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Friday, August 06, 2010

Guest Blog ~ Erin Brown Conroy ~ Writing in the Middle of the Night and Other Helpful Hints in Dealing with Families

Writing in the Middle of the Night and Other Helpful Hints When Dealing with Families

Most of us have to admit: The most unique dynamics of being a writer have to do with our relationship to time, tasks, and our families.

I think we all know the reality:
No matter what you do...
Some people will get it...some won't.
Some family will get it...and some won't.

So let's get practical:
How do we find the needed time to write?
How do we keep the house clean?
And how do we help our families understand that when we're sitting at the computer, we're not simply posting on Facebook?

We can make it w

Here's what I've found both helpful--and crucial--to my health and sanity:

For finding time to write...

1. Have a routine. Kids "get" routine. Husbands (and wives) appreciate a routine. If every Tuesday night at 7-10 PM is my night to go to Starbucks and write, we all know what to expect...and when expectations are in line, our feelings like it.

2. Ask the spouse what would work for them, for your writing time. The buy-in is always
good. Their suggestions may not be your first pick, but you may be surprised at how easy it is to get to (and keep) the writing time--when the spouse made the suggestion.

3. Do as much "pre-work" as possible in the in-between times, before you write. For me, that means keep a notebook/paper/pen handy when ideas pop up--and write them down--fast! (before they fly away) Then, when it's time to write, you have a head start.

4. Get up before everyone. I know this takes discipline...but it will be the quietest time of the day (and for me, the most productive). Oh--and make sure that, before you fall asleep
, read whatever you're working on that needs new ideas. It's a scientific fact that your brain works on problems while it's sleeping, and new solutions come faster in the morning. (A number of studies have actually been done on this...pretty cool.)

For finding good attitudes within the family...

1. Make screen time screen time--and family time family time. Don't try to mix them. Kids will ALWAYS interrupt. (Spouses probably will, too :-) That's why I write, a) in the morning, before anyone is awake, and 2) at Starbucks. The staff there joke that they're going to put up a shelf by the corner seat for me.

2. If you h
ave to be home--and you're in one room, and the family is in another--then, for kids, do two things: a) set a timer, and make a game out of telling them you have a secret you're going to share...but only if they wait quietly until the timer goes off...and b) make a rewards-based stretch-the-time-longer plan. Kids love challenge-based rewards. If you have toddlers, skip won't work. The kids' cognitive functioning (and emotional postpone-ability) isn't there yet :-)

3. Communicate. My spouse thinks that tip-toeing into the bedroom to get something won't disturb me. It does. (It takes me right out of the zone like a Star Trek phaser zap.) I have to tell him exactly what helps and what bothers me. Sometimes he remembers. Sometimes he forgets. Then I smile and go to Starbucks next time. :-)

For finding time for housework...

1. Enlist the kids. If they're old enough, give them daily tasks that always need to be done, like vacuuming, doing dishes, making beds. Each of my younger kids (ages 9, 10, 11, 12) has a "first light" job to do in the morning; they split up the jobs I just listed. THEN they eat breakfast. Okay, some of you might thing that's too much in the morning...but you'd be surprised at how the kids learn routine, get right to it, and are proud of their work. The old early-to-rise farm ethic is a good thing--something that I believe will serve them well in their lives. And, as measured by my adult kids, it IS good.

2. Have the "2-load rule" for laundry. Run two loads a day (minimum): One first thing, one later. Time savers: fold the laundry as it comes out of the machine (none of this put-it-in-a-basket-to-fold-later stuff, because we end up with three basketfuls of unfolded laundry sitting next to us on the couch); also, pin your pairs of socks together
(with those big safety pins that have no bottom loop). When they come out of the dryer, there's no sorting. When you wear the socks, take the pin out, put it on the dresser, and at the end of the day, pin them back together before tossing into the basket. This trick can save you hours of time and frustration.

3. Have kids start doing their own laundry at age 12 or 13. They can. It's nice.

4. Use one drinking cup per child, per day. They use it, rinse it out, stick it on the counter f
or later. Multiple cup-using can turn into crazy-dishes.

5. Have a mini
mum that you want to accomplish, then stop there. House out of control is frustrating for everyone. House beautiful exists only in magazines. House lived in is a good thing. Find a happy medium and adjust expectations. Again, real expectations feel good.

6. This should be first: Pray for wisdom. God always gives it, "to all who ask." I believe I simply can't pray enough for this one.



My attitude is what makes it work or not work.

I have the attitude that we can work it out. Maybe we just haven't found the right answer yet. But it's there.

Oh--and I know we can talk about all the technical stuff like outlining, but it's the positive attitude and little tricks--stuck onto the time management guru wisdom--that works for me.

I hope some of these ideas work for you, too.

PS. And yes, I do wake up at 2 AM with ideas sometimes and write. Thank goodness it's only once in a while...

Erin Brown Conroy
, MA, a mom of 13 children by birth, marriage, and adoption, is the author of four nonfiction books, three kids’ chapter books, college and AP writing courses, a moms’ health program, and a complete learn-to-read program for kids ages 4-15 . Erin teaches DL writing courses for Patrick Henry College; previously, Erin taught writing, research, and leadership for eight years on-the-ground with Cornerstone University. Erin has been a private mentor for high school and college students in nonfiction and fiction writing for many years and speaks nationally regarding writing, parenting, and homeschooling. Erin and her husband, Shawn, live in Michigan and homeschool five kids still at home. Erin continues to sneak away to write fantasy and contemporary light romance—and rumor has it, the staff at Starbucks is contemplating putting up a corner shelf just for her.


  1. This is a wonderful post. It clearly sets a plan for writing and puts all other chores and responsibilities in it's place and easy to handle.
    I am an early riser and enjoy that quiet time at 4:30am when the coffee is hot and the ideas are leaping from my dreams of the night.
    At 9:30 or 10:00pm, I have difficulty reading anything before my eyes close for the night. But, I am going to try and discipline myself to do that, even if just for 5 minutes to start and we'll see if I can increase the minutes over time.
    Thank you so much for posting this Kelly. Erin, really has it together. :-)

  2. Inspiring! If you can do it, I can. :-) Thanks for the lift.


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