Writing With A Baby


Hello, Magical Worders! It’s been a long long time! David & Co kindly invited me back this week, and I’m delighted to drop in and say hello.

Some of you probably know why I dropped off the face of Magical Words, but in case you don’t, it’s because I went off and had a baby last April, and my focus has been sort of elsewhere ever since that happened (for some silly reason). But! I have a book out this week, and I’ve just finished writing my first novel since the baby was born, and so today I’m going to talk about Writing With A Baby.

A friend of mine, author Nick Harkaway, his wife had a baby about six months after I did. Three days after their daughter was born, Nick posted, “Well, back to work with me!”

I coulda killed him. I’d been really careful to clear my schedule so that other than revisions, I had no professional committments for the first six months after my son’s birth…and I’d gotten through those revisions (on SPIRIT DANCES, book six of the Walker Papers! Did I mention it’s out this week? :)) by the skin of my teeth. I could not contemplate doing anything in the way of new creative work for months.

Famous Writer & SonI’m one of those people who firmly believes that if you’ve got time to watch TV, you have time to write. It’s just a matter of priorities. But hoo boy, lemme tell you, if you’ve got time to watch TV in the first six or eight months after the baby’s born? That’s also probably about all you’ve got brain to do, too. I tell you what, if you’re a writer and contemplating having a baby? Really, do anything short of killing yourself to clear your schedule for the first six months of the baby’s life, because no matter how many people tell you about it, until that small person is there, you just have no idea how bloody tired you’re going to be (and my kid’s a great sleeper, for heaven’s sake!).

But I’ve managed to finish the seventh Walker Papers, despite the regime change. Despite the teething and the late nights and the general fog of exhaustion. Despite the six continuous weeks of head colds and vaccination sicknesses and did I mention the teething? And this is how I did it:

With help.

My mom babysat. My husband took the baby for hours in the morning before he went to work. I got up early on the days I had enough consciousness to, and logged into the word war room, where fellow writers across the globe kept me going when I would otherwise have whimpered and collapsed back into bed. I became ruthless about going straight to the keyboard the moment the baby went down for a nap. I escaped the house a few times, going to the local writers’ centre to spend hours focused completely on writing.

And let me tell you, I’m used to Doing It All Myself. The idea that I needed help was offensive on some level. I kind of thought I should be able to manage. I mean, hey, what’s a few hours’ shortness of sleep? (Well, nothing, until it’s chronic…) What’s the trouble with putting the baby in the office so I can work and keep an eye on him? (Answer: he was pulling himself to his feet at 7 months and walking at 9. I couldn’t keep the keyboard safe from him!) And so on and so forth. I’m astonished, in the end, that I got the book done on time, and I’m wondering if I can pull it off again…

So c’mon. Tell me about *your* adventures in writing with babies or children. I will have an all-new, deep appreciation of them.

Oh, and I’ll send one commenter a copy of SPIRIT DANCES, too, ’cause hey, it’s out this week! And! If you’re a CE Murphy or Faith Hunter fan, let me point you at CE Murphy.Net and Faith Hunter.Net for the next week, because we have some great goodies coming up, including an interview with Joanne Walker and Jane Yellowrock, and perhaps just a little more of that crossover story we started talking about last year… 🙂


24 comments to Writing With A Baby

  • Writing is hard enough with a full-time job–I don’t even want to THINK about trying to write or revise with a baby! Having never had one, I don’t know the specifics of what that entails, but I do know it doesn’t involve much sleep or brainpower.

    One of my good friends has a toddler and is expecting another baby. She still manages to get writing done, and have time for our podcast, and various NPOs. I’m of the opinion she doesn’t sleep.

    But one thing stuck out in my mind from what you wrote: local writers’ centre.


    Take care, and I hope you get some work done (and some sleep). Congrats on the book!

  • Never had a baby. The stork decided not to stop at our house, and honestly? I’d naver have written another book if I’d had kids. I cannot imagine adding something *else* to my life. So I am in awe of you, Catie. Totally.

    As to the event … no, wait. Starting over. As to the *EVENT* on our websites. Oh My. The interview between Joanne Walker and Jane Yellowrock was totally taken over by Beast. It was so funny watching that happen. And the short story partials are wonderful! Writing with you is so much fun!

  • Congrats on the baby-kid! The first year is pretty crazy and it just feels like a blur now. We were lucky, I think. Some of our friends that were thinking of having kids watched us and said, “that doesn’t look too hard!” and went and had their own…and didn’t have the same luck. Our daughter started sleeping all the way through the night the day my wife had to go back to work from pregnancy leave (she was put on bed rest for about 2/3 of the pregnancy). I kept the monitor by my head to get me up whenever our daughter woke up, both before and after. We shared before she went back to work and after I just kept an ear out for the monitor. I’m a light sleeper, normally. It took a while for my brain to filter out a position shift or a sneeze or cough or coo and just wake me up for the important stuff. We decided that my crummy 20k a year retail job (yes, writing and art are the only things I’m good at…well…maybe cooking 😉 ) wasn’t worth the day care costs, so I became Mr. Mom. Again, we got real lucky because she’s real good at keeping herself entertained (though in the winter she sort of goes stir-crazy). Now if I can only teach her to cook… 😉 Ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it. 🙂 Far as writing, yeah, there were times before she became old enough to entertain herself that I didn’t get a single thing done.

  • Years ago, I told my eager-to-be-a-grandmother Mom that I could have two out of three: My career as a lawyer, my writing novels, or my having kids. She voted for 1 and 3 of those options, but I voted for 1 and 2 (and eventually, just 2.) I am still overwhelmed with admiration for women who manage to factor in kids in to any equation that includes 1 or 2.

    Signed: Mindy, aunt to Jake and Eli

  • tiffany

    CONGRATULATIONS! And, I TOTALLY get it. I am chronically sleep-deprived from my job, and I have kids, and I write. The key to it all? Relentless Forward Motion. Everything will get done. And it will be okay.

  • Oy! Writing and babies. It’s been many years since I had to deal with any of that and I know I wrote in little bits of time here and there, but really your focus, your responsibility, is to that baby. Of course, keeping your writing career will keep food on the table for that baby, so there’s some compromise — and that’s what it comes down to. Every day is a compromise of choices, but if you keep the main purpose in mind — raising that baby — all else should fall into place. Oh, and it does get easier. Those first few years are rough (I know you don’t want to hear the word *years*), but later it’s a lot of fun. 4 to 7 years old was cutesville every day. From 8 to 13 years old has been a blast with my boy. The best so far. I’m a little scared of the coming teen years but I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Anyway, congratulations on the baby, the book, and may you have much continued success with both!

  • First off, Catie, it is wonderful to see you here. Thanks for filling us in on life with Baby and Book. I know that it’s way, way different for fathers than for mothers (read: far easier) but Nancy had the full-time job to see to and so I did a lot of child-care in the early years of my career. Still, I have to say that Nancy is the stuff of legend here at the University. Our first daughter was born on a Saturday in early May, after a grueling labor of 42 hours. The Monday after, at 9:00 am, Nancy was at the school to administer an exam.

    In those early years, with my daughter at home with me, I found it nearly impossible to work at a decent pace. It took me a year to write my second book, and a lot of that was due to being a new Dad. And I think it’s worth adding that I wouldn’t trade those days I spent pushing a stroller and changing diapers and warming up frozen breast milk to feed her for anything in the world.

  • Hm, April of last year … that’s about when I started coming to MW, so I missed the announcement. But belated congratulations!

    Writing with a baby has been something that I am scared of trying, so I really admire you for doing so and telling your viewpoint. My husband and I have decided for a number of reasons to wait a few more years, but one of them is simply the fact that I want to put my energy into writing for now. (Ask me again after I turn 30, though.) So thank you for sharing this post, Catie. In my province maternity leave is one year across the board, and people keep saying, “Well, you can write during your mat leave, right?” and all I can think is, “Can I?”

    I also appreciate that you’ve mentioned asking for help. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but for other reasons I’ve had reminders of it, so I’ll definitely keep it in mind. Thanks!

  • Two questions:

    Will you be coming back to Magical Words?

    When can we expect a collaboration project from you and the little one? 😉

  • Hi Catie,
    for me the hardest thing about the birth of our son was the psychological pressure it put on me. I was still unpublished and had spent years writing on the side. The baby’s appearance made me seriously wonder whether it was finally time to abandon writing because I just couldn’t justify all the time it took. I took paternity leave from work and, in between looking after him, wrote what turned out to be the first novel I sold! I still wonder how long I would have plugged away if that hadn’t happened. Kids, as they say, change everything. Glad to have you back with us.

  • Hi Catie! Like Laura, I joined after you left, so belated congratulations!

    My husband and I are getting close to ready to have kids…maybe…and this is something that does worry me a bit. But as others have said, it’s all about priorities. When the time is right, we’ll figure it out, and hopefully we’ll figure out a way that I can keep some time to write. It might not be as much as right now, but then again, maybe it will be, because right now I have a full-time job and I would probably quit that job to stay at home with the kid. And I can see how asking for help will be difficult for me, too. I love my parents and my parents-in-law, but do I really want them over every day to take care of my baby while I write? That *is* the question. 🙂

  • Welcome back, Catie. Interesting topic, too. Between Stuart, David, and myself, I don’t think I’ve ever been in the same place at the same time as so many hands-on dads. Three men and their babies. Oh yeah, and Catie, too. Ooops, sorry… 😉

    Seriously, welcome to one of the most challenging phases of parenthood. Old enough to get into stuff if you leave them alone for five seconds, but nowhere near ready to entertain themselves. This was the age where my wife and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “If you leave me, it’s only on the condition that you take the kid with you. I am NOT doing this alone.” It really needs to be a team effort. I don’t know how single parents do it.

  • And apparently AJ, too (I type as slow as I think).

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Super congratulations on getting your book done so soon after having your baby! It’s amazing how much one’s time gets re-engineered when there’s a baby around to take care of. And help really is so important to getting through it all sane. My husband is wonderful, and the people I am in complete awe of are single parents (and my husband’s ability to cope when I’m away at a conference.) My problem when we had our daughter was that I am pretty much incapable of thinking about anything else when she’s in the room, so when I was taking care of her all day I had trouble just getting myself lunch (she’d give me enough time to make it but not to eat it). She started daycare so I could go back to work at 3 months and that was such a blessing for me, to have my brain back for a chunk of the day. Some people are horrified to think of a baby going to daycare so young, but it kept me happier and more loving and it kept her socialized and learning new things so it was win-win for us. I’m still an amateur when it comes to writing so it’s just when I have the time and 2 1/2 years later it’s still a bit of a struggle balancing my free time between things like writing and then spending time with my husband. (Losing time with him was the thing I REALLY wasn’t prepared for when she was born.) When she started sleeping through the night from 10pm it was FABULOUS because then I had a consistent bit of evening time to do SOMETHING. Now that she goes to bed around 8 I can even sometimes hang out with my husband a bit AND work on my story a bit. For me, because I have a day job, the important thing has been to prioritize writing, but NOT to force myself to work on it if it will add to my stress. Some sort of internal balance is key. Of course, we start the roller-coaster with #2 this summer, so we’ll see how things go then…
    Sorry to babble, congratulations again!

  • Unicorn

    Congratulations, Catie! I’m with Wolf… when can we expect the first co-story?
    Edmund, you bunch of dads should start a Book and Baby Support Group for Fathers. Won’t it be hilarious. It’d probably be the only group where dragons and diapers would be simultaneously discussed… 😀

  • Mikaela

    I must admit that when I read that you had given birth, my first reaction was : So that’s why she had those crazy deadlines! :).

    But, keeping you company is fun. Since I am up anyway!

    Oh, and I look forward to read the crossover short story :).

  • Good for you for managing to carve out the time! That is the biggest challenge for me, and it hasn’t gotten better now that the kids are older. Part of the problem is that I also do quite a bit of corporate writing to pay the bills, so in those few spare hours a week where the little one is at school, I’m often writing about the latest technologies for computerized tomography (seriously).

    I pray that starting this fall, when the little one starts Kg, I will be able to do my corporate writing while using that extra time to get more fiction writing done.

    *goes off to Amazon to look at the Walker Papers books…*

  • Hey! I just realized that some of your earlier books are already on my TBR list. I saw some of them on display at a bookstore a few months ago. 🙂

  • Ain’t it a grand adventure? sleep is so overrated. I’ve done most of my books with two rugrats and so far, everyone’s lived. Not sure how it’s done. Minute by minute and day by day and word by word. And never ever think about how much farther you have to go.

  • Sarah

    I’m not yet a mommy, but I can’t pass up the chance to be in the drawing for a Murphy or Hunter book! And Catie I want to both give you a blue ribbon and slap you for setting the bar so high for the rest of us. I’m starting the long, long run up to becoming a single, adoptive mom and all the married mommies around me seem to delight in horror stories of sleep deprivation, marital discord, lost careers etc. The best support I’ve gotten is from a colleague who is also a writer and adoptive mom who said, “The minute I held her in my arms all the pointless things fell away. Writing wasn’t one of them.” Her daughter is 10 now and has a desk next to her mom’s at home. While her mom is pounding out manuscript changes her daughter is composing a book about her adoption to give to other adopted kids. *Sniffle* Isn’t that the sweetest thing you ever heard?

    Any other single parents on here? Adopters? I’m open to advice on being a writer with kids, especially through the adoption process.

  • Welcome back, Catie! Sorry it took me so long to get to MW today – I was helping the Beetle finish with a scholarship application package that had to be mailed today. And I thought babies were work!

    Seriously, keep accepting that help whenever it makes an appearance. When the Beetle was little, his dad worked nights, and my family doesn’t live nearby, so I didn’t have much in the way of help at hand. I’d put B to bed and write for a few hours before my own eyes were falling shut. Writing during the day didn’t happen until he was four or five, and I could trust that he wasn’t eating the deodorant in the bathroom or setting the kitchen on fire. 😛

  • Hi Catie, glad you’ve made it back somewhat. My wife and I just had a baby girl 2 weeks ago. Before she came along I’d read that newborns sleep something like 20 out of 24 hours so I thought: how hard can that be?
    Well it isn’t all that hard, but those 20 hours are in 2 hour blocks with feeding, nappy changing, washing, clothing and bottle preparing in between. I’m amazed at how quickly time evaporates and I’m not even the mother! We are getting better at it, it is largely a matter of coming up with procedures and following them. Unfortunately (or fortunately) babies change every few weeks so the procedures we develop now probably won’t be any good in 2 weeks time. I can completely agree with not expecting to get anything done in the first 6 months, at least unless you can get plenty of help from nanna and your partner.

  • When I started writing, I had three young boys, ages 2, 5 and 9. And a full time job. I also bred and trained horses. Oh – did I mention that my youngest was diagnosed with kidney disease at 2?

    I understand sleep-deprivation, and worry, and stress and trips to the PTA, Little League, and hospital. And I honestly think it was the few minutes or hours I spent writing that kept me sane.

    Catie – As your son grows, he will give you more story-fodder than anything else in your life. Every day is a mini-adventure and brand new discoveries through innocent eyes. It’s wonderful, and it just keeps getting better, every day! And the best part? Boys always (and forever) adore their Moms!

  • I would not count on my kids adoring their parents.

    It would not be fair in my view to count on it (even if we could), because this adoration would not be good for them. It would blind them for mistakes done by us as parents. We all make mistakes to some degree, and we as parents are not to be adored by our kids – only liked for what we did good as parents and not liked for what we did not do good.

    Even if maybe we can be as parents proud of ourselves for not perpetuating mistakes and patterns or even trans-generational trauma, we did it only because this is our duty as parents. We agreed to this duty by becoming parents and not to be adored by our kids.

    I apologize for having such strong stand on this, but honesty is the the best policy they say and I’m trying to be as honest to myself and to my children as I can be and nonetheless I still find myself failing…

    I have just joined Magical Words because I need some help with my writing which is more of – as calls it – scripto-therapeutic nature then trying to be a writer, although it would be nice if my writings would find some readers eventually, too 😉