Tips on Writing your First Book When you Have Small Children
By Ellie Barker
They have sold millions of books between them, but that’s not the only bond they share.
These three authors are mothers too, all at different stages in their lives.
How have they combined writing fiction with the real life drama of bringing up children?
Jill Mansell is the author of more than twenty Sunday Times bestsellers. In 2015 the Romantic Novelists’ Association presented Jill with an outstanding achievement award. She has two grown-up children.
"Combining my work as an author and being a mother has worked with great difficulty! My children are adults now but when they were young I found I needed to increase my levels of concentration and become much more focused than came naturally to me. If I only had one hour to write, I couldn’t use that hour wondering what was going to happen next in the novel. I had to work it out in advance and keep everything in my head. Then I would sit down and write like the wind!
Life is definitely easier now but you’d be surprised how often offspring-related things happen to stop you working. But I have to stay disciplined. If you don’t fulfill your contract with your publisher and complete the books on time, you’re letting them down and disrupting their carefully-constructed schedules. This means, unless you are a mega-successful author, when it comes to renewing contracts they might decided to drop you in favour of another writer they can rely on. (I have found this extremely motivating over the years.)
There are of course advantages of being an author and a mother. It’s much easier to write about being a mother once you are one. You just automatically know and remember your feelings and emotions, whatever the child-related scenario.
But there are disadvantages too. The endless distractions, the lack of sleep, the exhaustion, the small children scribbling all over your handwritten pages then crumpling them up and throwing them in the kitchen bin…Oh happy days!
Being a mother has helped my writing, but lots of authors don’t have children and still write amazing books. I just feel as if I know now how almost any situation feels. Also, I have learned how to multitask which comes in handy.
If you are a mother and want to become an author you still can. If you write just one page a day at the end of the year you will have a book. Lots of people can write a page in less than an hour. There, doesn’t that sound manageable? Every author has their own preferences, I write by hand and never write in chapters because I used to spend ages trying to fit the events neatly into chapters.
Far easier to just wait until the end of the book, go back and find natural breaks, then divide the story up. I also keep a timeline of events to remind myself what has happened and what needs to happen. Saves you reaching the end and realising you’ve left out the important bits. Good luck!"
Best-selling author Lucy Diamond has been called ‘the queen of summer reading.’ She has had more than a dozen novels published including ‘The Beach Café.’ She has three children who are at secondary school/sixth form.
"My children are older now so it’s easy for me to write while they are out of the house. But back when they were tiny, my husband and I would split the working week and childcare between us. He worked three days a week while I looked after the children, then we’d swap for the other two days and I would lock myself upstairs to write.
It was a gamble at first – especially as we were splitting all the mortgage and bills so I ‘had’ to make the writing pay. Still it was very good motivation and I was extremely productive.
It is so much easier now. Everyone SLEEPS for one thing. I no longer have to do any school runs so my time is much more my own. However it is a solitary job, sitting writing all day so it can become lonely. I find it important to get out and about and socialise otherwise cabin fever can set in.
By 7.45am during the week, everyone else has left for work and school so it is just me and the dog in the house. I start the day by taking her out for a long walk thinking about what I’m going to write, mulling over plot points and characters. Then I write through the morning before lunch and a second dog-walk, followed by another writing stint. Once the children come home, I stop work to chat about their days and I might catch up on admin and housework before cooking dinner.
I always wanted to be a mum just like I always dreamed of being an author so I love that these two are facets of my life. Being a full-time author means you can work anywhere around the country and you can be really flexible about fitting in with family life – all those carol concerts and parents’ evenings etc are much easier when you don’t have to ask anyone for time off. Plus my children are a constant source of stories, jokes and dramas and are very good at brainstorming plots over the dinner table.
For anyone who’d like to become an author I’d recommend joining a local writing group for support and constructive feedback. I’d always wanted to write a full-length novel but it wasn’t until I went to an evening class and was expected to complete assignments every week that I really started to push myself and take it seriously."
Lucy Diamond’s new book ‘On A Beautiful Day’ will be published in January 2018.
Rosie Blake is the author of several romantic comedies including ‘The Hygge Holiday’ which is out now. She is also mum to 18-month-old Barnaby.
"I gave myself three months off when I had Barnaby, which turned into four months. I got a baby sitter for three hours a day four days a week. It was incredible how much more focussed it made me. If I looked at Facebook, I would be paying someone to let me look at Facebook. Why would I do that? It’s the same now he goes to a childminder. I’m much more disciplined. I have written three books in fourteen months. Blimey when I look at it like that, it sounds a lot.
I have to stop writing even if I don’t want to and in many ways that is nice. If it is time for me to pick him up, I need to stop whereas before I would keep going until I finished the chapter. It can be frustrating but then is very nice to come back to.
I do wonder now what it would be like if I had a second baby. I have managed to find a great routine, which works for us all, but what would happen if I added a newborn? But there is great help available and being an author is like any job, you have to invest in it to be able to do it properly.
I do feel incredibly lucky I have the flexibility to work from home but I know some people would hate it, even if they like the idea. It is so tempting to just sit around or watch something on Netflix. But I do let myself go swimming from time to time. This gives me time to think about what I am writing, so I am working still, sort of.
I am much more emotional now I am a mother and this affects my writing. I put my first child in my book recently so clearly parenthood is an influence. But like all parents, when you think of a story you replace your own child in it and this gives more depth to my work.
My main advice to other mothers wanting to become an author is to dedicate time. I would say 1-3 hours a week minimum. Do it quickly and see what comes out. You do have to really want to write. My husband took my son out yesterday, it was a Sunday and there was a part of me that thought I want to go to. But when your book sells or you see it in a shop, it feels amazing. You have to be prepared to spend time.
You can do it. People write diaries all the time. If you write five hundred words every day, you will get there in the end."
Do you feel more inspired to put pen to paper and get started on your first book?