During Covid-19, Parent Writers Redefined “Essential Services”

by Jenna Kalinsky.

Parent writers find their time is squeezed on the best of days, but now with our COVID-19 work at home, homeschool the kids, and myriad other social distancing challenges, there’s less time to write than ever. Re-defining what “essential” services means for parent writers has never been more important or necessary.

Most writers- because it’s rare to earn a living writing- keep day jobs. Also, because writers suffer the same biological imperative to procreate as other people, many of these same people also have children. This means writers who have day jobs and are parents must constantly juggle three distinct roles, each requiring continuous assessment, negotiation, and organization.


Under normal conditions, navigating a job, kids, and a writing practice is challenging enough, but now in the time of COVID-19, our delicately straddled balance, the daily dance of making it all mostly work, has all gone to shit. (Yes, darling, that’s right; now you know mommy swears sometimes).


Where we once depended on knowing how to allocate part of the day to the writing, part to the work, and the other parts to parenting, now that we’re tasked with homeschooling and working from home (two things that should never go together), it’s belt-tightening time, and often what gets cinched out of the game is that which isn’t considered an “essential.”


What Is Essential?

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs– and our respective local governments- it’s food and shelter. Dr. Dan Riskin, in his fantastic book Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You refers to human beings as “meat robots,” and while it’s fun to harbor old romantic notions of living like Wilde or Baudelaire on the Left Bank, impoverished and creatively free, we mostly love reading about their lives with a sandwich in our hands.

Because as the adage (that I just made up) goes: It’s only romantic to be poor until you’re poor.

Art As Essential Service

That said, this view of essential is limited because while the body is an important vessel to maintain, so are those components that make that vessel human. Art serves the heart, soul, and spirit. Through art we find meaning, definition, and enlightenment.


“I’ve always felt that art is the highest expression of the human spirit.”
~ Joyce Carol Oats


Of course artists are very aware of the power of art, but when non-artists also know it is essential, it is affirming and powerful.

I was sworn in as a Canadian citizen this winter, and during the ceremony, the judge spoke to our new responsibilities as Canadians. He spoke of opportunity, gender equality, and freedom. Then he said, “Above all, the most valuable contribution you can make is through the arts.” You’re darn right I wrote that down. It moved me deeply.


An Impending Literary Recession

During normal times, we lean on literature for sustenance. During crisis we need human connection through stories exponentially more.


If we’re looking at job insecurity at a time when it’s as insecure as it may ever get, and the money our jobs provide is the key to keeping our homes and buying food, naturally when something in our day has to give in place of our being able to do our jobs, it’s the writing.

To be facing not just a financial but a literary recession because parent writers have to allocate more of their resources to work is a significant loss- for the individual and for the whole.

What a lousy intersection we’re finding ourselves in.

Strategies for Continuing to Write During COVID-19

One could expect social distancing to drag on for months or longer, which is a long time for us to be not writing.

We can’t outsource the child care or in good consciousness tack on yet more screen time in order to write. We’re already spending our days like Wonder Woman mid-battle, deflecting every bullet with our wrists in the air. But we also cannot succumb.

If the greater collective’s responsibility right now is to stay at home to protect the whole, the responsibility of the writer is to find a way to keep writing.

Photo credit: writer, John Leavitt

How to Keep Writing During COVID-19

During these abnormal COVID-19 times, the only way we can accommodate the new normal AND keep writing is to adapt and adjust. Staying organized helps. You know those schedules everyone’s using (or trying to use) for their kids? You need one for your writing time too, so you can shuffle it around but still get it done.

When you have a physical schedule, you can then better see how you can play Jenga with your schedule:

  • Rise early and join the 5 a.m. writer club
  • Take creative solace in turning your evening unwind Netflix time into your writing time
  • If you’re still able to write during the day, shorten your session and trust in Parkinson’s law that you will be just as effective with less time than you were with more)
  • Squeeze in a second brief writing session at another point in the dayLastly, remind yourself, as often as you need, that you are continuing to write because it is essential. It will save you- and others. This awareness will lift some of the stress out of making sure you get the writing done and even layer in some grace.


I send strength to every parent writer out there. Stay well and strong.

Jenna Kalinsky


  • Reply Marianne Scott April 15, 2020 at 8:22 am

    My favourite line in this inspirational essay is, “during crisis we need human connection through stories “. We all have a story of how we navigated this time of contagion. History will recount the Great Pandemic of 2020 with numbers, a tally of infections, deaths, recoveries, and duration of occurrence. But numbers alone don’t tell the stories. It will be the human experience that defines the intensity, the challenges, the suffering. I am inspired. I will tell my story. Thanks Jenna. This is an important article.

    • Reply Jenna Kalinsky April 16, 2020 at 11:31 am

      Thank you so much, Marianne, and for understanding- and continuing- to work toward ensuring this period of history will be about the people, not the numbers, with the writing you’re doing during this time. That’s the real inspiration is how so many are continuing to push themselves to create for the greater good. Stay safe and thank you for your support- as always xo

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