Balancing playwriting and parenting: a collection of tips

John Olive, Idris Goodwin, Jenny Connell Davis, Kira Obolensky, Michael Elyanow

Originally published October 2014

John Olive

You've become a parent. Good for you!

Children allow you to re-see the world. To rekindle a sense of wonder. Give your life meaning, and focus. To feel a fussy baby settle down in your arms. To have them actually fall asleep. The way their innocent smiles send shivers down your spine! And the way they smell! Wow. Non-parents will never understand it.

I know, right now, perhaps you don't appreciate this. You may be saying, "My God! What have I done? My life is over!" Don't fret. Sit down (if there is anything to sit on), relax, and trust that what you've done will enrich your life beyond anything you ever thought possible.

Alright, here's a time management tip:

  1. Become a Morning Person. Learn to take advantage of those magic hours before Junior wakes up. Junior wakes up at 7 AM? Then you will have to go to bed at 9. But what, I hear you asking, about those post-play beers with my super-intelligent chums? Well, that part of your life is over. You're a parent.

Unless you (and here's a tip for all parental units)...

  1. ...take advantage of the myriad babysitting offers you will get from everyone. "Call us, any time." Do it. Call. Don't hesitate. Go out, to dinner, to plays, to movies, to hear music. Once a week, minimally. Maybe your offering friends are just making nice. Find out. Those rapacious teen-agers charge, what, $12 per hour? $15? That quickly adds up to serious dough. Free babysitting is money in the bank and you will be doing a wonderful thing for yourself: paying attention to your needs, taking a break from parenthood, growing. All this will make you a better person, a better parent – and a better playwright.

We live in a country that deals poorly with parenthood. Parental leave, decent pediatric care, lengthy vacations? Fugedaboudit. And our industry is worse than the country as a whole. Most theaters hang on by the skin of their teeth. Childcare for artists? They'll look at you like you're speaking Urdu.

  1. So: hew to your spouse. Make your partnership, your home, as rich, as loving, as sustenance-providing as it can be, a bulwark against the blank indifference you will discover out there. It may take time, but your work will be better. Believe it. 

Idris Goodwin

My son was born in 2012. At the very same time, after all those childfree years and years of trying to make a name for myself in the theater world, I suddenly was being awarded commissions and opportunities for productions. Also we moved to a new city so I could accept a cushy teaching gig at a liberal arts college. These last two years I have had to learn to teach playwriting full time at a college, adjust to a new city, juggle 4 different writing projects, all while trying to co-raise an infant to a toddler. Still very much a work in progress, but here are two things that helped me keep words on the page.

  1. Get up with the rooster. The early pre-dawn morning is the best time to work. You carry some of that dreamy night time energy with you onto the page. The world has yet to rise, so you’ll be less distracted by emails, phone calls and facebook postings.  I find I get more done between 5am-7amthan I do working through an entire afternoon.
  2. Pretend you’re on Top Chef. The contestants need to make amazing things in limited amounts of time. They don’t have time to second guess so they rely on the abilities they have honed over the years. They are swift and decisive, leaning on their ability to execute. You don’t have as much time as you used to but you’re a better writer now. You know what you’re doing. Do it! Unlike Top Chef you can always change it later.

Jenny Connell Davis

Here's what (mostly) works for me:

  1. Get out of the house. Walk away from undone dishes, dirty laundry, your sweet sweet child. They will be there when you get back.
  2. I'm a morning writer. My husband gets to cuddle with my son. I get up and try to write.
  3. Babysitters.
  4. Deadlines, even false or self-imposed ones.

Kira Obolensky

  1. Find a way to give yourself space and a little time everyday to write. It accumulates. You don't have to sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day to write a play.
  2. Use the opportunity of parenthood to help you see what's important—in the way you spend your time, what you choose to write and think about.
  3. Life, writing, parenthood are all integral to one another. Think less about career and more about life—what are the opportunities that give you the gift of an interesting life for you and your family?

Michael Elyanow

  1. Learn how to write anywhere — in the car when your kid’s at soccer practice, on the beach when your kid's fishing.
  2. Texting them with the letters IW means I’m Writing — and that means no contact unless it’s an emergency.
  3. Kids deepen and strengthen your writing — remember that when you want to chuck them out of a speeding car.

Bonus: Listen to Playwrights’ Center Producing Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen discuss parenting as an artist on the “Pratfalls of Parenting” podcast.