I knew my summertime writing schedule would get off track, and it has.
A few things caused me to fall out of my routine. We had out-of-town visitors; Tamara and I have both been busy with meetings and tasks for a social justice group we’ve been working with (more on that at some point); I’ve been in a rough cycle of too much caffeine -> staying up late -> sleeping through my morning writing time; and, fill-in-the-blank miscellany. (Like, a good friend and I are reading Stamped From The Beginning together, and occasionally we meet for book club during the kids’ nap time, which is my main fiction writing time.)
And, my whole routine is just sort of off. I’m in a bit of a reading rut, which in this case means that I am reading seven books simultaneously. SEVEN BOOKS! They are (ahem): Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi; The Mothers, a novel by Brit Bennett; The New Jim Crow; Me and White Supremacy; How To Be An Antiracist; Raising Good Humans; and The Lines Between Us.
In the big picture, life is good. My summer with the boys has been lovely so far. I’m thrilled to be done with working-from-home multitasking, and to be able to give the boys my full attention. We’re spending lots of time outside. The library is open for curbside pickup so we’ve been reading a bunch of new books.
But I can feel my writing routine slipping. And you know what? It’s okay. I’m trying to carefully balance “This is a priority for me” with “Other things are important priorities too”. The reading I’ve been doing is really important. The social justice work I’m learning about and taking part in is important. Being a peaceful and playful and patient parent and teacher to my kids in the midst of a pandemic is important.
I worry that I’m just procrastinating – abandoning my summer writing goals. But when I take time to reflect, I know I’m not. As of today, I’ll be back on my 500 words a day (minimum) writing schedule. One thing that is tricky is that I have a few different writing projects taking my attention lately, so it’s difficult to make a hard and fast goal like “This summer, I’ll finish the first draft of my novel.” There’s definitely a part of me that is committed to finishing my main project (working title Lucky Baby) but I also have other projects inspiring me and I don’t want to limit myself when it’s hard to get focused and working at all.
When I get frustrated, I remind myself that I’m a mom with two kids under 5 (Edgar just turned 4!) and trying to accomplished a major creative task for which I have zero training. Just writing those words out helps me to be a little gentler with myself.
Today is a fresh start and I’m excited to get back to work. Stay tuned.
When I’m writing for the blog, I try to stay a little ahead of myself. It’s the 17th of May as I write this, and my posts for May 19th and May 23rd are already written and ready to publish. Ideally, I’d be way more ahead of schedule than this! I love it when the next six posts are ready to publish. But it is what it is for the moment.
It’s always interesting to be writing posts ahead of time, because by the time they’re published, often things have changed. Sometimes I write a post about feeling overwhelmed or in a funk, and then by the time it’s published, I’m like, “Huh. That was a hard time, but right now things are easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy.”
This is on my mind today because it’s a Sunday, and yesterday my post about Sunday Morning Writing was published. It was published yesterday, but I wrote that post exactly two weeks ago, which was the LAST time that Tamara took the boys for a Sunday morning hike so that I could have some time to write.
She did that again today. She’s pretty awesome, and I’m very grateful.
Man – this writing thing has been hard lately. When schools first closed, it was like an extended spring break for two weeks. I wasn’t working from home yet, and Tamara hadn’t started her new jobs yet working for two local organic farmers. It was blissful. So much family time, so much time to write, and so little stress.
Currently I am struggling to meet the demands of my job while caring for the boys every day, and I haven’t been very disciplined about my writing. I’m not trying to beat myself up, and I’m not even that upset with myself. This is a difficult time, and “I can’t motivate to write my novel during my free time” is about the first worldiest and most privileged of all the first world/privileged problems I can think of. It’s no big deal. There are more important things in life, and there have been other things on my mind and filling my free time, which I’m sure I’ll write about at some point.
This morning, after Tamara left with the boys, I re-read my Sunday Morning Writing post from two weeks ago. The plan I wrote for myself that day involved early morning writing (4 a.m. every day) on whatever I felt like writing, and then weekend nap times for the novel, including a word count. That hasn’t happened. The early mornings are really tough for me right now, because (imagine this) it’s been really difficult to drag myself out of bed when my alarms starts beeping at 4 a.m. For the weekend naptimes, sometimes a really good novel or a need to tidy the house for my own serenity interferes. In fact, novels have been to blame for my struggle to wake early, too; I’ve had several great reads in a row (Eight Perfect Murders, The Holdout, Darling Rose Gold, A Good Marriage, Magpie Murders, The Glass Hotel) and sometimes a mix of too much caffeine and my need to know what’s going to happen next in the book means I stay up way too late and then 4 a.m. arrives much too quickly after bedtime.
There’s no need to change my plan. It’s a good plan – just a difficult time of life. I’ll keep trying to wake up early, to focus on fiction writing during weekend naptime, to keep my writing practice and goals at the forefront. I’ll plan for summertime writing, which is only a few weeks away. And I’ll maintain a balance for myself – self-care, self-discipline, and acceptance of this crazy time of life.
One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, Tamara took the boys for a hike by the river so that I could get some writing done.
I’ve been writing in bits and pieces, and it’s frustrating and difficult. It’s so hard to move forward with a project. In my fantasies, I live in a cabin in the mountains, and I spend all day every day thinking about whatever novel or short story I am currently writing, with interludes of family time and service work.
But in my real life? I have a full-time job that requires my energy and focus throughout the week, and it’s hard to maintain any momentum when it comes to my fiction projects.
I told Tamara that I felt like I need a huge chunk of time – hours, not minutes – to recharge my writing battery and to reorganize my writing projects. And she made it happen for me without thinking twice. I am often amazed at how supportive Tamara is of this little side hustle of mine that is really just for me. I have hopes and dreams, for sure, of generating income and publishing work, but right now? My writing time has zero concrete outcome other than the preservation of my sanity. I truly hope that the end of my story is: She wrote without publication or income for years and then finally made her writing dream a reality. But I don’t think Tamara minds if that’s not the outcome; she’s just supportive. I’m so grateful for that kind of unconditional support.
It’s amazing how much easier it is to really sink into my writing when I have hours instead of minutes to write. It even allows me to daydream – to take a minute away from the computer to actually think about what I’m trying to do, or to think about what I’m trying to think about. I can take BREAKS. That’s the kind of writing time I love – a chunk of time so long that I actually require little breaks to grab coffee and stretch my legs.
I spent that long Sunday morning, while Tamara took the boys hiking, reorganizing my list of writing projects; looking through drafted blog posts and updating my editorial calendar; and making a writing schedule so that I could maintain focus on my writing projects.
This is what I came up with:
Every day, I wake up at 4 and I write until the boys wake up. This can be whatever kind of writing – fiction, blogging, journaling. It can even be time devoted to organizing my writing life, via my editorial calendar or an outline for a novel or story. If I’m willing to wake up at 4, I will write whatever I have the energy and creativity to write, with no restrictions.
On weekends, the boys’ nap time is my writing time. Not only that – there will be a word count goal for that writing time. I’m going to start with 500 words until I get a groove going, but I hope to up it quickly.
I wish there was more time; I hope that there will be more time! But this is my minimum, for now. So grateful for a long Sunday morning to try to wrap my head and my heart around my writing life.
Resume my regular blogging schedule. ACCOMPLISHED.
Set up a new (doable) creative writing routine.
I definitely accomplished the first goal – I’m back on track with several posts drafted and three scheduled, ready to be published.
For the second goal, I basically decide that:
I HAVE to wake up (almost) every morning at 4 to write. This is, without a doubt, the best time of day for me to do this, and I really need to do it (almost) daily so that I can keep writing and maintain momentum.
I need to pick at least three other times for writing sessions every week.
It’s not ideal – deciding when I can write on a weekly basis – but it’s the way it has to be at this time of life.
With the “New Normal” we’re currently experiencing in the United States and around the world, it’s possible I’ll be able to get a little more specific with my weekly writing times as I get more information about what my work is going to look like in the coming weeks and months.
For now, I’m just rolling with it. One day at a time.
I have been loving Jennie Nash’s Creative Live course (Write Your Book: Start Strong and Get It Done), and continuing to feel stronger and more confident in my writing. But I’m not currently committed to a specific novel to focus on, and I need to commit and get writing. I am confident I’ll be able to commit and start focusing on one project by summertime.
I finished the Jennie Nash course today and immediately started listening to another Jennie Nash course called The Inside Outline, which she generously is offering for free this month as a gesture of good will and kindness during a crazy and chaotic time in the world. I’m finding her work incredibly helpful, and I feel really connected to my writing at this moment in a wonderful way.
One day at a time. Bird by bird, a la Anne Lamott. Let’s do this.
This week, I resumed my early morning writing routine, and it was glorious.
The thing that I really need for Writing Time is for it to be open-ended. I need to sit down to write knowing that I have a lot of time available. Not too much time, of course; if I have six hours to write, it would be super easy to start cleaning the kitchen or reading a book and think, I’ll write later. Ideally, I’d have two to four hours of writing time that would be uninterrupted.
And the thing is – it is most helpful if there’s not a Big Thing I Have To Do at the end of the writing time. And that is really hard to come by.
Usually, I wake up at 4(ish) in the morning, go for a run, and then sit down to write until about 6 a.m. It’s not as much time as I’d like – about 90 minutes at the most – but it’s a decent amount of time.
HOWEVER. At the end of the 90 minutes, I have to get dressed and ready for work. When there’s a Thing I Need To Do, my tendency is to want to get it done immediately so that I can focus. (This doesn’t apply to all areas of my life, but does apply here.) So I end up getting dressed and ready before I start writing, which eats into my time.
And then, still, I know that it’s not that long before I have to get myself going and out the door. Not to mention – at any point during this Writing Time, a small child may either start crying from his crib or come out of his room and climb into my lap.
So it’s hard to get into a groove on days like that. It’s hard to imagine waking up even earlier – 3:30 a.m.? THREE?! – but I am hoping that someday, as much as I love my current school, perhaps I can transfer to an elementary school so that my work day will start a little later. (Also, I love working with younger kids! Middle school has been wonderful, but elementary school is my sweet spot.) Right now, I need to be at work sometime between 7 and 7:20 a.m. If I work at an elementary school someday, I believe I’ll need to be at school later – more like 8:45 a.m. That won’t give me as much time as I’d like on the afternoon/evening side of the day, but it would give me valuable writing time in the mornings.
But this week? During my two weeks off due to the coronavirus crisis? I am able to wake up at 4 a.m. knowing that my early morning time is mine. If I get all the way to 6:30 a.m. and I haven’t gotten dressed yet, that is just fine. That’s a solid 2 1/2 hours of Writing Time, with no particular thing that has to get done at a certain time at the end of it.
I know my mornings for the next few weeks won’t always go like this, but it’s been helpful to me to realize how different it feels to sit down to write with Enough Time. I am constantly feeling the effects of a scarcity mindset – i.e., feeling like there is Not Enough of the things I want and need. And that definitely applies to my time. 90 minutes is not enough writing time – not enough to really sink into fiction writing, not even enough to really delve into anything serious or meaningful.
I want to shift that mindset; I know that a scarcity mindset is not the best thing for me or for anyone. It doesn’t help me to be positive, optimistic, energetic, and generous. It doesn’t help me to be happy.
But also? I sometimes beat myself up for not being able to do more, accomplish more. I get frustrated that I haven’t finished a novel yet. I get down on myself for not finishing and submitting short stories for publication.
So it is often helpful for me to get a reality check and realize: THIS IS HARD.
It is not easy to prioritize writing as a full-time working parent with two young kids. My kids come first; I am not willing or able to sacrifice too much Kid Time so I can write. That gives me these little pockets of time – and they are little! It’s hard to do the kind of writing I want to do this way.
The other reality check is: THIS WILL BE EASIER. When I do have a longer period of time, the writing flows. It doesn’t even have to be four hours. I woke up at 4 a.m. to write today, and I felt loose and nimble – like I’d stretched and jogged and was ready to run a brisk 5K. There is a someday, when my writing time and life and routine will be more productive. Right now, that someday is NOW. Eventually, that someday will be summertime. Beyond that – who knows?
And all of this really adds up to just GRATITUDE. Gratitude for the time I do get to write, and realization that there is benefit to having bigger chunks of time to devote to writing. For my Writing Life, I think that I need consistency AND dedicated time. I need to write every single day, for my mental health, self-care, and routine. And I also need to find longer stretches of writing time when I can – an early morning solo coffee date, maybe, or an evening when I soldier through my post-bedtime exhaustion and devote 2 to 3 hours to a project.
I’ll likely say this over and over again, but – I feel guilty when I feel gratitude for this Writing Time. The only reason why my early mornings have been so productive this week is my unexpected week off due to the coronavirus crisis. And I am not happy or grateful for the coronavirus – not at all. I’m scared for the world, anxious for us all. I wish this was not happening.
Yet I am grateful for my Writing Time and for time with the boys. And I do believe in focusing on the good and making the best of whatever life brings us.
So cheers to that. And if you have any suggestions for making time for writing, I am always eager for tips and tricks!