Friday, January 11, 2008

Author Cheryl Wyatt's tips on writing with young children

Cheryl Wyatt writes for Steeple Hill. Her novels from her Wings of Refuge Series are about a team of USAF Pararescue Jumpers and the ladies who capture their hearts. Cheryl's wonderful book, A Soldier's Promise, is on sale this month. I've asked Cheryl to share tips on how she makes time to write with young children.

How I write with kids:

Since I left one career to stay home with my children, I am very strict about sectioning off writing time.

I make sure I don't over-volunteer for stuff that could cut into my God (which includes Bible), writing or family time.

I try to only write while my children are in school, or sleeping. That means staying up late (my preference) or getting up early (yick!).

At the beginning of each year, I prayerfully evaluate what things I can give up in order to have more writing and family time. For instance, I have watched TV a total of about ten hours for the past three years. I haven't IMd except for around three times in about three years as well. I pulled out of coordinating ACFWs Book of the Year, Genesis and IRCC Contests since that took several hours a day for weeks at a time. That was a prayerful decision.

During this evaluation time, I decide how many people I can mentor and how many contests I can judge and I don't do any more than that. Usually around five contests, three to four unpublished and one published contest. That is my way of giving back because I feel that is so important. I wouldn't have gotten where I am (and I still have SO much to learn) had others ahead of me on the road not taken me under mentoring wings. Even in that though, I try hard to set strict boundaries because my husband and my children come first.

I ask God to order my day before my feet ever hit the floor in the morning. I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom on what to say no to and what to pursue.

I put God first.

This year, I'm giving up shopping. My husband has agreed to take that over. That will give me a few more hours in the month...and probably a few more dollars in the bank since he's more frugal than I. LOL!

I had a mother's helper during my first contract, and I miss her so, so much. She took a semester off college to stay with my children when I had to have reconstructive surgery of my hip bone and socket, pelvis and femur. During that recovery, and during her time with us, I got a lot of writing and research done. I wish she was still with us, but she went to nursing school. I'm happy for her, and for her future patients because she will be so conscientious and compassionate. If you can afford a mother's helper, one you trust with your children, I highly recommend that.

I don't waste a minute. I set brutally strict hours for writing and I ignore the phone and e-mail during the time I write. I know God will alert me if the phone rings and it's an emergency. I've had overwhelming compulsion to answer it before, so I know He'll alert me.

I give my children permission to interrupt me when I'm doing more menial stuff, so they are understanding when I have to hibernate for a few days to get my rough draft down, or proof my galleys. Those are the only two things that I do writing-wise that I can't stand to be interrupted during. It takes such intense concentration.

I do a special activity with them the week before I do either of the above. Then I do something extra special for them and with them right after I finish the above.

At the advice of friend, Pammer James, I have an "activity bag" that they can only play with while I'm writing, if I happen to be under deadline and need to write while they're home or awake.

I try to set cushy deadlines so I can have special one-on-one time with each of my children.
I trade time with my husband, meaning let him do things he really enjoys, like go on a ski trip or to a concert with his buddies so when I need writing the recent brainstorming trip to the Carolina's, he's supportive. We love to do things together as a family and plan regular activities together. In addition my husband and I have regular date nights where it's just the two of us. Amazingly, that helps us both be refreshed and ready to take on the kids when the other needs to borrow time for something.

I delete a lot of e-mail. If you send me those meme things, or those tagged things or forwards...sorry but I usually don't read them. I have to be very brutal with what I spend my time doing and those sorts of things aren't high on the list. I wish I could have time to answer them, but I feel my blog and promotion must come first at this time, since my first book is releasing.

I include my children as much as possible. I let them stick the labels on any books I mail out, and I let them help me tape the packages. I let them stuff a pen in each envelope, and they love "helping." It gives them ownership over what I'm doing and I reward them for being "mommy's assistants."

I have a reward system I use, called ticketing. I bought a role of red tickets and I give them tickets when they let me write uninterrupted. When they play on their own, or fix their own cereal, I give them tickets. Each ticket is worth ten cents. When they get ten tickets, I trade it in for a dollar. I keep the tickets and the dollars in jars so they can see how much they have. It provides wonderful incentive. They can lose tickets for disobeying, or fighting with their sibling or for talking back, etc. The tickets aren't just for when I need to "buy" writing time.
I always buy them something out of every advance. For instance, gymnastics lessons, or some craft activity that we can do together. Or something they can do while I'm writing if they choose.
Most of all, I try to stay super sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and to each of my children. When I sense they're needing some TLC or special mommy time, I drop what I'm doing and focus totally on them. I don't procrastinate with deadlines so I have that buffer there. I've always turned my stuff in early. Way early in most cases.

I don't spit out proposals as fast as I could, and I won't until they all get in school. I could write about five books a year but I hold back for the sake of time with my children. I try to remember my friends who can't stay home and want to, or I think of my friends who've lost their children. It is a harsh reminder that we're not promised another day of breath nor can we take time with our children for granted. When I set priorities, I don't take anything on that would leave me with regret should something happen to someone in my family.

In summary, I put God first then my family and church and then my writing. Matthew 6:33 is a wonderful life verse and I apply it to my writing because I know God has called me to do it. To let anything other than God, church or family to distract me from it, save times my friends need prayer, would be veering away from what I know I was put on this earth to do. Love God 1st. Love my family. I write as worship and my children understand that. That said, if I get obsessed with a scene and it abducts me for far too long, they will often pull me away from the computer for a "worship jam" session or "mommy time" where we dance around the living room and sing our hearts out for a few songs. Then I get right back to work and they head for the Polly Pockets.

I make them feel like they're more valuable than the keyboard, although while I was coordinating Book of the Year, they did have hefty cyber rivalry going on. LOL! So I took the entire summer off for them. Didn't write one word. Once they started school, I dived headlong back into the books.

Because I am brutal with senseless distractions, my children are very understanding when I am under deadline and am MIA from my Hide-N-Seek posts to write.

I have a wonderfully supportive family, grandmother and mother and sister, etc. who watch them for a few hours so I can meet my deadlines.

I use every spare minute I can and as I said, I don't waste time and I've given up a lot of other things, such as sacrificing computer games, TV and IM to be able to write. Time with my children is something I know God doesn't intend me to give up. So, each year, as my commitment to my publisher demands more of my time and loyalty, He lets me know what has to go. I probably won't see the mall for a year...unless it's to take my children to cash in their tickets. LOL!

Thanks, Cheryl, for sharing how you stick to your priorities of God, family and your writing in your busy life!
Readers, enter the drawing to win a copy of A Soldier's Promise by posting a comment. Please add your e-mail address to your post so I can contact the winner.


Donna Moore said...

Please enter me in your drawing. Thank you for sharing how she writes with children. I find it hard to find time to write. It is nice to know that it can be done.

Tina M. Russo said...


That really blessed me as and was so timely as I set up my schedule for the year.


I don't have kids at home anymore but when I did, I was writing short stories and we made a deal;
if they would give me several hours of uninterrupted time I would pay them from my sale. So we all sold my stories. They felt they were helping and that they were reaping from my writing.

Praying for continued success for you in 2008.

Julie Lessman said...

Wow, Cheryl, I could have used this advice when my children were small. EXCELLENT post! I am in awe.

God is going to use you mightily, my friend.

Love ya,

Mary Connealy said...

Cheryl, You sound so strict, good girl...I mean with your writing focus, not with your children. :)
Great post. I feel like I know you really well but reading this is another glimpse inside and I love that.
Congratulations on A Soldier's Promise. Great book. When is the sequel coming?

Missy Tippens said...

Love the ticket idea!! But my kids are so old, each ticket would have to be worth $1. LOL

Still, I may try it! I always promised that with my first advance, I would buy them something. I actually ended up paying our deposit for our beach trip last summer.


Hannah said...

interesting post. i'd love to win a copy of the book! hsmuda(at)gmail[dot]com thanks!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Sequel is coming in March of this year. WOO HOO! I have my copies. LOL! It's Parajumper Manny Pena and Celia Munez is heroine.

Thanks ladies for stopping by and for encouraging me with your kind words!

Your posts encouraged me as well!

Janet...thanks SO much for featuring me here!

If there's anyone lurking out there...step out and tell us if you have any other advice for writing with children, or distractions in general. LOL! NOT that children are a distraction...but you know what I mean. LOL!

Thanks all!

Don't forget to sign up for a free autographed copy of my book!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cheryl, great discipline.

Great gal.

Wonderful books.

Cute kids.

Hunka, hunka husband.

Nice job, all around. Proud of you, kid.


Pamela J said...

I have great respect for someone who can set goals and dodge distractions or make provisions for such. And stick to them with such good support as a whole family and some extended family to help out. Great job. A list worth keeping and putting into practice. A list perhaps not keepable without the help of God in the lead. I have a book and God is blessing Cheryl for keeping her priorities in the right place. I look forward to the next one in March.
cepjwms at yahoo dot com

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Thanks, Ruthy!

One thing I forgot to mention is I HIGHLY recommend every serious writer invest in an Alphasmart. For around 200 bucks you can get one. I get more writing done on that than anything.

You press a button and it turns on automatically. You don't have to wait for it to boot. You hit the off button and it automatically saves. It also runs 700 hours or so on three AA batteries.

I can carry mine in an oversize purse or small tote. Very handy gadget.

I'm holding a contest right now for my newsletter subscribers and the main prize is the choice between an 8 GB iPod Nano, a Alphasmart Neo, or a 6 month subscription to any Steeple Hill line of the winner's choice.

So if you want a shot at a free Alphasmart...visit my Web site, sign up for my newsletter in the "Join Cheryl Wyatt's Author Mailing List" box, then send me an e-mail at Cheryl @ (close spaces) telling me you want to be entered.

Thanks all for your kind words and for dropping by!



Janet Dean said...

What a great contest prize, Cheryl! I love my Alphasmart, especially on long drives in the car. Let me clarify. My d/h is doing the driving, not me. :-)

Myra Johnson said...

Cheryl, you are amazing!!! As an empty-nester, I am deeply convicted of so many areas where I need more self-discipline. Sadly, the ever-expanding Internet is both a wonderful resource and a horrific distraction and time-devourer.

Also, I have to keep reminding myself that each writer must find her own way of writing amid her circumstances. It doesn't help to judge myself because I'm not producing or selling at the rate my friends are. I continue to pray for God's guidance in setting priorities and managing my time.

Thanks for a wonderfully inspiring look inside your writing and family life, Cheryl!

windycindy said...

Hello, I really enjoyed reading your bio. You are such a productive person with children! I suppose it does take some strategy! Thanks,Cindi

Pammer said...

Great interview and wonderful topic.

Can't wait to get my paws on The sequel.


Pattie said...

This list of how to write with kids is VERY helpful. Thank you!