Writer, with Kids: Vica Miller

Vica Miller & girls
Vica Miller, author of Inga’s Zigzags, a novel; short stories

Age of kids: 7.5 and 4.5

I always wrote whenever I could, but having kids made me more disciplined. Before children, I would write late into the night, or take a whole day (on a weekend) writing. Neither one was an option once I became a mother. Sleep deprivation was the main curse in the first year of parenthood. I couldn’t write at night, and I couldn’t write early in the morning. The only time for writing was my girl’s nap time, and, once I returned to work from maternity leave, nap time on weekends. That’s how I wrote my first novel, Inga’s Zigzags (out on May 14, 2014), and that’s why it took eight years to finish.

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I started the Vica Miller Literary Salons, a chamber reading series held at NYC art galleries. One of the main reasons for launching them, besides providing a stage for good writers to be heard, was the need for an external force to keep me above the breastfeeding, the sleepless nights, something to push me back into the writing world, so that I could remain part of the conversation. The Salons were monthly for a while, but then I turned them into bi-monthly, for obvious reasons. I mention them because the focus and complete dedication needed to produce one every other month is the same recipe that helped me carve out my writing routine, of which more below. (Disclaimer: any kind of “schedule” only kicked in once my youngest turned two. )

Becoming a parent made my writing more urgent, I think, more immediate and precise. I can’t say that I am a better writer because I am a mother, but I have become less selfish, as all parents do, more open to the world around, better at nuances, at noticing little hurts, understanding humanity, and that definitely informed my writing. I think becoming a parent is the shortest path to humility, and that is equally important for writers and not.

Here are a few things that help me juggle my writing and my kids. It’s neither a panacea, nor advice, just some lessons learned. Hopefully, they’ll be useful to other writers.

1. I believe in writing workshops away, led by excellent writers who are great teachers. I took one with Peter Selgin (Drowning Lessons), in Tuscany (my youngest was two then), and another with Simon Van Booy (The Illusion of Separateness), in the Berkshires (the girls were six and three) . Both experiences were straight out of a fairytale, for I could write for a week, uninterrupted, and with excellent guidance. But those are expensive, and you can’t do them unless you have a great partner. My husband is my savior.
In the Berkshires, we talked about juggling parenting and writing, and Simon, a single father at the time, shared advice that I heeded to:
a) Quit drinking.
b) Go to bed early, when kids do (9 PM). Wake up at 1 AM and work for three hours (or get up at 4 AM and work for three hours). I can’t do three hours in the middle of the night, but I could do two.
c) Promise someone (a loved one, or an important figure) that you’d be finished by a certain date.
d) Skip brunch with friends. Write instead.

I started my second novel, The Shadow of a Blue Doll, in Simon Van Booy’s workshop in June of 2013, and finished the first draft by December 31. I also published three new short stories since. Ongoing workshops and writing groups help keep the routine.

2. Write in the morning. Every writer I know swears by the early morning hours as the most productive and creative, and it’s no different for writers who are parents. But then there are school drop offs, dog walks, early meetings at work, and to write every morning turns into a dream. We created a schedule, where sometimes I do both drop offs, and sometimes my husband does. This way I carved out two mornings for writing.

3. Flexible work hours. Aspiring writers can rarely afford to be full-time writers. Most writers have other jobs, as editors, researchers, teachers, etc. I run communications for DataArt, a global technology firm, and it’s rather demanding. When my second daughter was born, I reduced my work load by hiring a tech PR agency, and took a pay cut. With this scenario, in addition to two mornings, I have entire Friday afternoons to write.

4. A supportive partner. This should really be the number one on my list. If you’re lucky to raise your kids with a partner, his/her support becomes the lifeline to your writing. My husband does all the cooking (I clean), helps with after-school classes and knows that if I need an hour “to just write”, he’d take care of the girls. Also, I have another routine, which I negotiated with the whole family: Sunday mornings are mine. Once the girls come into our bed for some cuddling, they join my husband to make breakfast, and I stay in bed and write. That’s how I’m writing this post. I know I’m lucky.

5. Talk to your kids about the importance of your writing. We have always involved our kids in everything we do, from the very early age, and talked to them about things that matter to us. My girls know that I host Salons, and that I write. Because it’s an ongoing conversation, I can ask them to please play by themselves for an hour, so that “mommy can finish her project”. They understand it because when they have their projects, I try not to interrupt them. Basically, we’re trying to foster the culture of mutual respect for everyone’s passions and interests. Sometimes it works, not always. But it does apply to the whole family: kids take their time with their projects (they’re both makers), and my husband gets his training time (he runs marathons).

6. Exercise. I swim at least once a week, to stay sane. I get the best ideas for writing, while swimming, in fact once wrote a whole short story that way. It also helps me solve whatever issues might be going on with the kids.

7. Guilt. You’ll always have guilt. Either for not paying enough attention to your family because you need to write, or for abandoning/postponing your writing because your kids (or partner) need you. I heard that some writers sit down to write with their children: mommy works on her book, kids work on their writing or drawing. It never worked for me, but sounds like a wonderful idea for shared quality time. The guilt will never go away though.

Oh, and turn off Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler and email. Shut down the internet. There is a program for it. It’s called Freedom.

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Writer, With Kids