Back-to-School Rules

Writing, kids, and the new academic year

Back-to-School Rules

You know those photos of the first day of school with frowning kids and the mother in the background jumping for joy? That’s usually me. I love the beginning of the school year. Time without the constant “mom, mom, mom” refrain. Time to myself. Most importantly, time to write, write, write.

It’s a nice dream, but it never quite happens the way I envision it. The beginning of the school year always — and I mean ALWAYS — is a time of constant commotion and chaos in our household. There are school supplies to buy, clothes shopping to do, planning my oldest child’s birthday, endless meetings with teachers, and chauffeuring kids around to various after-school activities.

It’s busy. Too busy most days. And did I mention the piles of homework?

The first week or two, I’m lucky if I get a paragraph written, much less make any significant progress. Eventually, I get a rhythm down. And it does become easier. Notwithstanding all the activities I participate in at the school, I’m able to carve out some time each day to write. The house is quiet, my computer awaits.

Yet, each fall when I send the kids off to school, I have to shake off a brief funk. Summer was…fun. Maybe not as productive as during the school year (though I did have a book release in August), but not so hectic, so stressful either.

When I managed to carve out time to write, I was more relaxed and had lower expectations. I enjoyed it more because my time to write became precious. And in the evening, we had family time. We played games, went to the pool, and actually talked to each other. We traveled. We saw family and friends.

Now that school’s started, homework is looming, and soccer and other activities have started, we’re busy. Really, really busy. And while I’m grateful to have some uninterrupted time to write, I already miss the ease of the summer.

Fall, for me, is a time to plan and start new projects. As busy as the rest of my life is, it’s also a time of productivity. Last year, I completed my 50K words for NaNoWriMo, and I plan to do so again this year.

I’ve been outlining a new series idea to pitch to my publisher, I’m finishing up a novella that sat untouched for most of the summer, I have a short story to edit, and the beginnings of a third novel in my series. This glut in creative energy feels good, even as I miss the quality time with my kids.

When I first started down this career path, I thought that a writer had to write consistently every day to be successful. I still try to write most days in the summer, even if it’s just 100 words. But I don’t hold myself to the same standard as I do during the school year. Not only is it unrealistic, but I’ve come to see that I need some downtime in order to come back in the fall recharged and ready to go.

I struggle in the first days of summer to let go, and I struggle in the first days of fall to re-engage. As I get more confident as a writer, I get better at these transitions. Each year, the ebb and flow becomes more a part of the pattern of my writing life.

I’m learning not to beat myself up during the first few weeks of school as I adjust to a new busy schedule, and I’m also learning not to beat myself up when I step off the crazy rollercoaster during the summer. It’s a balancing act, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything.   

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