I don’t have kids, but I do know a lot of kids, and J.V. Speyer’s guest column for this week’s Pen to Pen feature had me laughing in recognition. Whether you’re a parent or simply have trouble explaining your job to loved ones of any age, this post is sure to strike a chord. It also provides some great ideas for melding career and family life. Read on! —Dale
My Mommy Writes Kissy Books—Writing Romance and Raising a Family
by J.V. Speyer
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I started writing for publication, in part, because my Spawn thought I wasn’t doing anything all day but arguing with strangers on the Internet. She was probably about five at that point, and not really literate.
I thought to myself, “This will be fantastic. I’ll work while she’s at school, and when she’s not at school I’ll put the computer away and we’ll have ‘us time.’ There will be no conflict and everything will be seamless!”
Any of you writers out there reading this who also have young kids at home will be laughing at me now. You might have even spilled your coffee, you were laughing so hard. Look, I was new to this, I was naïve…
Anyway, for all my good time management intentions, things didn’t quite work out the way I thought they would. There was too much work to do, not enough childcare, and oh yeah my deeply attached Spawn had a strong interest in my work.
I know I’m probably not the only one with that challenge. We don’t have kids so we can put them on a shelf, do we? Whether we make them or adopt them, it’s a long and not very pleasant process—we need to take the time to enjoy our kids and nurture them.
And yet, this is our job. How do we mix this job with the full-time job of parenting?
Some solutions depend on age. An infant can be worked around, because most of the time they eat or sleep. I used to type in a lounging position while my Spawn slept on my chest. She can’t do that anymore, she’s 7 and that would just be uncomfortable for everyone, but it worked for the first few weeks.
When she started to get frustrated with the amount of time I was putting into my work, I suggested she try to write some books of her own. At the time, she wasn’t quite literate yet. She could write letters, but she needed a lot of help figuring out which letters to write. She could, however, draw.
And she did draw. She drew some fantastic comic books while I typed away beside her. She was excited to be working on books, just like Mommy, and it gave me some time when I didn’t have childcare to do my actual job.
Literacy created some new challenges. The Spawn didn’t slowly become literate. She went from “I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” to picking up books she’d never seen before and reading them out loud to strangers at parties. Naturally, I was very proud.
Here’s the problem. I write romance. More to the point, I write about people, mostly men, who’ve had some stuff happen in their life and who don’t always have the healthiest mindsets. I guarantee a happy ending, but they have to work for it.
Do I really need for my little Spawn to get her ideas about sex and relationships from the middle parts of my works in progress?
(This is a rhetorical question. She does not need to get her ideas about sex and relationships from the middle parts of my works in progress. Good Lord, now I’ll have nightmares for a week.)
I put a password lock on my computer, which kicks in if I’ve been away from my machine for one minute. She can probably figure it out with enough time, but she knows I’ll be back soon enough. By the time she’s old enough to want to challenge me in that way, I figure she’ll be old enough to recognize that these guys are fictional characters in abnormal situations.
By then she may even be over the whole “writing romance” thing. She knows I write mostly romance, and that almost all of the romance I’ve written has been for the LGBTQ+ community.
She’s fine with the LGBTQ+ aspect of my work, although she wishes I’d write less about “boys.” She’s definitely not okay with “kissy books.”
Whenever we meet a new group of people – usually parents of school friends, the subject of occupation comes up. I usually say I’m an author and leave it at that, since I live in a comparatively conservative area and I don’t want to turn the playground into World War III. But the Spawn will run across the playground to loudly tell whoever’s there, “My mommy writes kissy books! With BOYS in them! Eew!”
And then she’ll run away again.
I’m told this is perfectly age-appropriate behavior. She’s asked me to write her a book about hockey, with no boys in it at all. I told her I’d think about it.
As a parent, you need to be prepared for your child to have strong opinions about your work. They’ll have moments of jealousy, because they want all of your time. If you’re writing sci-fi, they’ll suddenly decide space travel annoys them and they want you to focus on elves or something. It’s normal. It’s even a good thing, because it means they’re forging their own identity.
And honestly, I find it helpful. My Spawn sometimes helps me to edit. I don’t let her see any of the parts that will distress her, or that would distress me to have her read. But I do bounce plots off of her sometimes, now that she’s old enough to follow a moderately complex storyline. She’s helped me to edit the first chapter of a few books now.
Let me tell you, if you write something that’s not hugely unsuitable for kids, they make great editors. They have no filter. “Mom, did you write this before coffee? It makes no sense. Change it.”
There are aspects of writing while parenting that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The guilt, the constant feeling of being stretched too thin, and trying to write a sex scene while someone’s shoving a tablet with endless episodes of Teen Titans Go in your face can be enough to make you want to hang it all up.
(There is nothing sexy about Robin. Especially that particular portrayal of Robin. Absolute mood killer. But I guess we can chalk it up to practicing under extreme adverse conditions?)
The trick, for me, has been in making the Spawn a partner. She works with me now, and she takes almost as much pride in my work as I do. Sometimes things take a little longer, but my work and our relationship is better because of it.
About J.V. Speyer
J.V. Speyer has lived in upstate New York and rural Catalonia before making the greater Boston, Massachusetts, area her permanent home. She has worked in archaeology, security, accountancy, finance, and non-profit management. She currently lives just south of Boston and writes romance and speculative fiction full time. She is the author of Rites of Spring and Dented Crown. You can keep in touch with her at: