1. Do what you can with what you have where you are.
Theodore Roosevelt got things accomplished, didn't he? And so can I!
In order to write, I need privacy, time, and energy. Sometimes I can predict when the three will converge, but most often, I can't. I have to make sure I am equipped (mentally and physically) to write in whatever free time falls to me, no matter where I am. I got a device I can use to take notes (I've tried my phone and a pocket-sized notebook, but what works best for me is the note-taking function on my kindle). I got another device I can use to word-process wherever I am (a small Asus laptop). I also leave bread-crumbs for myself like "describe the swamp" or "how does Andrea feel about her neighbors?" so I can pick up the thread of whatever thought process I was in when I was interrupted. When that isn't possible, I go back and read through what I wrote already, making line-edits. By the time I hit the place where I stopped writing last time, I usually have enough inertia to keep going.
2. Manage your expectations
But the other mental thing I have to do is acknowledge that in this place at this time, I won't be able to finish that climax scene with super-powered titans battling in a flood while a Tyrannosaur stalks them and life and love hang in the balance. It's just too big and complicated and damn it, this bus ride is only 15 minutes long. I'll just jot notes for an essay for my blog instead.
The hard part is when you don't know how long this window of writing time is going to be. Fifteen minutes? Two hours? Am I going to spend that time writing emails and taking notes, or will I be able to dig down into that bad-guy sex scene, where the formerly unassuming paleontologist sinks ever further into debauchery? Twenty-four five-minute chunks of writing time do not equal one continuous two-hour block. Even worse is a two hour period in which you might be interrupted at any minute. There's nothing more frustrating than spinning your brain up to speed to deal with the psychological horrors your character is experiencing and then getting yanked away from the computer because your daughter peed on the floor. Then, by the time you've cleaned it up and changed her pants and given her some more apple juice and cajoled her into coloring in her books again, you have totally forgotten what you were going to write. What you need is …
My very understanding wife and I have worked out a schedule. There are certain times of day when I'm "on duty" and taking care of the kids, and other times when she's "on duty," giving me an hour-and-a-half of predictable writing time that I can more or less count on. I'm also lucky enough to be in control of my own schedule at work, so I know when I have a long gap between classes. Before a big chunk of time, I can put myself in the mood by doing some sort of ritual. That ritual used to be "take a shower," but if I'm not at home, "drink a cup of coffee and chew mint gum" works as well, especially if all I'm doing is incremental changes to stuff I've already written. "Take a walk, and take notes while walking" turned out to be a great way to break writers block and write something from scratch. When I grow up, I'm getting me a writing treadmill like Brandon Sanderson!
So that's how I manage to keep writing as well as working and fathering. Of course, your mileage may vary. Some people won't be able to write during the work day. Other people will be able to work early in the morning or late at night while their kids are asleep (I can't. I just produce garbage until my body shuts down in protest). Maybe you have worked out another trick to squeeze that extra bit of writing in. Please tell me in the comments!
Please, please tell me. They'll be waking up from their naps any minute. And they'll be hungry.
Daniel M Bensen is a father, English teacher, and author. His new book, Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen is available now from Amazon. It has a baby in it! And some dinosaurs.