Twelve Easy Steps to Doing Creative Work while Parenting

by Janelle Hanchett

So I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month thing, only I’m not writing a novel. I’m writing creative non-fiction, what I would call sort of a fusion between Ann Lamott and David Sedaris, only less good than that sounds. Since November 1 I’ve written 27,887 words, which is about 110 pages. And I have written a few blog posts. Basically I’ve been a writin’ fool. Emphasis on the fool.

On October 1 and 6 months ago and last year I would have told you there was no way I could possibly write 1,700 words a day on a book. There was simply not time. There was absolutely not one single spare moment in my day. And that was true.

I have 4 kids from tween to 5 months. My husband works 7 days a week these days. I already maintain a blog. I’m trying to build an online writing/blogging class (for you guys. what? Yes.).

No time. No sleep. No fucking way.

But then I read a quote by somebody that basically said that the writer will write when the fear of doing nothing outweighs the fear of writing complete crap. And suddenly, on October 30, I realized I was there. Fueled in part by the reality that teaching community college next semester would require me to work really freaking hard for below minimum wage (when you factor in childcare costs), and we can’t go on like this, with my husband working 7 days a week, I suddenly saw through my own bullshit.

It’s not that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to write. It’s that I chose to use my time in ways that negated the possibility of writing a book.

All I had to do is lower my fucking standards, A LOT. Like to the ground. I basically had to just chop them off at the knees and move on.

No biggee.

So for those of you “creative” moms who have a hobby or talent you’re just not using because there’s no time, I’ve created a list of Twelve Easy Steps to Doing Creative Work while Parenting. (I’ve written it about writing but I imagine it applies to most art.)

  1. Yeah, you know that nap time that lasts 1.5 hours (maximum), during wthich time you’re expected to accomplish Every Fucking Thing Since the Beginnning of Man? Yeah, you just get to write now during that time. That’s all. Just write.
  2. Forget the laundry. The hallway. The toys in the living room and the piles on the couch. Forget it all. Step over it. Step on it. Sit on it, near it, in it to get to your computer to write. Neglect everything and do the thing.
  3. Put the toddler in front of TV. Feel guily. Feel super fucking guilty but do it anyway becaue only the tenacity of A RABID IRRATIONAL BULLDOG WILL GET YOU THROUGH THIS.
  4. Learn to write absolute drivel. Silence the voices telling you it’s absolute drivel by writing anyway. Always write anyway. Do not read what you’ve written already because you’ll realize not only should you stop writing because you suck and shouldn’t bother, you might want to just off yourself too, because you’re that bad. LEARN TO LOVE THE DRIVEL. Do not off yourself.
  5. Cry on days when the toddler is in preschool for 2.5 hours and the baby decides not to take his only reliable morning nap that day because you realize you’ll probably have to do your writing at 10pm after everybody’s asleep, turning you into a miserable zombie yet another day.
  6. On that happy note, learn to write even though your eyes keep getting blurry. Learn to write when you’re so tired your cheekbones hurt (yeah, it’s a thing apparently. Who knew?).
  7. Fuck homecooked meals.
  8. Consider bathing optional.
  9. Accept help always.
  10. Drink so much coffee you wonder how your blood hasn’t bubbled out of your veins. Crash around 2pm but go pick up your kids anyway because you can’t just leave them there.
  11. Get okay with not brushing your toddlers hair and letting her wear pajamas all day, in and out of the house. While eating mac & cheese. And yogurt, for the 2nd meal in a row. (I said lower your motherfucking standards and I MEAN IT.)
  12. Write anyway write instead write because of write when you can’t write. Write when you have nothing to say when you can’t form a sentence when it’s pretty much all adjectives and adverbs and shit.

Write the shit, because it’s better than writing nothing, and if nothing else, you’ll learn that you can do it. You just have to make it insansely important and get crazy and not complain about it because you’re the one who chose to have the kids, dumbass. Now deal with it.

Or don’t deal with it, but write paint sew garden sing compose sculpt anyway.

We may not have a room of our own, but we’ve got a tiny spot on the motherfucking couch, and it’s calling our name.

my office. it's super excellent feng shui.

my office. it’s super excellent feng shui.



The amazing Brene Brown says about Marianne Elliott:

“…She’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced. If you want to do something extraordinary for yourself, I can’t think of a better teacher!”

Now THAT is a freaking endorsement.

Marianne Elliott is offering “Zen Peacekeepers Guide to the Holidays,” 30 Daily Lessons to help you keep peace with yourself and your loved ones. In her words:

You want to enjoy your families over the holidays, but you end up feeling ‘not quite at home’ with the people who you are supposed to be closest to.

You want to lay the table beautifully, buy the fancy wine, give your children ethical, sustainable gifts, and do it all with your hairZen Holidays brushed and your lipstick on straight. But you end up giving into pleas for the new Barbie, don’t even know which is the fancy wine, and never seem to leave enough time to brush your hair before the guests arrive.

You want to feel generous, maybe even a little bit indulgent, but you end up feeling financially squeezed, maybe even a little bit scared.

This mix of high expectations, financial pressure and family tension puts even the easiest of our relationships under strain. We start wishing the holidays would just be over and done with. And they haven’t even begun yet.

We don’t do much for ourselves sometimes, particularly during times when we really, really should.

Like now. When we’re trying to get through the damn holidays, and maybe even enjoy ourselves. Make memories that hopefully aren’t just all “What the hell is all this so stressful and why are my kids so annoying and why can’t I relax and when is Uncle Bobby going to stop drinking?”

Let Marianne help. She knows what she’s doing (somebody better!). Begin next week.


  • Sarah

    Thank goodness for this blog. I’m pregnant with my first (due in 6 weeks and ahhhhh, what? how did that happen?) and seriously panicked. I’ve always made my life revolve and center around my horse training ( we live in Montana and are lucky to be able to ) and I’m starting to freak out about having a baby and trying to having some fucking time to get on the aforementioned horses. I rode until I was 7 months pregnant (much to most people’s – except my wonderful ob- horror) I just want to hope and pray this will be possible, or else I dont really know what my “thing” is!
    So thanks for giving me hope, even just a little bit.

    • Gina

      Dont be surprised if that sweetie comes out wanting to be bounced all the time. I danced until 8.5 months and my little guy needed constant movement, I think because that was what he was used to 😉

  • Tara

    “We may not have a room of our own, but we’ve got a tiny spot on the motherfucking couch, and it’s calling our name.”

    Love this, thank you!

  • SFT

    Looks like some of that laundry may be actually folded? Nice!

    I became a mom six months ago, and I have been wrestling my standards to the floor ever since then. If a task is not strictly necessary, I just bid it farewell. Maybe after my kid turns one I’ll vacuum, or clean windows, or organize anything. At this point in my life, if a light bulb burns out, we’re just going to get used to it being a little darker.

    There are only two domestic things that my husband and I even make an effort with anymore: dishes (because I don’t want to get bugs in my house) and laundry (because we need to cover out naked bodies at work). Other than that, embrace the chaos!

  • Melanie

    Every time I read your blog I feel a little more sane and a little more comforted that the life of a parent is really as intense as it feels! Thank you, thank you, for sharing. You’re a beacon of hope!

  • Elaina

    Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Véronique

    Hey. I think it’s SO COOL that you are doing this. And yes, I can see how in your inspired moments you would be a perfect blend of Ann Lamott and David Sedaris (her dreadlocks, his sliss…).

    I did the NaNoWriMo when my second kid was 6 weeks old, talking about insanity, and the most hilarious thing about it was that I must have been so out of my mind with exhaustion and milk hormones, that I completely erased the entire experience from my mind. Can you fucking believe it???? I wrote a novel (albeit a very very crappy one) and then FORGOT about it. This was seven years ago. Then this summer I was clearing out my old computer prior to chucking it, and I found this strange folder, entitled ‘novel 2’, and I opened it, and there was this manuscript, and I started reading it, and did not remember anything about the story, although I could tell that I had authored it (I obviously immediately recognised my inimitable stellar style), but for the life of me I could not remember writing any of it. I looked at the date, and it was like, NO WAY, I could not have pulled that off, not with that little guy hanging on my boobs day and night, and the mad sleepless toddler, and my then husband in art school, and not even being able to sit with all them stitches in the wrong places. So I started asking my friends, my mother, my ex, and yes, they all confirmed that I did indeed write like the devil had got me by the throat, every day, every night.

    Anyway, I don’t know you, but I just wanted to say how proud of you I am nonetheless. You go girl!

  • M Holmes

    This is basically the anthem for all parents who want to get ANYTHING done outside of caring for their children and home. Amen sister.

  • Lisa

    Oh, how I wish I had known there was a National Novel Writing Month before it started! I guess I’ll just do it in December, a month late. Late is how everything gets done, so I’ll be right on schedule. Now, to figure out how to write a novel on a smartphone one handed 🙂

  • Laurel

    Awesome! I keep trying to figure out how to get any writing, or anything creative done while pregnant, working and chasing a toddler who thinks sleep is for suckers. I must be a big ole sucker then.
    I will totally write drivel. I can do it!

  • Nina

    Yes! Funny, too. But really, most of this is must do stuff like letting certain other aspects of life goal. Overall theme: We cannot do it all. And the NOT doing has to hurt worse than the mayhem of the other stuff.

    This was awesome. Thank you.

  • Bernadette

    I love your column. I think you’re a great writer who tells it like it is, and who’s damn funny about it too. Good luck with the book! I hope it becomes a best seller! I really do. Now stop reading this shit and go write your damn book. Now. I mean it. I really do! ;o)

  • Dana

    Omg!! I’m so impressed, in awe, and you may say it’s drivel but I’m betting by the sound of this blog that it’s anything but. You’re a fantastic engaging writer and how you do Nano with 4 kids one of which is an infant, is just – WOW! I wanted to use Nano to finish my novel but I didn’t fully commit and time is a passing me by. I feel like a lame ass 🙂 But whether I Nano or not, this advice rocks and is valid regardless. Keep on writing and I can’t wait til you’re published.

  • WildViolet

    Yeah, Im tyring to do some creative work as we speak. I put Lion King on…. you know how sometimes… DVDs will just replay if you don’t turn them off… well i think its on its second cycle… and yes, she is watching it. O_O #Ooops

  • Kris

    Just: love. Love this, love you for writing about it – and doing it.

  • Lainey Berton

    I’m pretty sure we are soul-sisters. Love your writing and pumped for you to be working on a book! You’ve honestly saved me from thinking “I was the only one” with many of the feelings I’ve had since becoming a mom. Your post “Hey new moms…” pulled me out of a downward spiral. Thanks for your openness. You’re an inspiration!

  • Robin

    I’m a high school art teacher (or was? I’m taking the year — or longer –off with my first bambino) and coincidentally, I finally finished some artwork this morning before you posted your latest entry. Yay us! I felt so happy to have accomplished something! It took me 7 weeks in baby time, but should have only taken me 4 hours in theory. With your encouragement, I’m going to force myself to keep creating art and to stop feeling guilty about doing something that I love. Besides, what’s another day without showering? Babies like the mamma stink. 😉 I really can’t thank you enough for creating your blog and helping me through this crazy new life. A big thanks to your lovely gang of readers, too for making me feel more normal as a new and frazzled mom.

  • Jess

    Congrats on getting the drivel out! I had intended the start on another possible piece of something that could be considered a novel this month as well. Unfortunately, I blame teenagers and babies in my house… mostly teenagers! I wrote one two summers ago during July, Camp NaNoWriMo. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done but I tell you when I got to my 50000, I can seriously equate it to labor and delivery. I labored on that book and like baby labor, once I was able to trust my abilities, it worked out fine. I have not looked at it since… it was a goal and I met it and right now I’m fine with letting 4 kids hijack my creative time. Keep going lady! It is literally a labor of love, creativity and some drivel. Now stop reading this and get back to work! You are amazing!

  • Kaz Jimmy

    AHHH! I love this! Thanks for…just…this!!! My cousin sent me a link to your blog and it’s just the encouragement I needed today! Cheers 🙂

  • Katy

    AND I THOUGHT I COULDNT LOVE YOU MORE. WELL I DO. This was exactly what I needed to read today (READING when I should have been nano-ing)
    Fantastic progress on the nano (I’m on about 20k and have been sewing, watching Netflix, planning dates with my husband, flirting and doing anything to avoid writing THIS STOPS TODAY)… I’ve gotten lost in my own parenthesis… ace.
    You are phenomenal. I just needed to say that. When you’ve written it, let us know, BECAUSE I WILL READ ANYTHING WRITTEN BY YOU (especially if it gets me out of writing)

  • peggy miller

    Hey. I’ve done NaNo a couple of times, once with a kid. It’s exhilarating. Keep on plugging. And be forewarned: your house will be gross when you’re done. And you will live. And that’s part of the lesson.

  • Kate

    Just.Freaking.Awesome. My husband and I loved doing crazy sports before our kid, and we decided we were going to keep doing them with the kid along. We spend most weekends in the summer camping and rock climbing, we do Crossfit 3-5 days a week, and we hike and mountain bike and travel a bit, and live our passions. People ask how we can manage that, and I usually respond with “Well, we generally suck at regular life. Have you seen my house?”

    Talk about low standards. My kid regularly goes to day care with food on his face and unbrushed hair, because I’m using that one hour in the morning to throw a load of laundry in and prep dinner for that night. We pay a lot of money in fees because I can’t seem to pay a bill on time. We have a rental house with the most wild-over grown yard in the neighborhood. I haven’t cleaned a toilet in years. We just discovered recently that we don’t own a broom. There is dirt and mildew and dog hair everywhere, and I’m totally cool with that because there is dirt and dog hair all over the other things I love… like my tent and my mountain bike.

    So, yes, you can do amazing things while being a parent. I think in order to do it, you have to give up some basic things like having money and sanitation. But, I figure, I’ll clean when I’m dead.

  • Nikiya Schwarz

    Holy shit, I love your perspective. Thank you for this one, and for all of them. But especially this one today. And that normalizing image of what a real living room looks like!!!

  • Chandra Achberger

    Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss YEAH!

  • Kate

    I feel like you should just take all of your blog posts and put them in a book. I would totally buy it. There’s so many of your posts I would read again and again. It would be sort of like one of those chicken soup for the soul books except 1000x better!!

  • Chelsea

    Yes! As an artist/mother the best advice I got from a teacher was “Stop doing the dishes”. She said your house will be messy, that’s ok, maybe your kids only gets a bath once a week, that’s ok. Just accept that this is where you’re at and get to work.

  • Larissa

    This pretty much sums it up! Lowering standards is great — my daughter just heads towards Laundry Mountain AKA the spare bed with all the laundry piled on it to get dressed now. The other day when I’d put the clothes away she yelled “Help! Where are all clothes???” I think she forgot they can also exist in drawers. I do miss sleep though.

  • katie

    with my firt ever comment i want you to know without any shred of doubt that you are the spirit child of david sedaris and anne lamott. that is exactly how i describe you blog to others. and when your book is picked up and published which it will be (give it time) i will but it in bulk and hand it out to every mother i know. never stop.

  • Amanda

    I immediately zoned in on that little blurb about a potential online writing/blog class. YES PLEASE!

  • Sara Howard

    This is so very timely. With 3 children painting, pottery and writing fall away quickly for me, but these are the things that give me life and they need to become a priority again. Somehow.

  • Gervase

    I have to tell you – I love this. LIke I LOVE THIS. I’m starting/running my own business from home and HOLY SHIT this is spot on. Especially the quote that got you fired up to start writing again. That is EXACTLY how I feel. I love everything you write. Keep on, gurl. Oh, and THANK YOU.

  • Kim

    YES. Hah! I have been getting really good at telling myself these things, lately. Dustbunnies will get fat and cannibalize each other, the kid will get more fingerprints on the window after I clean these ones, same can be said about the dog’s noseprints, laundry takes two minutes to start and switch, so there’s writing time after that. All of it. All of it is empty and all of it can be ignored. Creativity (writing, painting, interpretive dancing, whatever floats your boat) is so hugely important and needs to be done. So yeah. I’m there with you and fucking great job, lady! That is an impressive word count and I think you’re a BAMF.

  • Dawn

    Thanks again. ….sigh…..alright…..create, lower standards, leave messes…create… addition….get off Internet….,,

  • Britney

    You are such a breath of fresh air! I’ve been reading your blog for the past 30 minutes and I feel some stress being released!

  • Donna

    Oh. My. Gosh. I love your blog. Like in a way that makes me almost stalkerish because I’m going back and reading past posts all in the span of a day. Ah, who the hell am I kidding? You might as well take the restraining order out now since I’ve been posting just about everything you write on my FB page.
    Thank you for saying “fuck.” Thank you. Now I can point to your blog and say, “She says it and she’s an awesome mom, so what the fuck?”
    I had the kids first in the family. My older sister got me the What to Expect When You’re Expecting Bible of so many new moms. All I can say is that it made a super great coaster, especially when I was in that last stage of pregnancy and leaning over wasn’t an option. The book was so thick, it made everything on it easy to reach. I don’t read instructions to put together an Ikea bookshelf. Why the hell would I allow anyone to try and tell me how to go through pregnancy? Uh. No. Two happy and healthy kids later, some days I’m like “I got this.” Most days, though, I’m like “Where’s that damn book? Do they have anything in there about kids drinking milk and eating doughnuts in the bath tub?” Yes. I said doughnuts. Don’t judge me. I figure the milk cancels them out.
    Anyway, thanks for making me feel not so alone out here! You’re amazing.

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