Cheat Codes & Other Things That Have Worked

Can I just say, writing with a toddler is hard? At least, it is for me. The Little Man doesn’t nap, for one thing, or not consistently enough to plan a daily writing schedule around. For another, it seems like for every day I do get writing time, I end up with two days without. Some weeks are dreams, with two to two-and-a-half hour naps each day in which I frolic in artistic freedom, laughing and crying and dancing with words. The next week, I get a twenty-minute scrap in which I’m literally pinned under the sleeping babe, trying to breathe as shallowly as I can because if I so much as yawn (*~YAWN~*) he’s wide awake.

Being a med-wife (“female spouse of medical doctor-in-residency” aka “emotional support for someone about to throw in the towel and die in a pile of soiled loan bills” aka (if there are kids) “single mom”) adds its complications, too, though I find those generally less disruptive than the lack of napping, since I tend to write mid-afternoon. (I generally avoid late night (read: post-baby-bedtime; read: 9:30-10PM) writing in exchange for reading time, because I find my brain keeps spinning long after I finish typing, and therefore I don’t sleep, which doesn’t really work with an energetic 1.5 year old next morning.) But it does mean, when the hubby’s around, I spend time with him, because it’s normal to have him gone from 5:30AM-11:30PM, with just enough time to shovel food in his mouth and hit the sack before starting the same routine all over again, for five or seven days straight, with one day off during which he’s obviously trying to catch up on sleep and studying. Andy’s been on a milder service these past three weeks, which is great in that he’s home (hooray!!) but terrible for getting much reading done in the evening. That said, I’ve quite enjoyed drinking a beer and watching Storage Wars: Texas on Netflix with him, so it’s a trade I don’t mind. :) And I’m glad he’s generally more relaxed and happy recently.

All this will vanish at the end of next week when he begins Night Float (the dreaded overnight shift in which he’ll be the only intern physician on-call at the hospital for two weeks). And I suspect the easy air around the house will vanish, too. That has a greater impact on the writing, because when he’s stressed out, depressed, frustrated, and exhausted, I do what I can to pick up the emotional slack and keep everybody in moderately good spirits, which comes at the cost of my own stress and exhaustion. If I have a regular writing schedule, I can typically plow through that by sheer stubbornness, but without it… Well, it gets hard sometimes. I try to read as much as I can, and that helps, even if I can’t get new words on the page, but not getting words on the page tends to make me a little stir crazy after a couple of weeks.

So in the face of all those complications, I’ve been trying really hard to find a temporary process that works for me enough to keep me somewhat sane and free from resentment. And I’ve come across a few things worth noting for myself:

1. Editing is Easier. This is one of the things I learned when the Little Man was born. I had a large backlog of short stories, and I worked through them, editing, cutting, trimming, rewriting, and managed in the first six months of his life to get more stories submitted than I ever had in a single year before. But editing is easier than writing new stuff because I can piecemeal it. I can edit a few lines, tweak a description, cut a dozen words in no time at all. If I get interrupted? No big deal. Pick up where you left off. It seems like writing new words should be this simple, too, but for me, it’s not. I need a lot of time to get into the flow of words, and five minutes here, five minutes there–that just doesn’t work for me. So lately I’ve been gradually working on the rewrite of a short novel, picking my way through it scene by scene. I have a nice, shiny new outline based on what needs to be redone (lots), and what just needs to be tweaked (also lots), but that’s keeping me on track. It’s still hard, because there’s a lot of new words that need to be done (LOTS), but at least I can pick at it a bit more than needing that urgent rush through like an eager first draft does.

2. Toddler = Brainthief. I heard from some other moms that when a kid is born, he secretly steals a piece of his mother’s brain so that simple concentration seems a whole lot more difficult post-birth. Maybe that’s true, who knows? All I know is I cannot think about fiction when he’s awake and running around. I can’t brainstorm plotlines, I can’t come up with character motivations–occasionally a flash of inspiration will strike, and I’ll jot down a few lines of dialogue, but more often than not, I. cannot. think. when he’s awake. (Good grief, every time I look away for half a second, he finds a way up onto the kitchen table to throw salt all over the place! I swear he got bit by a radioactive spider sometime during our trip to the Ecoterium, because he’s DEFINITELY Mini-Spiderman.) Which means when I sit down to write (say, during one of those blessed naps), I sometimes need a bit of time to get my head in the game. Not too much, but something like reading-over where I was before (because I literally don’t remember anymore, and it may have been four days since I got anything down), or just sitting and thinking for a few minutes about “What happens next?” are kind of a requirement now. I also sometimes do writing exercises, which I never used to do before but which John Gardner’s book (The Art of Fiction) and Anne Lammott’s book (Bird by Bird) ((and, of course, Natalie Goldberg’s (Writing Down the Bones) long, long before)) has gotten me hooked on again lately. Helps get the writing engine warmed up, anyway. But the idea of multi-tasking during daily life? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAA~! Yeah, no. Currently, I have “Rodjie & Iona Meeting–Where?” written on the palm of one hand, because I’m hoping that by putting it there, I’ll remind myself to spend some time thinking about that before I sit down to write the next scene of the novel, since it stumped me today.

3. Sometimes, you just gotta relax. This has been harder to accept. I’ve realized in the last few months how goal-driven I’ve been, and at the same time, how rarely that goal-driven mentality has actually helped me get more done. With things as complicated and challenging as they are, YES, sometimes I do need to just watch The Great British Baking Show. Sometimes I do need to play an hour of Minecraft. Sometimes I do need to indulge in a binge-reading-fest of Rex Stout or Douglas Adams or Haruki Murakami because they make me feel good. And sometimes, I need to let go of immediate goals for a while, because holding onto them just makes me anxious and depressed because I literally cannot complete them with any certainty. Life is too unpredictable at the moment, and that’s okay. “Do what you can,” is my current motto. And I’m working really hard to let go of the guilt and pressure I dump on myself constantly. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t get more writing done. And you know what, Self?:

4. I’ve actually been doing a lot of writing. I have. Not regularly, not daily, but I’ve surprised myself with my writing endurance. In the past, any writing session longer than forty-five minutes would drain me dry and leave me creatively wasted. I was a writing sprinter: dive in, lap, lap, lap, get out, chill the rest of the day. Lately, though, I’ve been putting in two to two-and-a-half hours straight. When the Little Man naps, I write. No excuses. No dilly-dallying. I may do a writing exercise first, I may think for a few minutes with the cursor blinking on the blank page, but I write. There is no “I’ll write tomorrow” because there may not be any time tomorrow. There’s no “I’ll write someday” because, honestly? I don’t think Life especially cares about giving me time to write. I’ve got to make that time, and I’ve got to make it with a good serving of elbow grease. And it’s been paying off. I can envision spending three or four hours working on writing stuff in a day–not now, obviously, but it seems feasible to me. Before, I used to think “I just can’t work that way!” but I realize now that maybe that was just me being unpracticed at it. I am a naturally laid back person. I would wile away the hours if left to my own devices most of the time. I love TV. But this time has shown me I am capable of lengthy, focused, creative time, and that’s got me really encouraged. Maybe someday in the magical future, when the Little Man is in Preschool or Kindergarten or I can afford the occasional babysitter, maybe by then I’ll be able to put that free time to very good use, writing on as a marathoner jogs on, one step at a time, hour after hour, mile after mile after mile.

Until then, though, I’ll just keep on keeping on, and try not to stress myself out too much. :)

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