Today's guest post comes compliments of Meg Donohue, whose debut novel, HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE, has been widely praised from book readers and critiques alike. (Publishers Weekly calls it "clever, sweet, delicious," among other compliments!) I'm often asked how I balance my work and home life, and I love that Meg shared her own perspective on how she keeps things in check. Smart words of wisdom for anyone who is trying to write his or her own debut (or second or third or fourth) book and still stay sane.
Like many of you, I struggle with juggling parenthood and my career. In theory, writing should be a wonderful job for a mom—and, most of the time, it is. But, like any work-from-home job, it can be tough to motivate to write when your desk is five feet away from an overflowing laundry bin, or when you’ve used the last bit of milk in your morning coffee and know your daughter is going to want her sippy cup filled when she awakens from her nap, or when you’re really only half-awake because you haven’t had a moment to shower and change out of your pajamas.
While I was writing my first novel, How to Eat a Cupcake, I was also caring for my one-year-old daughter and was pregnant with our second daughter. It was a busy time in my life—and with two children under three now and another novel underway, life has only become busier!—but in retrospect, I can see how working to foresee my daughter’s needs taught me an incredible lesson about achieving my own happiness.
Here’s the big lesson my daughter taught me: Schedules are our friend. My daughter, I realized, loved knowing that she would have her meals and her naps and her playtimes around the same times each day. The predictable routine made her feel safe—it gave shape to her days and, I like to think, allowed her to be extra creative and joyful during her playtimes because she was rarely overtired or hungry or confused.
As I worked on my daughter’s schedule, I carved out my own as well. I committed myself to writing ten new pages of my manuscript each week and defined the hours that I wrote (during naps and the eight hours each week when I was fortunate to have the help of a nanny), the hours that I took care of my daughter, and the hours that I took care of the house. I soon found that, like my daughter, the days where things happened when they were “supposed” to happen were my most productive, happiest days. I wrote without worrying that I was falling behind on my duties as mother, I played with my daughter without feeling distracted by work, and the laundry…well, I’ll admit I still struggle with that Sisyphean task.
Who knew I’d learn my greatest writing lesson from my toddler? Next on the to-do list: I need to disable the Internet during my writing hours so email, Facebook, and Twitter can’t eat into my productivity. Like sticking one of those plastic thingamajigs in an outlet, it’s time to baby-proof my writing time.
Meg Donohue was born and raised in Philadelphia and now lives in San Francisco with her husband, two young daughters, and dog. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and a BA in comparative literature from Dartmouth College. How to Eat a Cupcake is her first novel.