If you have little kids, time might be one of the top three things on your Christmas list (along with sleep and more caffeine). And, if you’re a writer, finding time to pour into your own projects might feel elusive even on the best of days.

Three principles of finding time

As a mom of two little boys, I’ve found a rhythm that works for me, which I’ll describe in detail below. I am certain the particulars of my routine will change with my kids, but there are three principles that underlie my routine: intentionality, flexibility, and realism.

Up first: intentionality. If you have kids, you know you no longer have the luxury of writing when the mood strikes. You have to make time to write, or it will get left in a pile with everything else you’ve given up since you had kids (like peeing alone).

Once you set the intention to write, you need to be flexible about when it might happen. Kids change. They throw tantrums. They stop napping. Your writing time might get pushed around with their changing needs. It used to upset me when my plan got thrown out the window. But once I started thinking in terms of flexibility, I knew I could find the time. No nap today? OK, bedtime is 30 minutes earlier. If you have a Plan B (and C), you’ll find time to write most days.

Linked with flexibility is the idea of realism. Before kids, you might’ve written two hours a day. Recognize that you might need smaller goals at this moment in your life. When I was establishing a writing routine, I set my goal really low: 10 words a day. Basically, I just wanted to start writing everyday. Now, I set the timer for 30 minutes every afternoon and (usually) stop when it goes off. This also allows me to have some down time in addition to my writing time and to keep momentum going, rather than wearing myself out. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Three types of writing time

As I’ve progressed in my writing life, I’ve noticed I need three types of writing time.

The first is the deep concentration, which is what most people think of when they think of writing time. This is the most important type of time because it’s when you actually work on your work-in-progress. For me, right now, this is 30 minutes at the start of nap. If the kid doesn’t want to take a nap, he can have quiet time in his room, but those 30 minutes are sacred.

Second is daydreaming time. I’ve always been a daydreamer, and ideas for my work-in-progress often percolate while I’m engaged in something else. Most mornings, I take my kids to a park or a museum or a library. While they play, I can watch them while also writing/plotting in my head. This means that when naptime hits and I set my timer, I often have words aching to pour out on the page.

Third, there is housekeeping. This is the busy work of writing–tweaking my website, interacting with other writers on social media, researching resources to read later, etc. These are tasks that enhance my writing life, but don’t require deep concentration. I often do these while my kids are eating lunch or snack. They’re occupied, and I can pull out my laptop at the table while they’re munching.

Celebrate your progress

My routine may not work for you. It may not even work for me six months from now. Writing with kids is, at best, a topsy-turvy pursuit. Some days, you won’t write. Some weeks, you’ll be stuck.

Celebrate that you do it at all–that you find time for yourself and your creativity. For me, investing in my creativity allows me to bring energy to my parenting and just plain makes me happy. And, making your own happiness is always something to celebrate.

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