May 30th, 2018

Summer Struggles for Writers

Aimie K. Runyan

Ah, summer. The season of calorie-dense cookouts, crowded swimming pools, board shorts in obnoxiously loud prints and mismatched flip-flops. Despite the need to coat myself in SPF 200 every fifteen minutes I love summer. Love it. My writing career, less so. I am very, very fortunate that I get to stay at home and write full-time. I’m living the dream. Unfortunately, in that dream it didn’t fully occur to me that when summer comes around, the word counts drop dramatically. Some of the reasons why:

Kids are home. (Obviously the biggest one.) My children aren’t just off school for the majority of the time from late May to mid-August. They want to be outside and active (huzzah!). However, this is not 1981 and I can’t let my kids roam completely unsupervised. While I have a fantastically situated office, I can’t count on them playing within view of my window. And I certainly don’t want to keep them cooped up inside when the weather is so gorgeous.

I want to be outside. Colorado winters are long, and there are generally 90 days of weather that are more or less bullet-proof (says the girl who had an indoor Memorial Day cookout due to thunderstorms) in which to get your fill of Vitamin-D heavy outdoor play. Trying to make plans with a Coloradan in the summer is almost impossible because we have hikes, pool trips, and park visits planned months in advance.

My muse prefers the rainy moors of Scotland. Picky woman. I find it much easier to eke out words while wrapped in a fleece blanket while the rain beats against the window pane. Summer is simply too *bright* to spend that much time focused on a computer screen.

In my very first post to WITS, I talked about the challenges of writing over Winter Break, and they’re similar. The advantage to Winter Break is that it’s shorter. I try to let the writing pressures go over the holidays because it’s a time for family and togetherness. And while deadlines can make this hard, it’s often possible to budget in 500 extra words a day for a few weeks to allow for a vacation. While summer is precious family time too, it’s just too long to take off entirely. Full-day summer camp, while appealing, isn’t really an option for my kids at this age, and I find a ton of value in giving kids chunks of unstructured time. So, that leaves me with full-time Mom Duty. And deadlines looming. What am I doing to survive?

Waking up early. This is painful, but it does give me a couple hours of quiet time before the sun is beating hard through my windows and calling us all out of doors. Working after the kids go to bed is another option, but I tend to be in Netflix Mode after 8PM. The reverse may be true for you.

Setting aside some downtime for the kids. Depending on the day, I set aside an hour or two where they have to come in out of the hot sun to relax with cold beverages and cartoons. They know this is Mom’s Working Time and they have to respect it. Not fool-proof, but it’s a window to at least do some social media stuff that doesn’t require the same concentration as new words.

Planned activities. For a few weeks, my kids will have half-days in summer school and/or day camps. It’s an opportunity for them to socialize with friends and learn some new skills. And you better believe my trusty laptop, noise-cancelling headphones, and I will be heading to the nearest Starbucks to get in words for the 3.5 hours they’re occupied.

A few hours with a Mother’s Helper. Full-time child care is expensive, but I’ve found that enlisting the help of a young babysitter-in-training can be an affordable way to manufacture productive time. Since I’ll be home the whole time, so long as this young sitter is responsible, it works out well. Their job is to keep the kids entertained, safe, and out of my office. Period. In the event of an emergency, I can be there in seconds, and it gives the young babysitter the chance to earn some experience for their resume. I take breaks to make lunch and check in, and for less than the cost of a full-fledged babysitter, I get some writing time.

It’s always an adjustment. What worked last summer may not hold to the next, but that tends to be true of anything related to parenting. And writing for that matter.

Tell me, parent-writers, what are you doing to make your way through the long days of summer?

About Aimie

Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She has written three historical novels, including the internationally bestselling Daughters of the Night Sky and Promised to the Crown. She is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie, please visit www.aimiekrunyan.com.

 

13 responses to “Summer Struggles for Writers”

  1. Holly Robinson says:

    Aimie, this post really hit home. I remember asking a famous male mystery novelist how he writes in the summer with kids at home. His answer? "I have a wife." Argh! Fortunately, another writer gave me a better answer: "Day care." I'm a big believer in hiring summer help so you can spend a few hours a day writing. You'll be happier and so will the kids. I also made great use of playgrounds for editing time. Love your work, by the way!

    • aimiekrunyan says:

      Thank you so much, Holly! It's changing, but slowly. While men are socialized to understand the importance of their careers and their role as providers (noble), women have been socialized to place family first (also noble). My husnabd has a demanding out--of-the-house job, so as a work-from-home Mom, I field 99% of the daytime parenting. I'm totally fine with it, because being with my kids so much is a priviledge many women don't get. The thing I've had to tell myself is that I am not a stay-at-home mom. I'm a work-from-home mom. I am totally justified in spending some money over the course of the summer to make sure my kids are entertained and that I'm not a frazzled mess by the time school starts. The more I'm able to balance work and kids in the summer, the more quality time we get during the school year!

  2. anneclermont says:

    Yes, in so many ways I look forward to the summer, to a looser schedule, and then I'm reminded how tough it is to juggle kids and writing and work! Great post Aimie!

    • aimiekrunyan says:

      Thank you, Anne! It is SO hard. Especially because my own resolve to stay disciplined wanes dramatically. But there is something magical about not packing lunches in the morning, lol!

  3. Julie Glover says:

    I have a friend who used to take her child to gymnastics, and while the other moms sat in the waiting room and chatted, she just warned people off with, "Sorry, this is my only time to work," and got busy in that one hour she had. She had to do it a few times before people realized that she was serious; she didn't want to be rude, but she could not give up that hour to conversation when deadlines were looming.

    I find that my own schedule is also off during the summer, so that I don't keep good working hours. Especially with teens, this is an issue. But I'm hoping to get my stride this year. Thanks for some great tips, Aimie!

    • aimiekrunyan says:

      I hope it works for you, Julie! It's not easy. When my daughter had dance, I tried to strike a balance. I wanted to make friends with these women for my daughter's sake, but still needed those minutes (class was only 45 minutes). We almost all had something in hand to do, so I used that time for addressing books for giveaways, social media, etc. that could be interrupted if I wanted to be social! 🙂

  4. dholcomb1 says:

    My boys are 22, 19, and 13, and they're still underfoot at the wrong times for writing. You'd think they'd be self-sufficient at those ages and could figure out what to eat for lunch. it's a crazy balance.

    denise

  5. C.M. Bakker says:

    Mine are 3 and 5, too young to fend for themselves during the 9 weeks they get in France. And unfortunately, I find it hard to justify paying for someone else to take care of them, since I'm only working on my first book. That's not paying for it yet. I'll have to make do with a few hours early in the morning and during TV time, but I've asktold my husband to take a day off every two weeks, so I won't go completely stir crazy. Every year seems to be a little easier, though!

  6. Great essay, Aimie! If we ever have children, I will certainly look back on this....

    Oh my, look at the time! *goes into Netflix mode*

  7. LauraDrake says:

    Been there, survived that. Kids are gone, I live in hell with a fan (110 yesterday), so I have nothing to do but write...do I? Oh look, a squirrel!

  8. […] writers long to be more productive, sometimes life does not cooperate. Aimie K. Runyan discusses summer struggles for writers, and Jami Gold talks about how to deal with writer […]

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