December 16, 2015

Writing Advice: how to write with children (or not)

This is going to be my last post for a little while, as school holidays begin tomorrow and so ends my time to write.
Or does it? How do you write with small people around? I have always found it exceedingly difficult to write fiction when there is any possibility for distraction around me. And my children are not just possibilities for distraction, they are experts in it. They might be elbow-deep in Lego or cubby-building with sofa cushions and bedsheets, but the moment I sit in a chair and open my laptop, they hover around my shoulders, sticky fingers plucking my clothes.
“Can we watch funny dog videos on YouTube?” my daughter asks.
“Can we watch the trailer for the BFG?” my son asks.
I should have known when introducing them to the world of cute animal videos and movie trailers that I would one day regret it. This bulldog chasing his lead is a metaphor for my ability to focus while my children are home from school.

So what can be done? I have learned to just let go and not expect to do anything over these stretches of time, having discovered from experience that if I have unrealistic goals of working while the kids are home I become a cranky, short-tempered troll because I’m not doing what I’m MEANT TO GET DONE!
What I have learned is to expect little, but to keep myself attuned to possibility. That might mean keeping a notebook around to scribble ideas and scraps of information which come to me while we’re immersed in craft or cleaning out their cupboards. I do have to inform them this is MY notebook though, and please don’t scribble, draw, tear pages out for paper airplanes or write magic spells in it. I have found I’m able to take commission for a few short articles or reviews and plan to write them in the evenings or early mornings.
Another trick I’ve learned is to fill in research gaps in my writing – if there is a place or a museum I wanted to visit and it is even remotely kid-friendly, I’ll take them along. My kids have a better understanding than most six and eight-year-olds of early 20th century Sydney and the history of its transportation, gaols and police from when I was researching Long Bay. I still remember our visit to the Sydney Tramways Museum fondly. They didn’t find it quite so exciting.
Writer Ali Luke wrote (in this helpful article) that it is better to focus on the smaller projects rather than the big ones. This might be a good time to try writing a poem which has been eluding me, or to finish an unfinished short story. Is it the time to structure my next novel? Probably not.
Penn also suggests not to feel guilty, which is most important, and not to compare yourself with others who seem to be getting SO much done. I sometimes get asked how I wrote my first novel, What Was Leftwhile my son was two and my daughter four. When people ask how I could possibly write a novel while looking after young children, I tell them the truth.
I didn’t.
The novel came from an idea I had floating around in my head for a year and I really wanted to explore, but every time I tried I was interrupted. And so I paid a babysitter to come every morning five days a week, from 9am to 1pm. Half of the time she was there I wrote the novel, the other half I worked on paid freelance work. Did I make money? Only enough to pay her wages! But it was a choice I made, and one I don’t regret.
Writing is an integral, essential part of me, but so are my children. The right balance will always feel elusive, but I am going to enjoy this break from writing, this unencumbered time with them. What I have realised is that they are just old enough to let me read for short periods uninterrupted. Which I will be doing plenty of in these coming weeks. Hopefully they will as well!
Have you got any secrets of writing with children around? I’d love to hear them.


Theresa Turner" title="Theresa Turner">

Theresa Turner

Thank you! For the honesty and for the permission to do one thing at a time. My experience echoes yours re the kids and the computer. Mine rush to my side as soon as the laptop is open, my son asking to ‘do the letters’ and my daughter simply trying to drag me off the chair so she can climb up and do important toddler keyboard work. And it’s frustrating being interrupted from trains of thought and finding out I can’t even achieve the smallest of goals set. But setting those goals on their time aint smart. I also plan to do more reading than writing over this busy time of year. I’m so looking forward to a time when I can read around my kids, and write, but it sounds like that might take longer. Thanks for the advice and link!

December 17, 2015 at 12:14 am


    Thanks for reading Theresa – the time will come! I keep telling myself that as well, but already it’s easier. Hope you get some excellent reading in over the holidays.

    December 18, 2015 at 3:59 pm
Dr Barbara" title="Dr Barbara">

Dr Barbara

Great, honest post! Thank you dear Eleanor. What a coincidence I read this week a similar, honest essay on not having children. Jane Friedman wrote it at

December 18, 2015 at 8:19 am


    Thanks for reading Barbara and for linking to that article – I hadn’t read it before. I also admire Jane’s honesty. It isn’t helpful to anyone to pretend that there is a magic formula, is it?

    December 18, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Vanessa Hardy

thanks for this article Eleanor – I’ve only just stumbled on it. It is hard to write with children around – although the other side I found was that it was only when my son was born that I really realised how much I needed to write. I looked at him and all his growing skills and wanted so much to be able to teach him to follow his dreams and do what he loves and not give up and then I realised I wasn’t doing that myself! So I went back to writing (what I had always wanted when I was younger) as much as anything to be a better role model for him – although obviously it is really important to me too.
Thanks again,

September 25, 2016 at 5:52 pm


    Thanks Vanessa for reading – and sorry it has taken me so long to reply! I really relate to that feeling of the desire to write becoming stronger with children as well – for me I think it was the new perspectives it gave me on relationships and vulnerability. It certainly puts what is important into perspective! So glad to hear you are writing as well, hope that you are able to carve out some time.
    Best wishes,

    November 29, 2016 at 12:35 pm

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