This is the first installment of an ongoing freelancing-while-parenting series. Read the second part here.
Three days before our daughter was born, I celebrated 10 years of freelance writing. The work felt as natural as breathing. A child, I reasoned, was another challenge – like a dropped client or an immovable deadline – that I could work my way through.
I am writing this five months later. Normalcy has only begun creeping back into my workday. Part of that is the benefit of experience. But I’ve also adapted. I had no choice. It’s either writing or falling back on my vast bookstore experience.
New parents can freelance with a lot less stress if they prepare. Here are some tips for readying your career for your new arrival:
Two reasons. The first comes from Lizzie Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery, who has written everything from poetry to young adult novels: “I would say [to] use the energy of the second trimester to really write and publish, sock away money, and shop at the Salvation Army (which I just think is fun),” she says.
Second, you’ll want time off to bond with your child. Our daughter was due Nov. 27. I wanted to be free of major assignments for at least a couple of weeks afterward. So, I picked up the pace. I even filed a movie review a day early – on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 17.
That evening, I was pulling chicken roll-ups from the oven when my wife entered the kitchen. “I think my water broke,” Laura said in the same tone she uses when we run out of granola bars. By 7:30 p.m., a nurse had turned the possibility into fact. At 11:17 p.m. the next day, we were shrouded in ecstasy.
I got to experience that moment without a deadline intruding. It was wonderful.
Achieve clarity – with your spouse.
“Sit down and have the hard conversations about everything: finances, time management, weekends, who will take care of the baby when he or she is sick,” says magazine writer Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids.
“Get clear everything that you possibly can – I’ve interviewed a ton of experts for my book, and what they have hammered home, over and over, is to have schedules, meetings, divvy up chores. Conflicts arise when your roles are not clear,” she says.
Invest in child care.
This is where I began to lose my way.
Me, last year: “Child care? I’m a freelance writer. My hours are flexible. I’ll work while the baby sleeps.”
Me, present day: [Shakes head solemnly.]
Parenting and freelance writing are separate jobs and should be treated as such, says Laura Vanderkam, who is the mother of four children and the author of several books, including 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think. “The idea is that there is guaranteed time when you know you will be able to focus, and that time is sufficient to the income you wish to produce,” she says.
“There are very few ways to simultaneously meet the needs of a client and meet the needs of a small child, so you’ll wind up feeling pulled in multiple directions,” Vanderkam adds. “And it’s a very simple solution to avoid that, which is that you entrust your child to someone else during a certain number of hours during the week.”
That doesn’t have to require money: A family member or your spouse will do.
“Having a kid is all-encompassing, and if you do not have a good sitter or good daycare or good child care, I don’t see how you’re going to get anything done,” says Raquel D’Apice, proprietor of the Ugly Volvo blog and author of Welcome to the Club: 100 Parenting Milestones You Never Saw Coming.
Recreate your routine.
I assumed I would fall into a regular work schedule and hiring a nanny would accelerate the process. But being a new parent means learning a whole new life on the fly every day. Triage becomes the routine.
Our nanny covers 15 hours a week. I need 25 hours on top of those 15 for my work week. Initially, I was grabbing those remaining hours during nap times and when the baby was transfixed by her mobile. I might have had two hours or 20 minutes. I got angry at my wife (whose co-workers have expert bladder control) and my baby (who does not).
One exhausted and desperate night, I asked Laura to grab a piece of paper and a pen. We created a schedule in 25 minutes that gave me 39.5 working hours each week. I have a morning shift (when the nanny is on) and a night shift (when my wife comes home). I take care of our daughter in between. The schedule is still being refined, but I no longer feel defeated by 10 a.m.
Stick to the routine.
Following this step requires several parts working together.
Actually work: “It’s amazing how much you can crank out when you stop looking at celebrity gossip websites,” Dunn says. “So I would say if you are able to stop futzing around, you can compartmentalize your life in a nice way.”
Stephen Rodrick, who frequently writes for Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, writes from 10 a.m. to 3:30 or 4 p.m., concluding with “an hour of some kind of decompression” so his son, coming home from daycare, “doesn’t get Dad at his most frantic or neurotic.”
Plan your day: Identify the three most important things to do that day, Vanderkam says. That way, if things unravel, “it’s OK, it’s only the lesser things that are going to fall off.” She also advises writers to “monitor your energy. Match the important tasks to your productive time.”
Use downtime wisely: When my daughter naps, I can do plenty on my laptop: follow up with sources and editors; begin a pitch; peek at job boards. But be sure to do something for yourself as well. D’Apice started her popular blog when her first child was 4 or 5 months old. “Before that, I was a crazy mess,” she says, “because I had nothing for myself and I was just giving everything to this kid, and I wasn’t replenishing at all – so then I had nothing to give to the kid.”
Designate a work space: Make sure “there’s a clear boundary between where work happens and where it doesn’t happen,” Rodrick says. It doesn’t have to be fancy. D’Apice’s apartment bedroom doubles as her office. “Having a door that you can close is very helpful.” Even better, she adds, if it locks.
Keep honoring deadlines: Valentine J. Brkich adds buffer time to accommodate the unpredictability that comes with being a father of two. Promise to hit deadlines only if you can make them, he says.
Embrace the lifestyle.
It’s hard to write from home with a young child, but as Rodrick and D’Apice say: Your child gets to see you do something you love. And, I’ve learned, you’ll be around to love them.
Pete Croatto’s (@PeteCroatto) work has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and the Christian Science Monitor. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
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