When my daughter was a month old, I decided it was time to start writing again. I'd wrapped up all other projects before she was born, so I was free to start something new.
In the last four weeks, I've managed to write a chapter every single day. How? Well…persistence and determination have something to do with it, but I won't deny that I'm talking from a place of privilege. Not quite hired-a-nanny privilege, but I don't have to work at the moment, and I don't have another child to chase around. I'm well aware you might not be as lucky as that. Still, hopefully at least some of these tips will be helpful.
1. Use a notebook
Typing is quicker. Easier. And when the manuscript is finished, there's no need to rewrite the whole darn thing again onto your computer. But to grab my laptop, switch it on, find the document and scroll down to my latest work, I've already wasted precious minutes. Plus, I get easily distracted when I'm online.
Having a notebook and pen in reaching distance from me and the baby means I can jot down a few paragraphs here and there when I get a chance. It's a first draft. It just needs to be written. And do you know what? The manuscripts I've gotten contracts for were originally written in notebooks rather than on the computer.
I think, because I had to rewrite the story, I was more careful with the plot and sentence structure, whereas when scenes are already done on the computer, sometimes I think, "Well, that's good enough."
2. Utilize the babysitting offers
Plenty of people at my baby shower looked at me with shining eyes and assured me I could always call on them to babysit. Maybe some of them were just being polite, but I took them at face value.
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To have a few hours to duck down to the shops by myself, go to Pilates, grab a coffee and write (without having to drop everything for feeding time), has been wonderful.
3. Use those early morning hours
I was certain that after I had my baby, I'd pass out from exhaustion as soon as she drifted off. But I've found that in the wee hours of the morning I'll lie awake and wait for sleep. (What's up with that? Come on, body, do better.)
Anyway, I've definitely hidden under the blankets with my phone torch and scribbled down a chapter at four in the morning. Note: this is only recommended for when you're wide awake. It's better to rest if you can.
4. Find extra writing minutes
Other times, when I've managed to get some shuteye during the night, it takes me all day to get a single chapter done. Gone are the days of large chunks of writing times. Often I'll pick up a pen and hear the baby cry immediately, as if she knows. I'll have to stop in the middle of a sentence to soothe her, and I won't get back to it for hours. Sometimes I'll do one-handed scribbles while I'm holding her upright after a feed (another reason the notebook idea is useful).
I do what I can, when I can. A sentence here and there adds up.
5. Limit yourself
Set a personal, achievable goal, whether it be 1,000 words, 100 words, 50 words, or a page in a notebook.
But more important than hitting that word count is that you don't go over it. Even if the baby sleeps all afternoon, I don't touch my notebook once that chapter's written for the day. This gives me time to do stuff like Wordle or social media or read a book. I need downtime, and since I don't like watching TV during the day (once it's on, I struggle to turn it off and that wastes tons of time), these other activities allow me to relax.
It also gives me time to think about what will happen in the next chapter. That way, I won't be sitting there tomorrow wasting minutes trying to figure out my next scene.
6. Hold yourself accountable
I'm so lucky to have a husband who comes home from work and asks where the next chapter is. He's keen to read even my terrible, first-draft-in-a-notebook writing. It's great to have someone so enthusiastic – it puts positive pressure on me.
Other ways to hold yourself accountable is to text your writing friends your progress at the end of the day or put it on social media. Good People on Twitter or Instagram will be cheering you on, even if you only get a sentence done. And if you don't have Good People online, tag me @tamarambailey1 on both sites and I'll be your cheerleader. I love it when writers celebrate their achievements, big or small.
7. Lose your perfectionist side
There will inevitably come a day (possibly soon) when I don't get that chapter written. It'll be frustrating, and I'll be annoyed. But I'm looking after a human being that relies entirely on me. Sometimes, I'm going to miss a writing day. And you probably will too.
The important thing is to not let it drag you down. Just because you don't get your word count done, doesn't mean you should give up altogether. The next day is a new day to try again.
What about you? Do you have any tips for writing with a newborn? Leave them in the comments – I'd be keen to try them.
(P.S. By the time this went live I’d managed to get a chapter done every day and have now completed the first draft!)
Tamara M Bailey is the author of several short stories in various anthologies, as well as two books coming out in 2022: The Other Olivia (Orphan Black x The Matrix with Improbable Press) and Blood & Stone (fantasy crime with Clan Destine Press). Tamara can be found cheering her writing friends on at @TamaraMBailey1 on Twitter and @TamaraMBailey1 on Instagram and on her website. Her children's books are under the name Tamara Moss.