So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Writer? Some Thoughts on Staying Organized

My friend and colleague, Tacy Williams Beck, a fellow contributor to, recently sent me an email with the following question:

Do you have a routine that you stick to, or a post about it?

Now, let’s be honest. I ought to be asking her the same question:

She has three kids under five.
I have one.
She wins!

Finding the time to write amid housekeeping, errands, and family time is the challenge of being both a writer and a stay-at-home parent.  But it is a challenge that can be met, per the witness of so many excellent stay-at-home (and paid!) writers.

How each writer faces and meets that challenge is unique to his or her situation.  There is no one schedule, no one check-the-box solution.  What works for me with one child may not work for you with eight.

For me, making a schedule = death to writing.  My making a schedule usually means that I have, in the dank places of my heart, the mistaken notion that I’m going to manipulate my time to fit my wants according to my way of doing of things.  I have made thousands of schedules in my life, and they have all failed.

Setting Priorities

What does work for me is to have a loose routine and some checklists.  Both are shaped by an understanding of my priorities, ably articulated by Holly Pierlot (who, by the way, is a successful schedule-maker, unlike me) in her A Mother’s Rule of Life .  Holly’s “Five P’s”:

1) Prayer.  Before all else, I need to talk to God.  Can’t do much without him.  Can’t give what I don’t have.
2) Person. After that, I need to take care of myself.  Food, exercise, sanity.
3) Partner. Then, my husband.  Our primary vocation is to each other in the Sacrament of Marriage.
4) Parent. Next, our child, the resulting fruit of our marriage.
5) Provider. Finally, managing the house and bringing home the bacon (ha).

Note that the order of priority does not equal the amount of time I give to each one. The amount of time and attention due to each requires careful and searching discernment.

In looking at priorities, all expectations of authorial grandeur have got. to. go.

My son is anything but sanguine about my being on the computer when he’s awake, and so I write when he sleeps, when I’ve scrounged up enough loose change to pay for a babysitter, or when my husband gives me time off for good behavior.  That’s it.   Nora Roberts and Dean Koontz might produce a novel every 28 days, but I do not and will not.

Thinking About the Day

Because my son is young and not in school, I do not schedule many time-specific activities.  The Boy has swimming lessons on Tuesday evenings, I participate in a spiritual formation program at church every other Tuesday evening, I go out for my weekly dose of sanity on Fridays, and of course there’s Mass on Sunday.  Other days have other activities, but all are optional, contingent on being done with housework and exercise.

My checklists, however, are specific. Let’s take a look at my housekeeping checklist (click to enlarge):

My housekeeping checklist includes a morning routine (i.e. doing the key activities that keep us sane), a midday routine, and an evening routine.  The morning routine also includes doing the Chore-of-the-Day, with Tuesday being a catch-all, catch-up day.

Depending on what time our son gets up and the intensity of the Chore of the Day, my husband and I can complete the morning routine between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.  Some days more, some days less.

Doing a few chores every day versus doing all the chores on one day is a matter of personal preference.   I find I prefer the former.

Or, perhaps you’d rather do a good deed for the day: stimulate the economy by hiring someone else to clean your house.  You go, girl (or guy).  No one’s judging you here!

For other perspectives and tips on keeping house, check out Cynthia Schroeder’s Mother-to-Mother Guest Post Series at her blog, Finding Great Joy.

My Prayer Checklist:

Short and sweet – my list used to be much more full and much less feasible to achieve. Fortunately, my program of prayer is dictated from without – i.e. as part of my participation in God’s Embrace – rather than within.  This is a full program of prayer and spiritual reading without being unmanageable.

Writing and Studying Checklist:

Realistic, limited expectations makes for more production.  Counter-intuitive, but so far, it’s working. Sometimes I finish items on my checklist early and therefore discover more writing time and a chance to work on other projects.  For example, I began work on a short story this morning, as it’s Thursday and I’m free to work on things not-the-novel.

When I soon return to school, God willing, my checklists will change again.  Such is the way of things.

I have some checklists.  Now what?

Three things help me find success with my checklists:

1) Getting up at five a.m. whenever possible.

2) Daily overcoming my laziness and apathy so as to avoid falling behind and becoming overwhelmed by my wreck of a house.

3) Avoiding Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, blogs, land-o-Internet, and fiddling with the layout of my own blog, like the freakin’ plague.

In other words, virtue makes success possible.

Viiiiirt-yooooooo.  It’s aaaaaaalwaaaaaaays viiiiiiiiiiirt-yooooooo.

If you find yourself plunged into a love affair with the written word, you will encounter what novelist Steven Pressfield calls Resistance.  Because it’s worth doing, you will find yourself having a hard time doing it.  I encounter no Resistance whatsoever to scrolling down my Facebook feed for hours on end. I find much Resistance, however, to settling down to work on my novel.

I consistently fail.  Resistance has my number, though sometimes I give him the old one-two back.  But above Resistance is grace.  I write because it is good for me, and grace comes by way of my obedience and surrender to this personal good.  Resistance may have my number, but God has my back.

All that to say, that’s how this stay-at-home writer stays organized:  examination of priorities, loose routine, a few checklists, and a lot of grace.


  1. Wow! Thanks for the shout-out!

  2. ” I write because it is good for me, and grace comes by way of my obedience and surrender to this personal good. Resistance may have my number, but God has my back.” Ummmm, yes. And God is calling you to write.

    FYI: Super impressed with those lists you’ve got Can you do mine? They’re in my head, I promise.

    • If you get pretty colored cards – these are blank, no-fold notecards from Target – it makes making lists a lot more fun. I promise. :)

  3. You are truly an inspiration! This stuff is very basic but for people who do not live like this, it is huge. :) I am trying to get organized. My sister is coming for 2 days soon and Francis is taking the kids out for 2 long day trips and we are going to systematize my house. Might take more like 2 times 10 days, but it will be a start. Have you taken the Myers Brigg? My guess is that you are a J. I am an INFP. What are you?

    • Hey Rosemary! Thanks for stopping by, and for the comments! How are you? (Suppose I should send an email. :))

      Good luck on systematizing the house. For me, it’s really helped having less stuff than our house can hold – we had pared down our belongings both in moving to Oregon and then in moving to Michigan, and this house is the largest (at 1694 sq. feet) place we’ve ever lived in. There’s a place for everything and everything in its place right now. But give us a few years; I’m sure we’ll start collecting clutter like the rest of humanity. :-)

      I’m INFJ, I’m pretty sure. Good call! I don’t know much about the Myers-Briggs attributes themselves (I should learn, I’m writing a novel – with characters!!), but I’ve taken a variety of online tests and they always come out the same.

  4. I love your handwriting. I secretly tell myself that if I had cool handwriting, I would be more organized.


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