Well, January’s over and I’m crazy happy because the urge to write has bit into me hard and good. And it feels great.
I mean… it will… once I start writing. Which actually means… when I start sleeping again.
Okay, I’ll back a minute here about this strange thing of wanting to write (really, really wanting to write)… and not being able to. For now, though, I’ll start from the beginning (or the sorta beginning). You see, to survive the holidays and our crazy mess of birthdays and events (which, pretty much, makes up all of December, plus a bit of November and January thrown in as well), I had to walk away from the writing.
There really wasn’t a choice.
Not with my just-turned two-year-old son. And not sleeping. And all the teething.
Seriously. There were just too many days that started for me at 4:00 a.m. and I had to, somehow, get through the day with my two kids (and not kill them). Okay, not that I would actually kill them (I truly, truly love them), but running around like a raving, angry banshee was not the kind of parent I wanted to be. And some days, that’s exactly what it felt like.
So, for December, I put everything on the hold. Except the kids and holidays.
I, sadly, hung up my writing streak of 160 days (yeah… you heard that right… 160 days of writing, straight, even with my two young kids).
Now, however, I’m raring to get going.
Because… I still have a two-year-old. My cute little angel, who, even right now, is attempting to single-handedly take down the gate surrounding all of our electronics and game consoles. I might also mention that I’m a month into potty training. Which, while it’s going well, it was also pretty crazy (yep… had a couple of those banshee moments, trust me). Just imagine that the diaper is gone completely and I’m watching Eric like a hawk to catch all the pee and poo until he learns where it belongs. Ok. He knows where it belongs but actually using it like he’s supposed to… well… he’s two. And stubborn. Very stubborn. He’s also a late-talker like his sister, which means I get no nice verbal warning like, “Pee!” or “Poo!”
Yet here I am at the start of a new year (okay… sorta start) and am thinking about getting the writing going again. Part of me is like, “you’re freakin’ crazy.” The other part acknowledges that I need to do this. This is one of those core, self-care pieces that I need to keep going.
Yet… still. Goals? For this year? Stuff that might be even slightly in my control. Slightly?
It’s almost laughable, but heck, I’ve done this before. The writing and having a two-year-old part. And I’ve got a little mantra that pretty aptly defines the year I’m facing:
The year I won’t sit down.
And considering Eric is now capable of climbing up the barstools to get to our kitchen counter, and is even more capable of pushing said-chairs to the counter to get to the stuff he’s not supposed to get (after we, so smart that we are as parents, moved those stools away from the counter)… yeah. It’s gonna be interesting.
Somehow though, somehow, I’m still gonna get words written. Specifically, fiction words.
How do I know this? Well, heck, I actually looked back at 2016 and added up my totals, and it was pretty darn amazing considering the hurdles I faced. A house move, Kate still not trusting in her voice and there I was, just a mom, beating back the world with my mighty stick, and…. oh, yes, that’s right. Just having two young kids fits the bill.
So, in 9 months of writing I wrote…
29,121 words of nonfiction
89,449 words of fiction
Also, I completed 7 online workshops (6 weeks each) with Dean Wesley Smith and WMG Publishing. (I did not count all the fiction words from those assignments, and there were a ton.)
Wow. Crazy, right? I’m shocked. But there it is. And it all happened because it was just me, writing away bit by bit. Some days I got an hour, most others anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. Some days it was only 5 minutes.
I saw 2016 as the Year of Learning. It was also the Year to Restart My Writing. I certainly hit on both accounts. I’d really wanted to amp up the publishing front, actually deal with some of those god-awful covers and blurbs back when I started this venture in 2012. Yeah. That didn’t happen. But boy, boy did I learn a ton about being a writer with two small kids, especially having one with language delays and the other just learning to how crazy-fun it is to get into everything.
And really, if you’re a parent you know darn well that the first year of a baby is way easier than toddlerhood. Light-years easier. So, I had a lot of false starts throughout the year, with me trying something new (or even the same thing, again and again), until I figured out how to write with my kids around. And really, this is a question I need to figure out since we have decided to homeschool. Yeah, it’ll get easier as my kids get bigger (and way, way easier when Eric actually puts his poop in the potty instead of running to me first and we do a funny rush-over to get him there in time). But really, I still needed to figure this out.
And I am.
Piece by piece.
If you’re a parent of littles and you have this crazy-ass dream of being a writer (or anything creative, really) and that, regardless of how little you’ve slept in… I don’t know… five years… you still want to write. Well, here are a few tips and lessons I’ve learned along the way. (And I’m sure these will only continue to be refined and tried again and adjusted and flat out thrown-out as the month, or heck, weeks progress.)
Here’s the thing: when it comes to fiction, I truly, truly need to be away from my kids. That’s when my subconscious actually comes out, when it feels safe enough to dive into a story, to lose itself with the characters.
I will also say, that this isn’t forever. In fact, with Kate I managed to write in the next room while she was watching her all-time favorite movie Frozen or when she was playing the WiiU and jumping on those little mushroom-like dudes in Yoshi’s Woolley World. My point: if she was sufficiently occupied and not trying to climb into the cupboard to get the (no longer) hidden chocolate, I could write. But with Eric, as young as he is, forget it. I need to be alone and away from that kid to keep from triggering all manner of my mommy-senses.
Now, when it comes to nonfiction and learning, I’ve got a lot more leeway. I mean, I can keep going with this blog even though I’ve already been interrupted seven times since I started writing this. Which is great because it can mean that my precious alone time is reserved only for fiction writing.
So in 2016, I learned I needed to be away from the kids. I also learned that I’m a morning person and if I have any dream of writing, this is when it’s gotta be (by the end of the day my mind is zombie-mush).
How about you? What are your sort of parameters?
Once you’ve got your baseline, whatever those are, these little pieces that simply need to be in place for you to make writing happen, you come up with the next bit: a plan.
Easier said than done, I know.
I worked it out with Sean (ok…. make this eight Eric-led interruptions now… sigh) where he watches the kids for an hour and I leave the house.
That’s right. I grab my laptop and head outside to sit by the pool (or on rare days where it actually rains down here in sunny CA, the common area of our complex). I’ve got my headphones to drawn out any annoying sounds, and I’ve got the clock.
This has been huge for me, a real piece of the puzzle that I was missing. It’s allowed my subconscious to feel safe again with the storytelling. And it worked, because I kept getting the writing in, even on days where the last thing I felt like doing, was writing. It wasn’t always easy, but words were written.
I’ve also come to understand another critical piece I’m still missing: time to just think. Time when my mind is free to come out and just have fun with ideas, to live with the characters… what might happen next? What kind of world would that be?
That part is still a struggle for me because there’s simply so much clamoring for my attention. Any downtime I have, any ounce of quiet, and I have this need to fill it with something… from listening to podcasts about publishing or health or board games, or watching a TV show while doing dishes because it’s one of those rare moments where I can do something for me.
The idea of just thinking and letting my subconscious have some fun, it’s not nearly as powerful as those other distractions. I’m still working on this and it’s one of my big goal areas for this year (giving myself time to think, and really, to daydream).
But really, it’s also a matter of recognizing myself and putting a finger to my own creative pulse.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed and my resources are low, this is not the time to expect myself to easily slip into this creative-thought stage. But maybe if I can’t do that, instead, I can grab one of my research books on the west and Butte, Montana that I love to read. And maybe just reading those books will start sparking some thoughts, take some pressure of this need to create and by doing that, oh look, there’s a story idea peeking it’s head out…
And that’s how I’m going to handle 2017.
Get a goal in place. Get a plan. Then, be flexible… and more often than not, sideways. I need to focus on what I can do (rather than what I can’t).
What I can do: write every day. Even for five minutes.
This daily goal became so so so powerful for me. On days where I was sick and just plain exhausted and wanted to melt into a pile of mush… it actually pushed me through and got me to the keyboard. I’d always heard of the power of streaks but I’d never thought it could conquer the utter exhaustion that (often) comes with parenting.
Certainly parenting a toddler.
In addition to a writing every day, I actually have a goal of writing for one hour, five days a week. I say five days and not every day because that would be totally unrealistic for me these days and I don’t want to get discouraged. In fact, I’ll schedule it out on the calendar for an hour, being flexible, depending if we’ve got a Disneyland trip planned or driving up to visit the grandparents or friends. This is not a hard and fast goal because the last thing I want is to feel shame or guilt. In fact, the only reason I’m committing to an hour is because, darn it, I’d like to write some projects this year!
Like a novel.
I really, really want to write another novel. That’s been a challenging one for me, mostly because my subconscious is very wrapped up in my kids and keeping them safe and alive (and, to be honest, standing up for them to develop and grow at their own pace and not what society has deemed ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate’). In fact, the last novel I wrote was when I was pregnant with Eric. Granted, I’ve written some long-ass short stories in 2016 that are really more in the novella length, but a multi-character novel? Haven’t done that in two years. And those are the stories that are more my natural length.
So, I want to get to writing that again.
I sat down and did some math, figured out how I can actually, physically, make this happen. I estimated 100,000 words is a good length for me. I also want to write a couple of short stories. And do these blogs. I know that my usual pace is 1,000 words an hour, so I went and did the math for the year, for each month (and because I’m expecting life to be what it is, I’m scheduling only for 10 months), and then broke it down further until I got to days… which came out to 500 words a day.
And you know what? I can totally hit this.
I see that number and I know it’s doable. Some days will only be five minutes of writing, but it will hit my daily writing goal. Other days I’ll pound out 2,000 words because the story’s gripped me and I can’t type fast enough.
I’ve also got plans to do more online workshops, to keep the learning going and have even signed up for two Oregon Coast workshops… and bringing the kids (and another adult) with me.
And if I fail? If I don’t make it out to Oregon or I don’t hit this overall goal of writing 200,000 words for the year?
Wow, will it still be a success because any writing with young kids is a success.
I’m gonna keep trying, I’m gonna keep plugging away because as I’ve learned, when I write, I’m happy. I’m a whole, more complete person. And that means I’m a better, more patient, more compassionate parent.
Because first and foremost, who I am is a parent.
I am a mother.
That is my primary job and role and it’s one that’s 24-hours and I love it. Yet somehow, I still want to keep the writing going. I still want to be a professional writer. I want to be a healthy person who eats real food and gets plenty of movement. I’m also the primary speech partner for my kids. You heard me, both kids. We may not do something structured and routine, because that doesn’t work for our family, but I’m still aware of the work, weaving it in throughout our normal lives.
So I’ve got a lot of roles, a lot on my plate (and we haven’t even talked about my publishing business, one which I hope to at least get going by the end of 2017). And I’m still just one person. There’s only so much I can do when I have two young ones getting into all manner of fun.
But here I am, looking into 2017, and I’m going to do what I can. I’m going to try and then try again. I’m going to get up and keep going. I’m going to keep learning and keep writing.
So in addition to The Year I Won’t Sit Down, this will also be: The Year of Writing and Learning.
Whether you’re a writer or artist, or some other business dream you’ve got cooked up in your heart, something that you still want to make it happen in between the pauses in parenthood… what kind of year will you have?
Create your own pauses.
Don’t wait for those moments to come to you. If it’s important, find a way to fit it in. Trust me, you’ll be happier for it.
For me, I’m excited. I’m ready to get going. I’m ready to tell some stories.
(Or I will… as soon as my days don’t start at 3:30 in the morning.)