How can parents write during summer vacation?

School vacation starts tomorrow. 

Not summer vacation, as my literal-minded four-year old reminds me. It's not "summer" until late June. (and by the way, if we go back to school in the fall, school shouldn't start until the end of September.)

It's a mixed day for me, productivity- and creativity-wise. I'm thrilled to have my son home for the summer. That's why I've picked a flexible job with few deadlines. But I also want to tackle some big writing projects this summer, and writing and kids don't mix. 

When earlier this week it dawned on me that I have to learn to write with him in the house, I brainstormed six ideas to help me get the writing done. I hope they can be of use to other write-from-home parents or any parents struggling to carve creative time out of summer break. 

Breakfast Bars

My most productive hours are in the morning. Unfortunately, my son is also an early riser, who hears me sitting down to my desk as an invitation to come play. 

So this summer I'm going to close my office doors, which will feature a new sign that announces my one hour of writing time. I hope we'll both get a lot out of this. I'll get writing time as well as an important hour to myself. He'll get the responsibilities of dressing himself and making breakfast, which means he's also likely to get a lot of Trader Joe's cereal bars, which I'm hoping will sweeten the arrangement. 


Picking out clothes and breakfast bars will give my son something to do while I'm working, but my whole plan hinges on preventing unlockable glass doors from opening. That's why I need stickers.  

In their excellent #amwriting podcast, Jessica Lahey and KJ Dell'Antonia often talk about their simple productivity trick: a sticker for meeting a daily word count. Each member of their writing triad texts each other the word "sticker" to keep each other on track.

I've used the same reward to keep myself on track, and have enlisted my son as an accountability partner. When I pick him up from preschool, his first question is often "What color is your sticker?" It's sweet that he assumes I will meet my goals.

My summer word counts are more modest than my school year counts, but I'm shooting for 500 words each morning, after which my son will get to choose which sticker goes on my calendar. [Now accepting your recommendations for the world's best stickers.] 

Thinking Time

When my son was younger, I could usually, generally, kind-of depend on naps to snatch a little creative time. As a parent of a now non-napper, I find it easier to get afternoon writing time, because that non-napper is also old enough to be told that, once 1:00 rolls around, it's thinking time. That's our re-branded quiet time, which was rebranded from nap time, because my son claims that he doesn't need to sleep and sometimes needs to think loudly. But the basic goal still stands: we take an hour in the afternoon to read, write, or snooze.

Pretend Writing

Our living room already transforms into a pop-up pretend coffee shop when I have to write for a deadline. 

I'm inviting the Story Pirates to this summer's pop-ups. Well, not *the* Story Pirates, as obviously they're on a boat somewhere on the open ocean...or maybe a deserted island...anyway, we'll be listening to the podcast. The Story Pirates' first book, Stuck in the Stone Age, includes a writing guide for kids, which I hope will inspire my son to start writing his first stories. 

I love Pretend Coffee Shop and the Pretend Writing we do there because really, that's nearly always how I feel about my ideas early in the process: like I'm just pretending to be a writer, an impostor whose work isn't insightful or funny enough. As I'm waiting to hear back from agents about my book proposal, my impostor syndrome is progressing.

Playing at writing with my son makes me feel a bit more relaxed about the process. Our pretend coffee shop is too loud for careful editing, but I find it's an excellent place for me to play pretend, too, brainstorming outlandish, crazy, impossible ideas that seem more do-able once I write them down. 


Steven King's On Writing (an excellent book for writers, yes, but also for any creative mind in need of inspiration) reminds writers that good writers read. It may be difficult to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard during the summer months, but reading is a no-brainer all-family activity. 

The children's section of our local library branch is right next to the adult stacks, which means my son can independently browse while I'm researching. But it's sometimes just as inspiring to follow him around to whatever interests him. I've found great success in letting my son pick my subject matter, and then drawing inspiration from what inspires him. My topics here at snackdinner are generally a vehicle for something else. Zombie raccoons teach us how readily we trust images. Salmonella panic illuminates our terror-driven math errors. So what I write about isn't nearly as important as the questions that "what" opens. 

Right now, my son is obsessed with states and pasta, so expect some cartographic and noodle-driven questions later this summer. 

Mixed Media

I know that, despite my very careful plans and backup plans, sometimes the writing won't get done. For those moments I'm borrowing another strategy from Jess and KJ: a one-word mantra to keep myself focused. My summer mantra could be "write," of course, because that's what I'm hoping to accomplish. But that would doom me to failure, because being a full-time stay-at-home-parent to a pre-pre-Ker means that the writing doesn't always get done. My mantra, instead, will be create. 

See? Pasta's finding its way in here already.

See? Pasta's finding its way in here already.

We can compose scores to future hits like my son's "Hot Dog Buns" (his current favorite food sung to a familiar tune). We can can take photographs of shadows at different times of day. We can doodle with chalk in the park behind the house. We can borrow pasta-making books from the library and transform the house into an Italian restaurant. All of these creations will inevitably open up new questions for me to ask when I can sit down to write. 

"Create" is also a nice reminder of why we're both home for the summer in the first place: creating memories. a home. a family.