by Jenna Kalinsky.
Because it’s rare to earn a living with one’s writing, most writers keep day jobs. For some, because writers suffer the same biological imperative to procreate as other people, many of these same people also have children.
This means writers (1) who have day jobs (2) and are also parents (3) must constantly juggle these 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 during COVID-19, our delicately straddled balance, the daily dance of making it all mostly work, basically all went to shit. (Yes, darling, that’s right; COVID made mommy swear).
Before COVID, when we knew how to allocate part of the day to the writing, part to the work, and the other parts to parenting, during the pandemic, everything got mixed together, so we were homeschooling and working from home (two things that should never go together), and it was a nonstop conveyer belt of snacks and parenting, leaving no time for anything else.
During such extreme belt-tightening circumstances, often what gets cinched out of the game is that which isn’t considered an “essential.”
But here is where parent writers rose- each in their own way- to their necessary occasion and redefined what “essential” meant.
Why? Because no one is as resourceful as a parent writer.
What Is Essential?
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs– and our respective local governments- “essential” is food and shelter. Dr. Dan Riskin, in his fantastic book Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You takes this to the humorous extreme by referring to human beings as “meat robots.”
It’s fun to believe we’re above such things and harbor romantic notions of living like Wilde or Baudelaire on the Left Bank, impoverished and creatively free, but in reality, 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 in February 2020 just before the world shut down. 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 that someone not an artist would proclaim art as essential.
A Literary Recession
During normal times, we lean on literature for sustenance. During crisis we need human connection through stories exponentially more.
COVID made us confront job insecurity at a time when it was as insecure as it may ever get. As the money our jobs provide is how we pay for our homes and buy food, naturally when something in our day has to give in place of our being able to do our jobs, it’s the writing.
It was a terrible concern to imagine a whole world of artists having to put their art on hold so they could chop carrot sticks and help with fractions.
Indeed, while we saw an uptick in some artists being able to shift and pivot, there were exponentially more behind the lines who had to prioritize their jobs and families- a significant loss for the individual and for the whole.
It was a lousy intersection to find ourselves in, but also one that opened up a conversation about the importance of art and how to make it work: against all odds.
No One Is as Resourceful as a Parent Writer: Finding Strategies to Continue to Write During Difficult Times
In the early days of COVID, no one knew how long we’d be locked down or what the future held for humanity and of course for the arts. Every day of not making art for some is an inconvenience; for others, it’s life threatening.
In difficult times, when you’re spending your days like Wonder Woman mid-battle, deflecting every bullet with your wrists in the air, it feels like you cannot write, full stop, let alone think about how to make it work to get your pages in.
But if there’s a will, and any parent writer will tell you there is, then there is always a way.
We need our writers, and if you are one of them, then it’s your responsibility to keep writing.
How to Keep Writing During Difficult Times: Schedule It In
The abnormal COVID-19 times showed parent writers how to be their most resourceful, and those learned skills and new habits will serve them long into their futures. What we all learned is the only way you can keep writing is to examine, acknowledge, adjust, and most importantly: schedule it in.
- Schedule your writing time as if it were an appointment. You may find “setting it and forgetting it” the easiest way to get into the chair- even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- 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 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 two short sessions: one earlier in the day and one later
- Remind yourself, as often as you need, that you will continue to write- even when it’s hard- because it is essential and because you are resourceful. Your writing 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.
Any time life rears up, clamps down on your time, energy, and inner resources, remember you are strong, you are capable, and the writing you do is necessary.
We are always here to help you through your process and make it easier, more productive, and motivating. Reach out for a conversation about your work any time.