I am blessed with three little animals—er, children—between the ages of 5 and 12, who have been out of their enclosures—um, school—for a little over a week. This means that, in addition to writing romantic suspense, I’ve resumed my regular summer position as zookeeper. Some of you are in the same boat (Ark? Cage?). In fact, fellow author Julie Anne Lindsey had a similar blog about summer word deprivation last week. (To view it, click here.) And I know others of you have all kinds of other life complications to deal with.
I've found that spending a few hours each day maintaining the zoo and trying to embrace the chaos helps me stay sane, and even find some writing time.
A zookeeper’s responsibilities include:
- Behavioral Observation.
The kids' chorus of “I’m bored” (typically combined with draping themselves across the furniture and floor as if every bone in their bodies melted) filled the house within twenty-four hours of their release from the confines of a regular schedule.
“But Mom’s not bored,” I say. “Mom has a book due July 31st.” This, of course, yields no sympathy. Sigh. If only I could put the monkeys to work writing my book…
The sounds of wild animals squabbling over territory also fill the zoo at regular intervals.
Luckily, if I spend a few minutes playing with them, getting them started on an activity, they'll usually play for about twenty minutes in a more or less content manner. Sure, twenty minutes isn't a lot, but it's a writing sprint, or a page or two of edits. And if I do this several times a day, it adds up...
- Exhibit Maintenance.
My husband and I decided against a lot of summer traveling or costly kid camps this year, though there will be a martial arts camp during that last week of July. (Thank goodness. That’s deadline week!) The added benefit to enjoying a staycation this year is we had the money to do some redecorating around the house, and even create a writing "nook" for me. This has given me a place to focus my energy on my writing activities.
When it comes to sibling fights, the threat of having to help Mom clean the house or having to go to their rooms and clean has come in handy a time or two.
- Environmental Enrichment.
Within the enclosures, introducing the occasional new game, puzzle, or movie, or dragging out old games, puzzles and books that have been forgotten, can build excitement.
Also, taking a walk as a family, and choosing different paths on occasion, lets Zookeeper Mommy get a break from time in front of a computer screen, but also gives us all exercise time. Our town has an immense web of urban trails that we have yet to explore, and we’re planning to pick one a week to investigate. Let the animals (and zookeeper) escape their confines for a little bit. It might even lead to a dose of writing inspiration.
And if that’s not enough, invest in a trampoline. It worked for us, and keeps the kids from too much screen time. The saved money from our staycation (the only reason I set up a deadline in the summer!) gave us the funds to do some fun things at home and around town.
- Feeding, Maintaining, and Cleaning.
I try to make cleaning the house, baking with the kids, or running errands fun "breaks" between writing spells. The 5-year-old loves to go grocery shopping and do other activities that help us both get things done while still feeling like a break.
I try to plan ahead for those times when the animals will be extra-needy (around orthodontist appointments, for example, when one can expect a higher degree of whininess from both child and parent), so my word count or editing page goal won’t be as high. Knowing my limits, and organizing my schedule around them will hopefully save me heartache when that deadline looms.
Finally, thank goodness my animals aren't nocturnal. They still go to bed at a relatively decent hour, so sometimes my writing has to wait until then zoo is quiet.
Overall, I try to remind myself to enjoy the animals. And the summer. Sure, writing is important, but it isn't everything. And it's all that other stuff that eventually fuels my creativity.
How about you? Any tips for this zookeeper? How does your writing routine change with the season—or does it? How do you overcome upheaval in your writing habits?