the baby will be put in front of the telly or out the back garden) – then, when they go to bed, I go back to it. I look like a crack head as I’m wrecked all the time. I just about manage a shower every day and the weekends don’t exist. That said- I love it.’

Margaret Scott thinks the key is to ‘be ‘ready’ at the first sign of having an hour or two to yourself, so be thinking all the time working out the next bit you want to write so that when an opportunity presents you can ‘drop everything and write’. ‘And that means write, not hoover, not put on a wash, not clean out the fridge…’ she adds.

Hazel Gaynor says its ‘very reassuring to realize everyone is facing the same plate-spinning, house-falling-apart-around-your-ankles, child-juggling, deadline-stress predicament. I was explaining it to a friend the other day like this: imagine your office job. Now imagine having the same expectations and deadlines and work to get done as you do all year, but that you have to take your children to work with you every day. Not easy!


Niamh Boyce

Stradbally Library

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