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  • Writer's pictureSusan Gable

School's Out - Please Write Carefully

No, you may not put the baby in the desk drawer while you write, even though it seems pretty safe and you're keeping it open! For better tips on how to write with the kids around, keep reading.

This is an updated rerun of a piece I wrote a number of years ago, but the points are still good. The teenager I speak of is now fully grown and capable of occupying his own time. The points about electronic "babysitters" are even more valid since our kids now have even more "screens" to capture their attention.

Summer vacation. How you respond to those two words depends on your perspective, your point of view.

If you're a kid, you're thrilled.

If you're a writer whose day-job is teacher, you're thrilled. (Even if you're a non-writing teacher, you're thrilled. I know. I used to be a teacher.)

If you're a stay-at-home writer whose other day-job is mom (or dad), you might be less than thrilled. Because it means your daytime peace and solitude when you normally knock out those pages is disrupted. Gone. And you're counting the days until school starts again in the fall.

So, how do you handle summer vacation with the kids home? You'll have to come up with a new schedule and some rules. I know a number of writer-moms who get up earlier in the summer than they do during the school year. That way they can get some work done before the kids even get out of bed. Then, once they're up, you can give them your complete attention, which will cover the mommy-guilt angle. Writing at night after they've gone to bed is another option.

If you're fortunate enough to have a separate office in the house, and the kids are old enough to entertain themselves for a while, make rules about when they may interrupt. "Can I have a popsicle?" doesn't cut it as a reason for invading the writer's sanctuary. Blood and fire do.

As a teacher, I was introduced to the 3 B Questions we used to ask, especially when approached during recess. They work equally well for writers, especially those on deadline. "Are you breathing?" (The correct answer is yes.) "Are you bleeding?" (Hope for no.) "Are you barfing?" (Again, hope for no.) If you get the "correct" answers to these questions, then the proper response is somewhere along the lines of, "Okay, then go play." You then return your attention to the flashing cursor on the page in front of you. Of course, "incorrect" answers to the B questions do demand your immediate attention. The story will have to wait in that case.

These rules apply even more when Mommy/Writer is on the phone, just in case she's talking to her editor or agent. A friend of mine one summer appalled her editor when her daughter interrupted for the umpteenth time, and the writer said, "There better be blood!" There was no blood, but the (young, childless) editor was floored. Hmmm…I wonder how editors would deal with kids running into their offices while trying to make business phone calls?

Other tips:

  • If you need your child in view, keep a supply of coloring books, paper, crayons, picture books, puzzles, in your office. The kid(s) can play quietly (hey, I'm optimistic!) nearby while you work.

  • Consider hiring a neighborhood teen to babysit while you work. This way, you have some quiet, the kids have someone to watch and play with them, and you can keep an eye on the whole situation. Another option is to switch off with a friend. Take her kids one day, and have her keep yours another.

  • Summer day camps are loads of fun for kids. I have very fond memories of summer day camp.

  • An option that works with my teenage son is taking him to the local indoor skate park. That's usually good for several hours of uninterrupted quiet time at home.

  • Don't forget to stop and have some fun yourself. On a hot, sticky day, there's nothing better than a water-gun fight out in the backyard. Muses love these kinds of activities, too. She just may reward you with an extra burst of creativity.

  • Alphasmarts/laptops/tablets/electronic-device-or-your-choice are great for using poolside while you keep both ears and one eye on the kids. Be sure to give a frequent look at them with both eyes, though!

  • Libraries often offer story-hour for kids. While they listen to the story, you can sit in eye-range and work on your own story. As a plus, most libraries are air-conditioned, which you'll be glad for during any heat waves.

  • Videos and other electronic entertainment, while not recommended in heavy doses or as a steady diet, can also help buy you some writing time. There are loads of great educational software out there, too. You can keep their school skills sharp while you work. (Of course, if you only have one computer, that could be a problem.)

  • If it's too quiet, you'd better go and see what they're up to. More than once I poked my head out my office window and found things like, my son on the roof of the garage, or stuck up in a tree. Boys can be challenging.

  • If they are absolutely driving you nuts, remember that this, too, shall pass. And the kids grow up too quickly anyway. Enjoy them when you can. Before you know it, the fall will be here, and you'll be sending them off to another grade, wondering where the time has gone.

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