FAQ: How do you have energy to write with infant twins?
Posted on December 2, 2014
At first I thought they were asking out of politeness, like the way people who don’t like babies will still politely ask a pregnant woman if it’s a boy or a girl to make conversation. Then I thought they wanted to know about my makeup routine, because I can look seriously awake if I employ my highlighting well. Then other mothers cornered me and asked in earnest. After false starts explaining that I had finally started to overcome my lifelong anemia, I heard the question as sincere.
How do you have so much energy while the kids are little?
Once it hit me that people really wanted to know, I laughed. Had I been giving off the impression that I have lots of energy? These women thought I wasn’t tired! And that was what let me finally hear what they were asking.
Not only do I struggle with iron deficiency anemia almost always but especially in pregnancy, but I haven’t gotten quite enough sleep in ever. Whether it was my pre-motherhood habit of keeping vigils or night owlishness, or my motherly on call hours, my sleep has been interrupted pretty much my entire life. Even as a child, I woke up for about an hour in the middle of the night, just to think. Then I would go back to sleep quietly and be very annoyed at having to wake up before 8:30 or 9 the next day. But I’m used to this pattern, and as I said, my anemia has been much less this pregnancy. I’m feeling really well. My husband gives me early morning naps between 7 and 8:30 or so, which makes me feel well rested.
So, first of all, if you are a mom who’s really, really tired, my advice is two-fold: See your physician and check for anemia, and find a way to get some type of nap sometime, even once a week.
But that’s not the impetus behind the question. What you really want to know is, how do I write even though I’m tired? Because with two small children, two infants, and a new baby on the way, I will be tired for the foreseeable future. Even with short-term help from friends or trusted babysitters or family, which always helps immensely, the exhaustion is real and can be unrelenting for short spaces. My dear husband is incredibly awesome with our kids and perfectly willing to solo the evening (pre-bedtime) routine sometimes when I’m on a deadline, but it’s not like I’m trading out family time for luxury spa massage naps while I’m writing. Which brings me to the heart of the question:
How do you deal with tiredness?
I’ll answer first from a musician’s standpoint. From time to time I commit to a concert. That means I have to have my music learned and memorized and in my muscle memory before X date. Leading up to a concert, I may be mind numbingly exhausted. But my exhaustion has no effect on the concert date or the need for me to show up prepared. If I’m lying in bed, moaning about being tired and it’s 11pm and the babies will need to be fed in an hour, I get myself out of bed and march down to the basement and practice my music anyway. Why? Because it must be done. I can be tired and mopey or tired and practicing.
With writing, it’s the same. I don’t write when I’m “in the mood” to write. If I am going to write a book, I write the outline and plot arc and get an idea of the length. Then I set an appropriate goal for how long it will take me to write. Because I have children, I’m not disappointed if the time frame has to be adjusted a little. So, let’s say I want to write a 60k book in 6 weeks. For me, that’s very doable. I know my pace and that I can usually write for an hour and a half after the children are in bed. (Except for Doctor Who or Outlander nights, but those are off days.) I will most certainly be tired during those 6 weeks. But I will write anyway. At the end of the 6-8 weeks, I will have a real book to go along with my tiredness.
The trick to dealing with tiredness is not to let the idea of being tired dominate your choices. You can be tired and productive or just tired.
When I choose to be productive even though I’m tired, guess what? The soul-building activities of writing or musical performance energize me.
Now, mind you, I’m still a total dingbat at certain stages of book writing. But I’ve learned that about myself. Rather than losing touch with the world around me to the extent that my kids have to ask me four times for their PB&J already, I set aside thirty minutes to prepare lunches and ten minutes for snacks and make sure they are done, even if the children aren’t ready for them. The zipper plastic baggie is your friend, oh creative types! Use it well. Same with sippy cup refills. If I’m writing a novel, I’ll get a bit of dialog in my head and stare out the window. So I make sure to fill a few cups with ice water and a few with milk for the littles to self serve from the fridge if Mom is ditzy that day. I *try* not to be ditzy when in book mode, but if you’ve seen me on a deadline, you know I fail. I literally say things backwards sometimes when there are too many words in my head. My last piece of advice on this subject is one that I think we can too easily overlook:
Prepare for the people around you so they can go with you on the creative journey.
No matter how much I may want to finish a chapter, my family has to come first. That includes my husband. He gets a date night even in the middle of writing sprees. My house is never in what you might call a pristine condition, and it can get a little shabby when I’m busy. But I do the best I can not to call in the important stuff – eye level talks with the older kids, reading books and playing hand games with the littles, cuddles for all, naptime snuggles for the babies. I also take a few weeks off between projects so my family can hear me complete whole sentences.
That’s my take. How about you? What helps you function when you’re tired?