balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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goals · writing

March 2019: Monthly Writing Goals

This month, we’re taking a little detour. There will be writing goals, yes – but one of my writing goals seems like it’s not related to writing. BUT IT IS.

Let me explain.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my down time. I’ve always been a person accustomed to ‘background noise’ – I half-watched a TV show while I was doing my homework in high school, I listened to music while I was writing papers in college, and I tune into a podcast or an audiobook while I’m doing the dishes now. I don’t like this about myself; I never have. Sometimes, I make an effort and I curb this habit; but I inevitably slip back into it when I’m tired or stressed or overwhelmed.

I checked a book out of the library recently. It’s called Deep Work and it’s by Cal Newport. The book focuses on what Newport calls ‘deep work’ – focused, distraction-free, high-quality, valuable working time. I didn’t read the book; nonfiction isn’t my favorite. But I was interested enough in the topic to check it out of the library, and then the best thing EVER happened: Tamara got interested in the book, and she read it cover to cover and told me all the tips she read about. WINNER! (I’m on the wait list at the library for Newport’s newest book, Digital Minimalism. I’m REALLY hoping that Tamara will read that one and summarize it for me, too!)

Here are the two main things Tamara shared with me:

  1. We all need “solitude” – and I put this in quotes because Newport has a new-to-me definition for the word. Newport calls “solitude” time when we’re not getting any input from the outside world. It’s not about whether you have people around you; if you’re alone and listening to a podcast, you’re receiving input that you need to process. When you have solitude, you’re receiving no new input – you’re just processing input you’ve received at other times. Newport advocates that we need solitude, or down cycle time, so that we can process all the input we receive at other times.
  2. One of the 4 main tips Newport suggests for how to incorporate deep work into your life is quitting social media. My understanding is that Newport recommends quitting everything for 30 days, and then adding things back in gradually if you feel they add some joy or meaning to your life. I LOVE THIS IDEA. As soon as Tamara told me about it, I decided I would start on March 1. So, for 30 days, no social media, and most of the apps on my phone will be deleted.

Now – how does all of this connect with my writing goals?

My theory is that when I cut away all this other stuff, I will have more mental energy and creative space for my writing. When I have little pockets of time – like my twenty minute commute, for example – I tend to fill the time with input, like a podcast. But I’m wondering – if I allow those little pockets of time to be about solitude, will it start benefiting me creatively? Will I be able spend that time thinking about characters, plot points, language?

I don’t know! But I’m going to find out.

Here are my goals for March 2019:

  1. Maintain my blogging, posting every Tuesday and Saturday.
  2. Finish reading Story Genius.
  3. Follow a digital minimalist diet. Use the extra time for rest, solitude, and productively creative daydreaming.
  4. Open up the document for the novel you’ve decided to write, and write at least 3 paragraphs, even if you know they’ll never be published.

I think this is an important thing for me to try, this digital minimalist diet – but I’m nervous! I use my phone a LOT – for background noise, to ease my anxiety, to keep track of my adulting responsibilities. AND I use it at bedtime; I usually fall asleep listening to a TV show or a podcast.  (That might be the part that is hardest to give up!) I know I can do this, and I’m excited about the creative space that may open up in my life if I do this. But it’ll take work.

Let’s do this. (Gulp!)

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goals · writing

February 2019: Monthly Writing Goals

Of all the intentions I set for 2019, the one that has served me best so far is my monthly writing goals.

I decided that I needed something extra to keep me on track with my writing. Last summer, I wrote a lot and I had big plans for my writing routine as the school year began, and then – BAM! A beautiful baby boy – my too-cute-to-describe J.J. – came home to our family. My writing routine came second to the bliss and stress of babyhood, and I have no regrets about that.

But as the beginning of 2019 approached, I had an idea – I would write a blog post every month and I would set some writing goals for myself to accomplish over the course of the month. This ritual would be a way to check in with myself. I’d keep my writing goals at the forefront, because I’d be reminded of them every time I did any work on the blog. Additionally, having a few clear goals makes it easier to recognize when you’re not achieving your writing goals at all.

I really got to see how this ritual was helping me during the last week of January. I was looking ahead to see what blog posts were scheduled to be published, and I saw a draft of this post. I reviewed my goals from last month and realized immediately that one of them – reading through the two novels I’ve drafted – was not done yet. There were only a few days left in the month, so I abandoned the book I was reading (The Patron Saint Of Liars by Ann Patchett) and spent every spare minute reading through the novel drafts.

This was such a great example for me of why we set goals. If we never set clear and specific goals for ourselves, then we don’t recognize when we’re not spending the time we need to achieve those goals. I was super proud of being able to accomplish my January goals. Yes, I had to adjust them partway through the month – you can read about that here – but I feel like I accomplished way more than I would have if I hadn’t put those goals down on paper the way I did.

These are my goals for February 2019:

  1. Maintain my blogging, posting every Tuesday and Saturday.
  2. Finish reading Story Genius.
  3. Open up the document for the novel you’ve decided to write at least three times, and write a few words.

The third goal isn’t very ambitious, but I struggled to decide what steps I should take next with the novel. I’ve really been enjoying reading Story Genius, and I have a feeling that the more I read, the more mini writing tasks I’ll complete. Maybe, after I’ve read more of the book, I’ll do another round of Let’s Reevaluate – we’ll see!

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goals · writing

Let’s Reevaluate, Shall We?

Despite the long wakeful nights and the overall feelings of tired and overwhelmed, I’m feeling pretty good about the start of 2019. I’m excited to keep going with my monthly writing goals, in particular. (See here to check out my January writing goals!)

Now, I feel good about how much I’ve been thinking about my writing, and I feel proud that I have actually been posting on the blog twice a week since the year started.  (WOO HOO!)

Once I reached mid-January, however, I decided that it was time to reevaluate my goals. I realized that things were moving more slowly than I’d like, and I would rather edit my goals than abandon them completely.

These were my original January 2019 writing goals:

  1. Write every day. Average 7,000 words per week. Spend at least 4 of the 7 writing sessions working on the novel.
  2. Get back on track with blogging weekly or biweekly. (My realistic goal is every Tuesday; my ambitious goal is every Tuesday and Saturday.)
  3. Decide which novel you want to focus on by the end of the month.

The aspect of my writing practice that has been neglected most is the fiction writing. I haven’t opened any of my novel documents in 2019; the only step I took was printing three different documents so I could read over a hard copy of each project. And with my current work/sleep/child care schedule, I think I need to set a more achievable goal in this area.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. Continue reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron. (A birthday gift that is proving tremendously helpful in guiding my writing process!) Hoping to finish the book by the end of February!
  2. Get back on track with blogging weekly or biweekly.
  3. Read through your three novel drafts by the end of the month.

I think these goals are more realistic, given my current availability and resources. I’m excited to get to work and happy to be honest with myself about what I can do.

goals · writing

January 2019: Monthly Writing Goals

I’m going to try something new this year.

I am going to get really specific about my goals for my writing.

My hope is that using SMART goals will help me to make more progress and/or to take notice when I am not making progress so that I can regroup.

Here are my goals for January 2019:

  1. Write every day. Average 7,000 words per week. Spend at least 4 of the 7 writing sessions working on the novel.
  2. Get back on track with blogging weekly or biweekly. (My realistic goal is every Tuesday; my ambitious goal is every Tuesday and Saturday.)
  3. Decide which novel you want to focus on by the end of the month.

Here are my big goals for 2019:

  1. Finish a draft of a novel by the end of June.
  2. Finish a GOOD draft of a novel by the end of December.
  3. Maintain weekly or biweekly blogging.

I am planning to use my “All The Things” posts on the last day of the month to keep track of how I’m doing with regard to my monthly goals.

Fingers crossed – hoping that this will help me to make some real progress!

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parenting · writing

Seasons Of Writing

Life is seasonal, and my writing life is no different.

I’m really proud of myself because I’ve been posting on playful + peaceful consistently (twice weekly) ever since March 2018.  This is a big deal for me. I’m great at starting new projects, but it’s hard for me to do the ongoing maintenance that a side hustle requires – and I did it. I’m still doing it. That is awesome.

HOWEVER.

There are seasons of life that offer more time and space for writing, and there are seasons that offer less.  I was prepared as the fall approached that September and October would be busier – I was starting a new job, adjusting to a new schedule, and I figured that I wouldn’t have as much time to write as I had this summer.

And then, in early September – we grew from a family of three to a family of four. Our hearts exploded with joy. And my life got way busier.

This may seem backwards, but adding a child to our family doesn’t make me want to take a break from writing. It makes me want to write more. It makes me want to ensure that writing is an area that is and always will be a priority.  Having kids has inspired me to become intensely committed to my creative goals, because I want my children to look at me and see someone who went after her dreams with all her heart.

That being said, finding the time to write is challenging at the moment, for the simple reason that I am tired. So tired. Our little one is four weeks old and eats every three hours, and that means no one is getting a full night’s sleep ever.

I’ve been daydreaming about what writing project to tackle next, and I’m starting to adjust to only having five hours of sleep each night. I’ve been keeping up with blog posts, and I’m contemplating the next fiction project I want to tackle. This is all okay – this is a season of my writing life. I am enjoying this moment, when the wheels of my mind are spinning, churning. And I’m excited for the next moment, when I’ll dive into something new.

goals · writing

No Matter What

Never, not once in my entire life, have I been described as neat.

When I’m writing, I try to be aware of using words like always and never. Extreme words like that are rarely true. But the above statement is: I have never in my life been described as neat. My messiness is pervasive; it is associated with every aspect of my life.  My car is messy – my office is messy – my house is messy.

Now, as an adult, I feel more motivated to keep my spaces tidy than I did as a child. But being more motivated does not change my messiness; I’m still messy. I’m just more inclined to tidy up after the mess has been made, because I do find that (a la Gretchen Rubin) outer order promotes inner calm. In other words, I feel better – more creative, more productive, more mindful – when my space is orderly and pleasantly arranged.

That is not the case in my house right now. We are happily adjusting to life as a family of four, and that means there’s less time for dishes and sweeping and following my toddler around cleaning up toys as he does his absolute favorite thing with every container of toys. (“Dump!”) However, I’m not writing this post right now because I’m trying to develop strategies for keeping the house more neat.

I’m writing this post because I’m trying to focus on my writing even when my house is a disaster.  

For me, an easy way to procrastinate is to do something productive that is NOT THE THING I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. Maybe I’m supposed to be paying bills, but I decide to do dishes instead. Maybe I’m supposed to be doing the laundry, but I decide to clean up Edgar’s toys (with his toddler version of help) first. It’s not that what I’m doing is bad – it’s just not what I intended to do with my time, and one of my life goals is to be more intentional with how I live my life and how I spend my time.

The goal is to write – because it’s the thing in my life that I most want to cultivate, other than being a parent, a wife, and an all-around good human being in the world. I don’t have any goals about getting better at doing the dishes or tidying. My personal and professional goals are about writing – doing it more, and getting better at it, even when the house is a disaster.

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