Irish Daily Mail - YOU
‘I realised motherhood was not dissimilar to a fast-flowing river of lava’
The writer Richard Ford famously listed ‘don’t have children’ as one of his ten rules for writing fiction. Another writer, Lauren Sandler, advised women writers that, if they really must become mothers, then they should limit themselves to just one child. Meanwhile the Nobel laureate Doris Lessing said, ‘No one can write with a child around. It’s no good. You just get cross.’
All of this comes as discouraging news if you’re a parent and want to be a writer too. Finding the time to do anything for yourself with children around is difficult.
It’s hard to justify taking time from their needs, which are endless, and putting it towards your own needs, which are easily discounted. Even basic needs – like having a shower or doing your make-up – seem to be taking too much time from your children, never mind the completely unjustifiable sub-category of personal wants or desires. Something as frivolous as writing a novel will land you firmly in the swampy territory of Irish mammy guilt.
When I first became a mother, I realised that motherhood was not dissimilar to a fast-flowing river of lava, something that could engulf everything in its path if I didn’t either outrun it or get out of its way.
With the lava of motherhood lapping at my heels, I realised if I wanted to write a novel, a long-held dream, I would have to become focused.
Having very limited time forces you to become organised. Having very limited energy also helps. When you’re sleepdeprived, no kilojoule can be wasted, so there is no longer any room for energysapping activities like procrastination, self-doubt, or perfectionism.
But much as I wanted to, I still found it nearly impossible to get two hours together to write. People suggested writing after the babies are in bed? But by 7pm I could barely talk, never mind compose a sentence on a page. What about getting up early then, they suggested? Even earlier than I already do, I wondered?
I was willing to try anything but it turns out there is a sort of Bluetooth connection between me and my daughter, which means the minute I open my eyes, whether that is at 5am or 8am, she is automatically powered on too. So pre-dawn writing was out as well.
Eventually, I started eking out time to write in the minutes that I call ‘nothing time’. Elon Musk calls it micro-scheduling.
I found there were identifiable moments in my day when I had not exactly free time, but dead time, time that I was committed to enduring but which wasn’t productive. I’m talking about the time spent sitting in the car waiting for the children to come out of school. I started to bring my laptop with me so that I could use that time to write until the school bell rang. Sometimes it was just ten minutes, sometimes it was half an hour, sometimes I got a full hour.
The barometer I used to decide whether or not I had time to write was if I opened my phone to look at my social media apps. That was my trigger, my reminder that I should be writing. I made an agreement with myself that every time I took my phone out I would put it aside and take out my laptop instead, and write. If I had time to scroll, I had time to write.
With a little practice, I was amazed at how quickly I could zone out the noise, and zone in on the writing. I think I had the advantage of having spent years working in noisy newsrooms.
Filing an article to deadline in a room full of 24-hour TV news and fascinating conversations forces you to zone out background noise quicker than a zen master.
Having a decent support system – things like family, friends, childcare - is the real gamechanger when it comes to writing with children, but not everyone is lucky enough to have all of those. It’s no coincidence that I started writing in earnest when my youngest child became eligible for the government-funded childcare programme and went to Montessori, leaving me with three luxurious hours to myself every day.
Initially, I made the mistake of spending those hours in a frenzy of house cleaning, doing the laundry, and prepping lunches and dinners for the children. But I quickly learned that these things could be done in the presence of children – mopping a floor can tolerate 50 interruptions from a child, but writing a novel cannot.
So I rearranged my days, ruthlessly relegating anything that could be done with children around and saving the quiet time for writing.
Those Montessori hours and pockets of
‘nothing’ time in the car eventually added up to my debut novel, Breaking Point. So, despite all the dire warnings to the contrary, it turns out that it is possible to be a writer and a parent too… It’s just not possible to be a writer and a parent and a domestic goddess too. But I’ve made my peace with that one.
Breaking Point by Edel Coffey is published by Sphere Books and available now