So, it’s summer. Strawberries. Kayaks. Kids in my office.
Ok, my office is a corner of the bedroom. Or the kitchen table. Or the living room couch. And school’s out.
So if you work from home and you’re in that phase of life where you’re writing and raising kids at the same time, here are a few ideas about how to share the summer so that both the writer and the kids are happy.
Make a sign for your door.
The sign that goes up on my bedroom door during the summer says, “Unless you have already called 911, do not knock on this door. I’m writing.” I know, I know. It sounds a little harsh. But my at-home kids are 14 and 11. They are perfectly capable people. And the sign was made one afternoon when they had knocked on the door to ask “Do we only have creamy peanut butter?” “Can Vi come over tomorrow?” “Do you know where the toenail clippers are?” and seventeen other things that could have waited until after work time.
The point is to set work times and kid times and then honor them. Talk to your kids about what time you need. Ask them to honor that time. But then honor their time too. During the summer, I only work two hours a day. It’s a lot less time than I usually write. But it’s enough time to keep my brain working. It’s summer and I know that in September, I’ll hit it hard again. And once I walk out of that room and take down my sign, I’m home from work and can do kid stuff without thinking about the writing because I know tomorrow at 2:00, I’ll have two hours where no one will interrupt me at all.
You know that cute middle school kid on your block? Maybe they need a summer job.
When my kids were younger, just hanging a sign on the door would not have worked at all. But there were certain fun kids who lived in our neighborhood who really wanted to earn some spending money but weren’t quite old enough for a job. And they were still young enough to enjoy playing. So I’d hire them to come play wild games of soccer for two hours with my boys. I’d get writing time. They’d get money from me and total adoration—hero status, really—from my boys. And it was the best time of the day for my boys.
Create an artificial media shortage.
I’m not sure I’m proud of this technique but I used it for two summers and it works amazingly well. Simply cut off all access to media except during the two hours you’re planning to write. My kids did all sorts of other things because media wasn’t the easy default. And at 2:00 in the afternoon, every device in the house flickered on and an eerie silence descended as the little brains went in for their fix. And I went into my room and wrote like a maniac for two hours.
Teach yourself to work where you are.
You’ve got to drive a kid to soccer/science/art/drama camp and then you’ve got to drive home and snatch some work time. But then you’ve got to drive back. You just lost a lot of time back and forthing in the car. What if you just dropped the kid off and plunked yourself under a tree with a notebook or a laptop?
Enjoy your kids.
You only get so many summers. And as Elaine reminded us last week, it’s all about balance and having those “real-life, non-writing adventures” feeds the writing too. (You can read that post here.) So go climb to that waterfall that you have to let yourself down to with a rope someone tied to a tree. Let ten fourteen year olds invade your house and don’t stop the waterfight that develops. Wake a kid up early and go watch the sunrise from a kayak. Everything goes into the well and we draw it back out and transform it. Maybe it’s time to spend some time filling up the well.
Mylisa Larsen has been telling stories for a long time. This has caused her to get gimlet-eyed looks from her parents, her siblings and, later, her own children when they felt that certain stories had been embellished beyond acceptable limits. She now writes children’s books where her talents for hyperbole are actually rewarded.
She is the author of the picture books, Instructions for Bedtime (Katherine Tegen Books) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking.)
You can visit her online at http://mylisalarsen.com