Monday, July 19, 2010

Life, Writing, and the Occasional Meltdown

Regular reader Jer of From Methods to Madness (don’t you love that title?) recently asked me an interesting question:

I am also a mom--I have two young kids--and an aspiring author. Lately I’ve felt really discouraged about not being able to find enough time to write. I've been working on my current WIP for over a year now and only have about 5,600 words to show for it. I’m always amazed and a little envious when you post about the progress of your WIPs. You seem to whip those first drafts out so quickly! So my question for you is…what’s your secret? Since I struggle to find the time, I’m genuinely curious about how other mother-writers do it.

The truth is, I struggle with this as much as anyone. Finding the right balance between husband, kids, housework, and writing is tricky, and I’m constantly finding myself having to readjust. But I do have a few thoughts.

In the spirit of providing as much information as possible and hoping that one or two useful tidbits crop up, here’s a look at my normal weekday routine:

6:30 a.m. Run, shower (on those mornings I run), read some blogs
8:00 a.m. Dress the kids, eat breakfast, play
10:00 a.m. Put Lady down for a nap, shower (if I haven’t already), do housework
12:00 p.m. Eat lunch, play
2:00 p.m. Put both kids down for a nap, WRITE
4:30 p.m. Play, chill with Honey Bear, make dinner, eat it, play some more
8:00 p.m. Put the kids to bed, WRITE (while Honey Bear does homework)

My kids’ superpower is sleeping, so they (almost) always give me a decent chunk of writing time in the afternoons and evenings. And Honey Bear has been working on a master’s degree for the past two years--and is planning to start an EdD this fall--so he (almost) always has homework to do. In short, my life has been marvelously conducive to writing ever since I-gots was born, and I’ve taken advantage of that.

So what am I going to do once I-gots stops napping and my husband runs out of letters to add to the end of his name? I don’t know. Find a new normal, I guess, as my mother-in-law likes to say. Readjust.

But as for specifics, I have found a few habits to be helpful in turning a work-in-limbo into a work-in-progress.

First, write a little every day (or almost every day). Even if you only write a page or two, in less than a year you’ll have a good-sized first draft. There is no substitute for slow, steady effort, methinks.

Second, limit Internet time. I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut the Internet out altogether (except when you’re trying to reach a specific goal in a specific amount of time, maybe), because, if you’re anything like me, your willpower will fail you sooner or later and you’ll go on a three-hour Internet binge that will leave you feeling spineless and miserably unproductive. Also, the Internet is a great tool for connecting with other writers and agents and building your brand, both of which are essential for the twenty-first-century writer. You just can't let the Internet take over your writing time.

(It’s kind of stupid, but whenever I find myself spending too much time online, I stop, visualize receiving the much-sought-after Call--or, heaven forbid, that elusive Book Deal--and remember that I have to keep writing if I ever want to live that moment for real:) )

Now, after all that, I want to finish by saying that as important as writing is, some things are even more important. Like my husband. And my kids. A wise man once said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home,” and I firmly believe that. In the end, it really is all about balance.

So what is your writing regimen like? And how do you keep everything in its proper place?


Erinn said...

My Summer day's goes a little bit like this.

Daughter wakes up at the ungodly hour of 6 am.
She watches TV until I've had my coffee and turned into a functional human being, which is normally around 8. Yep I'm a crappy mom.
While I'm waking up I comment on blogs.
From 8-noon we do some sort of daughter centered activity.
By 1 she takes a nap.
Nap time is cleaning and writing time for me.
She wakes up between 3-4 and then we arts and crafts and read books until dinner time. She gets parked in front of the TV again and plays.
She goes to bed around 7:30- 8.
From 8 to 10 I try to write and pay attention to by husband. I'm super ADD and the internet is SOOOOO shiny.

My hubby tries to give me a lot of time to write and do the things I like to do. He's a good guy.

Holly said...

A wonderful, realistic post.

Yes, write every day, even if it's just a few words. And double yes, stay off the internet.

I learned how to write while the Yankees are on TV, in the waiting rooms at the doctor's office and the Hyundai dealer, and other places and times when it would be easy to just look at a magazine.

Keep a log of the date and time you spent writing. Internet time doesn't count.

An excellent method: trade chapters by email with another writer. It's like turning in homework.

But Krista is right. Loved ones come first, always.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Erinn, your day sounds a lot like mine. My little man wakes up around six, too (or sometimes even earlier), and I usually stick him in front of PBS while the hubby and I take turns running and such. I've decided not to call it bad mommying - I've decided to call it staying sane:)

Holly, I love the idea of keeping a log of your writing time. It forces you to be accountable to yourself in a specific, measurable way. Great advice.

Jemi Fraser said...

Find a new normal - that's AWESOME advice!

I write when I can. I have 2 teens, a hubby, a full time teaching job and all the normal craziness - so it's usually in the evenings :)

Kelly Bryson said...

Today I woke up at 5, when the hubby left to swim laps (he has a triathlon habit equal to my writing habit), reset my alarm for 5:30, got up at 6, wrote until 7, when hubby came home and told me about his laps in detail. Kids had swim lessons at 9 and 930, so we headed to the Y at 8 and I proofed some pages while on the old lady recliner bikes, pedaling really slow when I had to think harder. Got the kids to their lessons, proofed some more beside the pool, then took them to the Y's indoor playground and...proofed some more while they played. I'll write some more after they go to bed.

Every day I think about my kids and if they've had a good day, too. I've let A LOT of things go, like having a perfectly clean house and I am reluctant to do a lot of extra activities.

During the school year, I was part of a preschol co-op, and that was fantastic. I always went to the library where my dirty dishes couldn't call to me.

There's always something to do besides write. You have to make time for it, but books can be written in ten minute chunks. It's harder, but you also have more time to develop ideas while you fold clothes, etc.

Good luck!

Erica75 said...

I have quite a lot of experience in doing things quickly. That's sometimes good (got a master's degree, had a baby, and built a house in the same year) and sometimes bad (got fired from a part-time job for not focusing, blech).

My first ms was started long-hand. I wasn't sure how to fit in the time, so I carried a notebook and pen with me for a month, jotting when I could. A month later, I was so into it, I bought a laptop, took it to McD's, Borders, etc. and let my kids play while I wrote. Six months later, I had a first draft.

Seven N Blue said...

That is my schedule almost exactly (or had been when completing my recent novel). Kids nap/sleeping time is where to write. Is the only place to write for us others!

I also sneak in 3-4 hours of "daddy and son away from mommy" time on the weekends...which gives me that "push" during the week!

Thanks for posting this! I too found way more time to write (incredibly enough), after my son was born!

Jenilyn Collings said...

What a great post! One thing that has worked for me is to set a weekly goal because some days are better for writing than others. When I set daily goals, I tend to get discouraged because some days I just don't have the time to write. But weekly goals gave me more flexibility, which worked better with small children.

Red Boot Pearl said...

I definitely lose sleep to write... and I always love an excuse not to do the dishes.

Limit internet--is a big one for me. But I almost never watch t.v. or movies, prioritizing free time is essential. Hubby likes Hulu--so when we spend time together watching a show--I usually have the laptop out. Even though we're doing different things, it's nice to be together. I write to unwind, and he'd rather just sit and chill.

When I wrote the my first draft of my WIP I set word count goals-- 500 words a day.

In about 6 months you have a novel... I found though that I couldn't stop at 500 and sometimes wrote 2500--all during naptime or after bed...

I finished the first draft in about 3 months and have been revising/rewriting for almost a year.

Go with what works for you but I write because I HAVE to fit it into my day...or I get a little cranky.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Kelly, that's excellent advice - take advantage of the ten- and fifteen-minute chunks.

Erica, how good of you to take them to a place to play instead of plopping them in front of the TV:)

Seven N Blue, it's interesting that we found more time to write with kids than without them. Before I had kids, I was going to school full-time or working full-time, and I just didn't have the energy to write after spending eight (or nine or ten or eleven) hours away from the house.

Jenilyn, little goals always give you that boost of confidence, don't they? And I like your idea of setting weekly rather than daily goals - more room for flexibility is always a good thing, especially with small children around/underfoot:)

Pearl, I get a little cranky when I can't write, too:)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Ack, Jemi, I missed you! Sorry about that. Sounds like you definitely have a lot on your plate. What do you teach?

Jer said...

There are some awesome suggestions here--I am inspired by everyone! My kids have never been good sleepers/nappers, but lately I've been putting on a movie in the afternoon for them and I sneak upstairs to write. It's taken a while to get past the guilty feelings for doing that, but I think they need their down time, too, even if it doesn't involve sleeping.

Thanks for devoting a whole post to my question, Krista. Love your blog! Can't wait to put some of these suggestions to good use!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I'm glad you found the post helpful, Jer. And thank you to everyone who added their ideas and suggestions!

Kay said...

That's terrific your kids sleep! Having at least a solid 2 hours to write is where you really get work done. Even my 1 hour lunch break isn't enough, and I find myself clocking back in to work with a 1.25 lunch (instead of 1.0).

Thanks for sharing!!


Faith E. Hough said...

Great post, and I loved: "find a new normal."

i write with a three-year-old and 10-monther in tow...and, yeah, it's harder than it used to be, but very much worth it. For me, the key is finding a routine for writing time (I get up very early to write and go to bed when the kids do, mostly), and then to utilize non-writing time in creative ways when I can: I read to my girls a lot and always try to analyze the writing, etc.
Thanks for the extra inspiration, Krista!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Kay, I agree that an hour usually isn't enough time for a good writing cycle. My writing time often follows a sort of pattern: When I first sit down to write, it usually takes me about fifteen or twenty minutes to really sink into that writing place. The next two hours are really productive, and they exhaust my creative cycle. Then I resurface from that writing zone and feel like I accomplished something. (It's kind of like a REM cycle, I think.) But if someone jerks me out of that place before I naturally resurface, I usually feel a little out of sorts until I find the time to write again.

Faith, my mother-in-law is a wise woman:) Good luck with the writing (and the kidlets)!

Myrna Foster said...

Nap envy. That's all I have to say.

Well, okay, and I'll agree that you have to be flexible and that some things (people) are more important than writing.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Hi, Myrna! How's your trip going?

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I'm with Myrna. Nap envy for sure!

Writing during the day used to be impossible, (Three kids, 6, 3, 1. 'Nuff said.) But here's a trick I picked up. It sounds crazy but it works. I actually write-long hand during the day while my kids are playing/eating/watching TV (Gasp! I let my kids watch TV and write while they do!)

I'm not sure why this works, but it's absolutely changed my writing life. If I'm on the computer, for some reason the kids are always pulling, screaming, biting my ankles. (Like right now.) They also like to play on the computer too. So I have a little notebook and I just find a corner and write as much as I can. I usually get 30 to 60 minutes in during the day. Then I put it in Word that night and continue on the computer.

I know writing long hand is more than passe, but I've found it to be incredibly freeing.

Another thing I've had to learn is not to get frustrated if I'm interrupted during the day, or even if my nighttime writing gets slashed. It helps neither the family nor the writing if I'm bitter. We desire to write and we should;we're not entitled.

Lastly, getting my husband and kids on board with my goals has helped a ton. Saturdays my husband tries to give me large chunks of time to write and it works wonders!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I think most writers struggle with balancing everything they have to do and writing. You're routine sounds like a good one. I'm to the point where my kids are grown, though they still manage to want my time just when I'm going nuts with deadlines, but family comes first. I'm just glad they want to spend time with me.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Liesl, I think old-schooling it with a notebook in the family room is a great way to go (although not quite as practical for anything other than first-drafting). And this --> "We desire to write and we should; we're not entitled." I needed to hear that today. Thank you.

Kathi, I hope my kids will want to spend time with me when they're grown, too:)

Myrna Foster said...

The trip was great, crazy busy, but great. Thanks for asking. We got home last night.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Welcome home, Myrna! Glad you guys had a good time.

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