Ironically, now that my children are older and gone quite a bit, I find it harder to work when they're not around. Too much free time!
I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there's a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.
I'm much faster now. When you only have a certain amount of time to write, after a while you learn to use your time well or you stop writing.
All the characters in my books are imagined, but all have a bit of who I am in them - much like the characters in your dreams are all formed by who you are.