Writing Life After Novels: What do you do next?

I’ve recently finished (for now anyway!) my novel about an usual exhibit in a 1980s town The Exhibit of Held Breaths and while I’ve got an extremely rough draft of another novel waiting not-so-patiently in the wings and a flash fiction novella that thinks I’m never coming back, I’m unsure what to get cracking on next. The sensible option after the all encompassing nature of the novel would be possibly to finish some short fiction (abandoned inchoate orphans) but the larger works seem shinier. We’ve used the marathon analogy before for novel writing but some people train and train and then do one marathon after another. Others never go back.

What I want to know, for regular and more established writers, what do you do? Does it depend? Do you usually have a week or two off altogether, do you write short pieces, move to non-fic or do you get up the next morning and dive right in to the next novel? What writing comes straight after you’ve finished your novel?

Help for anxious and challenged teenagers and their parents in new Nicola Morgan book

This blog is mindful of the challenges that writing parents face in their ‘normal’ lives outside of their creative pursuits and one of the fantastic resources I have come across in recent times is acclaimed YA author’s Nicola Morgan’s latest publication The Teenage Guide to Stress. This is a book written for the teenager but with parents in mind and is a companion volume to the critically acclaimed Blame my Brain. Nicola Morgan is not a psychologist but is an author with an affinity for the mindset of the teenager/young adult who has done research on the psychological and brain physiology of this age group whose brains are altering at a faster rate than any time since they were toddlers. You can read my article for writing.ie all about The Teenage Guide to Stress here. Nicola has written various other no-nonsense guides for writers such as Write A Great Synopsis, Dear Agent and Tweet Write and I highly recommend her sincere and pragmatic approach.

#fridayflash CODES

#fridayflash is a community on Twitter, Facebook and here. The idea is that you post a short fiction up to 1000 words each or any week on your blog and you link to it using the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter as well as adding the link to the collector. Everyone who posts tries to read as many of each others’ stories as possible and post some constructive feedback. For general readers it’s a great way to discover brand new fiction and authors.

I’ve posted elsewhere about how flash fiction and fridayflash in particular has changed my writing life. It provides a regular deadline, allows you to get feedback on your work and to try new genres and formats as well as making you hone your writing for smaller wordcounts. You can even set yourself challenges for tiny wordcounts while still telling a great story.

The flash fiction I’m posting today is the result in many ways of my whole #fridayflash expenence. I’ve been working on a novel for a while so haven’t posted here. However, #fridayflash had led to me accumulating a body of work of interrelated flash fictions features a core set of characters and locations, life through a prism with stories told from different angles and with crossovers. I’m now working on consolidating what will be a flash fiction novella, called Unusual Flashes Of Light. (Some of my characters   believe they’ve seen UFOS). I’m delighted to be back posting #fridayflash. I’ve had such fun and success with the form that I’ll be shortly running a flash fiction workshop as part of my Head Above Water courses in Bray so keep an eye on the listings. After that ramble, here’s today’s story. (For related stories see Lethargy and The Solid Table Fallacy.)

Killiney Bay

Killiney Bay


Morrison Pentworthy had a motor car, an Aston Martin DB4 convertible that belonged to his Dad. They drove to Killiney with the top down. Sandra and Karen sat in the back.
‘What does DB stand for?’ Sandra wanted to know.
“David Brown,” Morrison shouted back against the wind.
‘Oh,’ replied Sandra and Karen together.

Morrison stopped at the garage for some mints.
‘If we drove away now we could be Thelma and Louise,’ said Karen.
Sandra laughed. They watched Morrison moving about in the shop, he seemed a bit lost between crisps and cold drinks. They looked at him, willing him on, wishing him the best.

Down the coast road, barely clinging on, Sandra wriggled herself forward to shout in Morrison’s ear.
‘I thought your Dad was into Doors.’
‘He’s into cars as well.’
Morrison chucked something small and hard into their laps. It wasn’t mints. It was a packet of Love Hearts with inscribed messages of endearment. Be mine, I love you, lucky star, love bug.
‘What does your one say Morrison?’
‘Find me,’ he said, then crushed it between his teeth.
‘Smile’ read Sandra and held Karen’s hand.

Morrison pressed a button on the dashboard and they heard rain.
‘Can he do that?’ said Karen looking into the lately summer sky.
‘It’s Riders on the Storm’ Sandra said, tightening the scarf round her head.

Over the beach the grouchy cumulus hung. Karen admired Sandra’s newly painted toes. Morrison was scribbling. The water did that to him.
Some men ran down the beach, feet pounding, sand exploding between their toes
‘It’s like Chariots of Fire,’ remarked Sandra.
Except for the dog,’ Karen suggested, watching a yappy terrier having a go at their heels.
‘There should be horses…’ Sandra mused. She thought of how they would kick up the sand with their hooves and make the air seem fast around them. The riders would lift up from their seats and have their hair flying back and it would make anything seem possible.

Far away a woman and her two children were playing at the water’s edge. The children had a bucket, the woman had rolled up her skirt and was writing something in the wet sand as the sea rolled towards them. Morrison was taken by the scene, as if it stood for something. The woman and the girls, there was something familiar. Yes, he could hardly believe…She was here. Emily, Emily, Emily, wuthering, could not stop for death.

He heard a rustling, behind him, turned from the scene, found Karen and Sandra reading his notebooks.

0110010100100000011110010110111101110101” Sandra read out, very precisely.
Morrison put out his hand, digits starfish spread, his face all tenderness and fury.

Sandra threaded her fingers through the spaces of his. ‘Sorry,’
‘We just wanted to have a gander,’ added Karen.
Sandra kept on holding his hand, keeping the drowning man above water. ‘What are these?’
‘Codes,’ he said. ‘That one’s binary and that ones Morse.’ He pointed to another.

.. .-.. — …- . -.– — ..-

‘What do they mean?’
‘I can’t tell you that or I would have to kill you…’ Morrison turned back to the water. He was wearing Karen’s big dark sunglasses. His hair was blown back at the front like a New Romantic. His toes made holes in the sand.
‘I love you.’ said Sandra and Karen looked up. ‘I love you, That’s what the codes mean. I studied science in college.”
‘Surprising,’ Karen said, her eyes on Sandra.

Morrison didn’t hear. He was looking at the seashore with sunglasses. The youngest child had the mother’s face between her hands. She kissed her on the lips. ‘I love you mummy,’ the child was saying. That’s what the child must be saying, down at the shore, holding her mother’s face so precious.

Later Morrison bought 99s for Karen and Sandra from the ice-cream van. He was walking away from the ice-cream van when he stopped and went back for sprinkles and syrup, Karen and Sandra were sprinkles and syrup kind of people. They knew that Morrison was no longer mad at them for reading his notebooks.
After the ice-creams they lay down and looked at the deep blue of the sky.
‘Do you think this will go on forever?’ Karen asked, roasting her toes in the sun.
‘Probably,’ said Sandra from behind dark glasses, big ones like the celebrities wore.

The two children and their mother were coming closer, the smallest girl was running up the beach with a spade in her hand. She seemed very determined. It was the way her shoulders moved, the way her small legs carried her without hesitation.
“Isn’t that the woman from the bus,” remarked Sandra and they all sat up.
Morrison didn’t say anything, he stood and brushed the sand from his rolled up trousers.

The little girl flew past them up the slipway, her feet were dark with mud, her spade raised for action. The woman was rushing, holding too many bags, the handle of one fell down and the older girl rushed forward to hold it. They hurried by, each holding a handle of the bag. Morrison stood like an anatomical exhibit demonstrating forward motion. A few metres away the family disappeared up the slipway into the car park.

Sandra lay back down, adjusting her glasses. “I thought you were going to do something there for a minute, Morrison..”
“Ouch,” said Karen, wriggling on her beach towel, she reached under her, and revealed a rogue Love Heart.
Dream On she read out and then crunched it between her even white teeth.
Morrison sat back down. He kept looking in the direction of the shore but now the sun was in his eyes and he could no longer see.

When you’re not writing, keep the faith & Head above Water class preview

If you’re a writing parent like me, the summer holidays can make writing progression at best interesting and at worst a write-off literally. Preparations for back to school for (in my case) four children at three different schools is mind boggling, expensive and a complete time suck. I’ve also decided to use the holiday time to finally tackle ten years worth of papers, toys and those tiny bits and pieces in boxes and drawers, so I’ve done little writing and am fit to spend a bit of time in some padded cell or other, with no clutter whatsoever.

Organising my writing stuff

In addition to some DIY (look at our beautiful new BOOKSHELVES) I’ve also arranged box files with old drafts and am filing research for future projects and general stuff I find interesting.

This all takes a MASSIVE amount of time but I’m hoping it will make me much more effective when it comes to getting stuck in to projects in the future. No more “where are those edits?” or “Which draft is this?” or “where’s that vital piece of paper.” NO MORE EXCUSES to get up off the chair again. (Here’s hoping.)

Like many things when you start getting interesting in something it can become an obsession, so as well as organising my own files I’m sorting out files for the kid’s work and have just sellotaped my youngest’s name (Age 6.5, he starts a new school tomorrow) to each one of his ‘Twistables.’ Something must save me from this madness and something will, that something is…


Those who’ve been with me from the start of this blog in 2009 will know that oh my goodness the kids were tiny then. 2, 5, 7, and 9. This year my youngest will finally move to a later school ending slot at 2.20, so I’ll have a great span of time to push on with writing (while pretending the housework doesn’t exist.)

Keeping the Faith

This is what I promised in the title. How do you keep the faith if due to school holidays, general holidays, life challenges, illness etc you haven’ written in a while. Here’s some suggestions.

1: Like me, do something related to your writing work like organising your manuscripts, creating a writing area, put up so me shelves, gather your writing books
2: Read writing books such as On Writing by Stephen King, Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and so on. You’ll feel at home with the people who, like you, love writing and can’t -in the long term – not write. You’ll know you belong in the writing world.
3: Read in general and recall the joy of novels and stories that brought you to write in the first place.
4: Read over some of your own work, recall your successes however small, remind yourself that even orientation towards making yourself a better writer or embarking on a project is a big step that you should commend yourself for. You are thinking ‘writing’ and you will get back to it. Thinking space is thoroughly important for the process of incubation. If you haven’t managed to write for a while, you’ve still been working in your head and gathering ideas (jot them down!)
5: Take in everything you see, places you visit, know that this will all find it’s way into your books in the future.

September, begin again, Head above Water courses

September is one of those begin again months, academically at least. For some writing parents it’s an opportunity to reappraise and set a writing schedule.

This Autumn I aim to run my Creative Practice and Short Stories course again locally in Bray, Co. Wicklow. This course is specifically designed to generate verve and ideas and help writers within busy lives, see out and find ways to start writing. The course also covers the essentials of short story and flash fiction writing.

New courses are planned in Short Stories and also in Flash Fiction (These will be for beginners and improvers and will cover the key elements for writing successful Short Stories and Flash Fiction with a chance to workshop an existing story and also do some new writing.

An interesting and exciting new course I’m adding is called What I Felt, this will combine the creative pursuits of writing and feltmaking, while also covering the role of autobiography in writing and looking at journalling, morning pages, how to incorporate (or not) live experiences in fiction and so on. This will be a fun and restorative class that I think people will thoroughly enjoy.

All classes take place on Sunday mornings until about lunchtime the Short Stories Course and possibly Flash Fiction may operate over two morning on consecutive weeks. I find this time suits in particular parents and those will weekend commitments while still allowing people to take time out for themselves.

More details including dates etc will be available soon. If you’d like to hear more email me at alison@brierwell.com

There’ll be more posts here to give you a kickstart (or a kick) for creativity in September and get you back into the swing of things. Have you had a break and how has the summer season been for you writing wise?

Head above Water holidays

RialtoHead above Water has had it’s head literally above water on holidays near Venice, a beautiful, surreal, inspiring centre of wonderful renaissance architecture and art. The holiday spirit still lingers, particularly with the school holidays still in full flow, it’s difficult to eek out extended periods of writing or creative time so I look forward to September to really get back into the flow of it all.

Book bounty

In the holidays of course I used the time to revel in reading – more on the specifics later but I really enjoyed Nuala Ni Chonchuirs/Nuala O’ Connor’s The Closet of Savage Mementoes, vivid, touching, engaging and although drawn from real experiences able to spin a universal, beautifully drawn and accessible tale about the different kinds of loving in life, about forgiveness and imperfection. I also had the good fortune to have been completely bound up in A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, a massive but enthralling and fascinating tome set between the 19th and 20th centuries. What a wealth of knowledge and social history covering the potteries, the economic and political situations, artwork and art movements set alongside the very real and personal unfolding story of several families and in particular that of a children’s writer and her many children and their trajectories. Questions of upbringing, relationships with different children, the place and ambition of women, all this is covered in this breathtaking novel. Now I’ve begun Matt Haig’s heartwarming and comic The Humans and it looks like I’m in for another treat.

A wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed recently is Laura Wilkinson’s Public Battles, Private Wars. There’s a chance to grab it for FREE on Kindle (I believe offer ends today July 31, so quick!) I really recommend this and you can hear Laura say more about it here.

On of my favourite bloggers is Karen Rivers whose lovely first book The Tree Tattoo was a great read, again, very insightful, poetic and engaging (she writes mainly now for the Young Adult market.) For me, her blog with her beautiful observations of life always hits the mark like no other. Here is her latest riff on Travel and Reading and the tricky eeking out of writing, putting down those elusive phrases and hoping for the rest.

Irish Blog Awards Longlist for Head Above Water

Speaking of blogging I’m happy to say that Head above Water is longlisted in the Irish Blog Awards along with many deserving writing and creative pals. This blog which aims to support and encourage busy people, and probably in particular writing parents, towards creativity in busy lives has been in existence for just over five years. I hope many of my posts, creative months and links have inspired others and helped you feel not alone in your writing endeavours. Blog judges will create a short list in the next few weeks and this will be put to public vote. I hope, in any case, to keep this blog as a venue for creative people who struggle with creating the head space or physical space in their lives to produce creative work. But it’s not just about struggle, it’s about the joy of doing something authentic in the span of our lives.Venicewkids

I hope you are refilling the well over the summer, whether through the better weather, a change of routine or location. For many, freed of job commitments over the summer, this may be a particularly productive time and may the force be with you! (They are filming Star Wars near my beautiful childhood home right now!

Spontanaity.org: poetry, prose, music & visual art creative chain reactions

Head above Water has a fascination with the conditions of creativity and an enthusiasm for the idea that you can make creative sparks by combining ideas from a variety of sources. When I discovered the online magazine Spontaneity.org it encapsulated perfectly that cross pollination – an artwork in one creative sphere literally leads to another through a series of site links and people use existing pieces as the inspiration for further work. Today I’m delighted to have Ruth McKee, founder of Spontaneity.org guest posting to tell us all about the site and suggest some gorgeous and highly evocative artistic works from the site as the starting point for your next creative endeavour. Over to Ruth. 


New experiences, not just creative ones, but any kind — travel, music, a love affair – open us up to different ways of expressing ourselves, give us new things to say and novel ways to say them. Spontaneity is a magazine which offers new experiences in words and pictures in the hope of sparking an idea, making a connection. It’s a creative chain reaction between poetry, prose, music and visual art of all descriptions.

I’m a writer, but I also play musical instruments, enjoy painting and love design – so I wanted to start a magazine that welcomed all kinds of creative people, from the newcomer to the established artist, that didn’t have boundaries of what was acceptable and that was an interactive place. This is how Spontaneity came about in the autumn of 2013, and already it’s a thriving community.

The concept of the magazine is simple: respond to any piece, from any issue of Spontaneity to be considered for the next. So, if you’re drawn to a particular photograph, story, or poem, respond in whatever form your creativity takes – and that can be anything. Recently we had a music video (http://spontaneity.org/issue03/note-weeper/) which responded musically and visually to a previous contribution – we love this sort of thing! We’ve had street photography, portraits, oil paintings, pen and ink sketches and acrylics. We’ve featured everything from the lyrical poetic series to short modern verse, poetry in French, Irish and in translation — and all kinds of prose, from the traditional short story, to the super-modern.

Here are two arresting images from our current issue to get you buzzing – a painting by Kate Powell “I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers” and a photograph, “Abandoned Cottage” by Ian Murphy. So why not see what ideas strike you and get submitting? For more details about these images and for some creative inspiration, see spontaneity.org and check out our submission guidelines http://spontaneity.org/submit/

I tried to draw my soul

“I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers” by Kate Powell http://spontaneity.org/issue03/ad-lib/

Abandoned cottage

“Abandoned cottage” by Ian Murphy http://spontaneity.org/issue02/an-apple-a-knife/

Creative Practice & Short Story Essentials Writing Workshop

alisons writers course posterAs a psychology and communications graduate and over the course of several years writing this blog I’ve developed a great interest in the techniques and psychology of motivation and creativity. As a mother of four I have personal experience of juggling a busy life with creative endeavour. I’ve had many stories published in literary journals and anthologies in Ireland (Crannóg, The Stinging Fly, New Planet Cabaret etc) and abroad (Two National Flash Fiction anthologies in UK, Deck the Halls and Eighty Nine in Australia, Literary Orphans in Chicago, and online Metazen, The View From Here etc). I’ve also been nominated for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Prize, Bridport and Fish prizes and many more shortlists. ) I’m running a morning course on June 8th in Bray, Co Wicklow to encourage and support new and newish writers on their creative practice and develop the basic techniques to write great short stories.

I’d be very grateful if you could share the details of the course with anyone you think who might enjoy it. I want the focus to be enthusiasm and developing abilities.

Creative Practice and Short Story Essentials Workshop June 8th

St Peter’s Hall, Bray, Co. Wicklow (Dublin Road, coming into Bray, turn right at the Coach Inn.)

Date, Duration, Price

June 8th 10am -1pm, 30euro

Course outline

Creativity: Tips on finding the space, time and energy to write: Aims & deadlines, motivation, writing places, marking progress and calling yourself a writer, gathering material and down time. Idea generation.
Short story essentials: Very short stories/flash fiction, longer short stories, plot, character, journey, showing, telling and dialogue. You will get a good idea of what makes a good short story, how to begin and develop a story, the importance of character, revision etc.
Practical writing exercises

You will also receive handouts on creative exercises and short story resources.



To book or for more info: Email alison@brierwell.com downatthegate@gmail.com or headabovewater@brierwell.com


(In conjunction with Down at the Gate Craft and Creativity Classes or see Head Above Water on Facebook)


Make them feel it – let the body talk in your writing

A quick one today as I’m trying to train myself into sticking (roughly) to a schedule in order to progress work on a couple of projects at a time (more on motivation soon!)  On one of my projects I’m trying to inject life and tension into a novel that’s already in pretty good shape but needs to grab us by the vitals more.  I recently found a terrific post by Angie Capozello on the Friday Flash site that talks about how she puts body language to use in spicing up her work.

Rouse the reader

She talks about getting up close and personal, but the only seduction is that of the reader. Our characters glare, frown and grin she says but what is the body doing, if they brush against someone, pick up and object, look at their watch there is a direct physical react, and, says Angie, OUR bodies react to these descriptions too.

Get real

She also makes an important point of looking at our use of the word ‘Like’ . If we say something is ‘like’ we are making an intellectual comparison with an object, not eliciting a visceral response. She also talks about our physical reaction to the description of textures. Think of sharp glass, pine needles, pebbledash walls – these evoke a response.

Let your characters react

Angie gives a great example of a piece of dialogue where one protagonist describes how he feels about someones eyes. Our characters don’t just observe, they also have physical responses. Dialogue can be set on fire by characters talking about their own sensations.

Read the great article here in full and let me know the tricks you use to try to make your work visceral and vivid.

Public Battles, Private Wars – Writing, Motherhood & Laura Wilkinson’s new novel

public battles draftFollowing on from yesterday’s consideration of the challenges of a parent-writer, today we have a guest post from Laura Wilkinson who’s new novel Public Battles, Private Wars about a family, and particularly the women involved at the time of the 1980s miners strike in Britain is just out. With great depth of character and dealing with the pressing issues of that difficult era as well as universal themes, this is a engaging and moving page-turner. I originally interviewed Laura for my mother writer series. Over to Laura.


Out celebrating a friend’s wedding anniversary last night, I was asked by another guest how I manage to find time to write, with two children and a part-time job jostling for my attention. ‘My house is very dirty,’ I replied, only half-joking. It’s a question I get asked a lot and one many mother-writers hear.

I am lucky. Both my boys are pretty self-sufficient; they’re resourceful and good at entertaining themselves for chunks of time. And at fifteen and ten it is considerably easier now than it was a few years back. As I write this, my youngest son is playing outside with a friend and my eldest son is reading book one of Game of Thrones (that should keep him going for while!). All well and good, but I would be lying if I said I do not suffer from heavy bouts of guilt – more often than not when I’ve lost myself in the work and rather than being absent (not physically, you understand) for two hours, I’ve been absorbed for over three. During holiday time, we have a rule – mummy works in the morning and in the afternoon we go play. However, deadlines mean sometimes these rules have to be bent, or ignored altogether.

In an ideal world, writers need space to think, as well as write. It is the thinking time that is hardest to find. When they were very small, I grabbed whatever time I could and soon learnt to write at the dining table while they played Lego on the floor. The constant interruptions were hard for all, but they soon learnt that a raised hand meant ‘give mummy a minute’ and they waited patiently as I scribbled notes that made no sense to anyone but me. They understand that Mummy quite often drifts off into a world of her own and are old enough now to joke about it. They’re dreamy sorts themselves.

Have my children suffered as a result of this low-level neglect? I don’t think so. I sincerely hope not. Perhaps their creativity and resourcefulness is a result of it? What I am certain of, and they are too, is that writing fulfils me, and a happy, fulfilled mother is a more patient, caring and loving one.

There are many different parenting styles and we live in instructive times – there always seems to be one expert or another telling us how best to do it. But we must find ways of parenting that work for us and our children. For some that will mean other demands on their time, other than the essential habits of care-giving: food preparation, personal care (washing, cleaning clothes) and maintaining basic levels of hygiene in the home. My own rule is to keep a clean kitchen and bathroom and ignore the rest. No one died of a dusty house.

The central character in my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, is a young mother of four children. Mandy is a miner’s wife and stay-at-home mum. She flunked out of school after a personal tragedy and thinks she’s useless at everything apart from baking cakes and looking after her kids. She’s not, of course, and the novel follows the story of her rising star. Ironically, it is the upheaval and struggle of the landmark strike of 1984 that offers Mandy the opportunity to discover herself and her hitherto buried talents. But as she discovers a world outside the home, she is torn apart by guilt. This is especially poignant for Mandy because she believes that while her children are suffering during the strike, if the miners lose, their long-term life chances will be seriously hindered. What a dilemma. And there are plenty of other women in the book facing a similar problem. Most of the women I spoke with during my research for the novel were mothers – miners’ wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers.

cakes 2

Mothering and motherhood is a theme in much of my work. Hardly surprising, it’s an important part of so many women’s lives, mine included. Like many writers, much of my inspiration comes from the world about me and my own experience of it. That’s not to say my stories are autobiographical, but as a parent I am interested in the myriad pain and pleasures this role brings. How could it not slip into my fiction?

Here’s a bit more about Public Battles, Private Wars and where you can buy it.

Yorkshire 1983

Miner’s wife Mandy is stuck in a rut. Her future looks set and she wants more. But Mandy can’t do anything other than bake and raise her four children. Husband Rob is a good looking drinker, content to spend his days in the small town where they live.

When a childhood friend – beautiful, clever Ruth – and her Falklands war hero husband, Dan, return to town, their homecoming is shrouded in mystery. Mandy looks to Ruth for inspiration, but Ruth isn’t all she appears.

Conflict with the Coal Board turns into war and the men come out on strike. The community and its way of life is threatened. Mandy abandons dreams of liberation from the kitchen sink and joins a support group. As the strike rumbles on relationships are pushed to the brink, and Mandy finds out who her true friends are.

Amazon UK


Accent Press


More About Laura

Laura is a writer, reader, wife and mother to ginger boys. After hedonistic years in Manchester and London, she moved to Brighton. As well as writing fiction, she works as an editor, freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones.

Laura has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies, and three novels, with another scheduled for publication this year. Public Battles, Private Wars, (Accent Press)is the story of a young miner’s wife in 1984; of friends and rivals; loving and fighting, and being the best you can be. You can find out more about Laura and the novel, including Book Group Questions, here: http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble

The 5 greatest challenges of a Parent-Writer (and what to do)

If any of you saw my tweets over the weekend you’ll see that I was struggling to stay focused on writing with the children about. Let’s just say they weren’t in the most pleasant of moods and even though they were supposed to happily occupied playing (I gave them a huge cardboard box for goodness sake!) I could hear their intermittent gripes and let’s say animated debates. I WOULD LIKE ONE HOUR OF SILENCE I tweeted. My wish came true later when my husband organised a trip to the playground for the younger two and the older ones were with friends. Finally – a clear space to hear my own thoughts and attempt wordcount for the #30KinMay. What happened? I fell asleep! My children are a bit older now (between 6 and 13) and while it’s not so physcially hands on as when they were babies and toddlers, there are many demands, emotional support, homework, healthy dinners, being a listening ear, teaching them new skills around the house and so on. Parenting is one of those jobs that expands indefinitely into every crevice of your existence from early morn with the lark children to late at night with the anxious and insomniac teenager with nocturnal eating habits.


1: Not being able to hear your own thoughts

Literally, because of the constant jabber and interruptions. Even for mundane thought processes as to what to make for dinner or whether to do laundry before cleaning the bathroom will be cut off by a young one needing something, or needing to bend your ear about something. Older children need you to really listen so that they can feel you are taking them seriously or so you can sympathise or advice on difficulties. Younger kids are adorably surreal in their ramblings but can take 15 minutes to tell you about a game they are playing which, in the end makes no sense at all. The nodding is important to them but what about that brilliant idea you had to solve the plot dilemma in Chapter 12. Gone, like a hat in the wind.

One piece of advice Write Everything Down in a notebook, smartphone notes (with backup facility) or a magnetic fridge list. Do it before you are interrupted or develop your own hand signals to ask the kids to pause so you don’t lose that genius idea.

2: Time, interrupted

I’ve written before about my experience of going on a writing retreat – a rather disconcerting experience for someone no longer accustomed to silence. Also if you’re a parent writer you’ll hardly know what to do with the freedom, it might make you crazy – though you can spend it catching up on all the sleep you’ve missed over the years!)  On retreat my greatest revelation was ‘There’s no-one asking me for anything,’ very unusual. I came to the conclusion after the retreat that perhaps you don’t need whole swathes of time to write, to produce material – that can be done in a concentrated time period. However having a space of time, non-interrupted to consider the book as a whole, to do research, to chill and let ideas incubate, and have a rest is probably invaluable. The reality of being a parent-writer is that your time is very much curtailed and there is no luxury of being able to immerse  yourself in a project. I do find it difficult when I have got into the flow of a project though and have to break off to cook dinner or do things with the kids. The flow quite often is hard to get into and hard to get back to if broken!

One solution to the time-immersion and interruption problem is to write early or late. When possible I get up early (5am) to write and NO-ONE interrupts me. As one commentator said here recently, she keeps her laptop open at all times and writes in between the spaces. A shorter amount of time can, as explored in this blogpost by parent writer Liz Catherine Harper focus the mind (and there are lots of other tips in the article as to how the writer adjusted to being a new parent.

3: No writing place to call your own

I had a lovely writing office and then the kids grew up and I (stupidly/kindly) gave up my writing office so they no longer had to share a room. Now I most often write at the dining table surrounded by family clutter and within full view of the breakfast dishes (Open-plan – also the bane of writers). As part of a writing ritual it does help to remove yourself from your other (bottle washer) existence. I’d be interested to hear from any of you who go elsewhere, coffee shops and libraries etc to see how that works for you. On my part I’m hoping that the leaky garage roof can be fixed so that our ‘hobby room’ conversion can be truly functional (and dry) for me to hide away there with all my writing bits and bobs.

4: Exhaustion

I had a writing hour and I fell asleep! Parenting is constant , the hours are long and there are no holidays. Writing (especially a Novel) is a marathon and requires a massive amount of mental and physical energy. We have to be realistic and take time to rest and relax as well as fitting in writing into our busy lives. Of course combining writing with a full time job is equally exhausting and it’s also difficult to gain the necessary head space to write after a day at work.

5: Guilt and Family/Society Expectations

As a parent it’s difficult to carve out time for yourself and sometimes hard to know when you should take time away to write and for how long, especially if you are only beginning as a writer and do not have the social seal of approval of publication. No matter how important writing may be to you, friends and family might see it purely as a hobby or not understand how long it takes to practice the craft. You may work on a novel that might never see the light of day, so it’s hard to justify to yourself that you deserve free time. There’s no straightforward solution but if you get involved in something like #30KinMay or #Nanowrimo you can let people know that you have an aim within a specified time and you can call on them to back you in your writing challenge. Apart from that you’ll need to try to set aside times that others know are yours to write. You need to be able to say no to coffee or phone calls on specified days and let others understand that you are working.

I’m so interested to hear how others face these challenges. You might be interested in seeing how some mother-writers did in this series from 2011. Many of these busy mothers have now gone on to being published authors in Ireland, the UK and the US. Another resource I find brilliant for articles on balancing creativity and parenthood is Studio Mothers. Tomorrow on the blog I have an article from Laura Wilkinson, one of the mother writers who recently released the engaging and fascinating Public Battles, Private Wars a fictional account of ordinary families (and particularly women) and the reality of their lives at the time of the 1980s miners strike in Britain. Laura writes about juggling motherhood and writing and about identity and career for a particular mother from her new book.


While I was writing this my kids came home from school and my train of thought was interupted. Later a pot of noodles burned while I was trying to finish the post. This is the reality of writer-parenting!