Making time for creativity and your kids in the wake of COVID-19
Usually at this time of year, The Space Between would be focused on providing helpful articles on how to set up summer schedules to prevent the infamous “summer slide” without an over-reliance on screens. Or how to select summer camps to optimize enrichment opportunities and to get everyone out of the house so that writers can write.
Thanks to COVID-19, the jury’s still out on summer camp here in New York. We’re schooling from home for another few weeks, but with summer looming on this Memorial Day weekend, and most of the country in some phase between lock-down and “next normal,” what should we be doing as parents to prepare our kids for summer? As creatives, how in the midst of this uncertainty, do we provide for the time we need to work on our craft?
Furthermore, how are we supposed to manage any of it when the ability to set and stick to a schedule has changed week-by-week, and sometimes day-by-day, for the past two months?
There are two schools of thought on this. Those who love structure (hello, Plotters!) schedule your kids’ time and your writing time. It’s all on the calendar (virtual, plannered, or both), and the calendar rules! No excuses. The Muse comes when She comes, but she’ll know where to find you better if you make yourself regularly available. And your kids will thrive when there’s a set routine.
The other way of thinking, which I’ve advocated before, is that there are seasons to parenting and writing, and it’s best to go with the flow (Camp Pantser). If your family needs you more right now, or your mental and emotional exhaustion has your well running dry, then take the time that you need to take care of yourself. And to take care of your kids, who are dealing with all the changes keeping us all off balance, but with less life experience to help them find their center. Find ways to replenish. Give yourself some grace. Live to write another day and be gentle with yourself, and the small humans in your care, in the meantime.
The problem here, as with any two hard positions, is that neither covers the full spectrum of human experience. For example, for those of us who find replenishment in the writing, you might need to schedule your replenishment time or risk it being subsumed by the never-ending needs of those who rely on you to be the calm in the storm. For those who are comforted by routine, the challenges that come from trying to keep to a daily schedule in this time of ever-shifting boundaries and expectations might be causing you, or your kids, more harm than good.
In other words, there are an endless variety of spaces between these two positions, so put on your creativity cap to find a place that works for you and your family.
What’s that look like, you ask?
It could look like allowing ourselves one approach most days, but embracing the other a day or two each week. If you’re normally a Plotter, try flying by the seat of those pants one Wednesday and see how you all do with it. Did it allow you all to refresh and rediscover a little creativity? If you’re normally a Pantser, did sticking to a plan help you to achieve something meaningful?
It could be scheduling your writing time on a weekly basis (instead of mapping out goals for the whole summer), and giving yourself more cushion on your deadlines so small set backs don’t feel so huge. Bonus: by evaluating each week on its own merits, the shifting needs of your family feel planned, rather than like small bombs going off in your carefully curated calendar.
It could look like making a summer calendar that has a range of goals ranging from “good” to “super star” tied to each week. For example, Week One goals might look like:
- Good = research that thing that will make your story ring with authenticity
- Awesome = outline how to integrate that research in your story
- Super Star = write the scenes that needed research
Not only will you feel good about the goals you meet, the goals left undone simply cycle to the next week.
It could be trying to pair writing goals with a family goals (especially ones that promise to give you some uninterrupted time), e.g. you research while your kids are also researching for a special project you’ve assigned. You outline while the kiddos do a craft or play outside. You get writing while they are occupied cleaning their rooms. Take a look at Julie’s sand pail list from last summer and see if there are any activities there you can pair with your own creative time.
Now more than ever in this perpetual groundhog day you can feel free to experiment with a little non-linearity in your creative process, and for that matter, your parenting. Look at the summer through your child’s eyes. Do you see all the opportunities there? Kids are great at extemporaneous application of effort, masters of rolling with their moods. We used to be like that too. Maybe try it again, for a day, and know that it is okay. And if it doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped, then try something else the next day, until you find the balance that is just right for all of you.