Monday, December 10, 2018
I spent November trying to relearn how to be a writer who also works a full-time job. I remember back when I used to have small children and I made a zine, then blogged regularly, then went to graduate school, I was sometimes asked, "How do you find time to write?" I wish I'd had a satisfactory answer then, because I really need it now. One big difference is that I used to have children who went to bed at 8 p.m. Now the twins stay up till 9, if I'm lucky, and M until who knows when. And, though it's hard to believe, since I was so much closer to twinfant sleep deprivation days back then, but I think I need a lot more sleep now. If I don't get my 8 hours of zzzzz's, I'm zombiesque all day, which doesn't leave me much time for me. But I've been trying my best, and this is what I've come up with:
Early Mornings. Keeping in mind the essay "Five a.m., Writing as Ritual," by Judith Ortiz Cofer, I endeavored to get up at 5 every morning. I failed most days, but I did manage to get up sometime between five and six, which gave me somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour of writing time, in a silent house, with no one around being distracting; it's been a constant war between the gratification of a long writing session and the warm coziness of my bed.
NANOWRIMO. I've never participated in National Novel Writing Month, which falls in November every year, because in November I'm too busy panicing about the impending holidays without doing anything to prepare for said holidays. But somehow I decided that this year, during the month when I was starting a new job would be the perfect time to do my first NANO. And by doing NANO, I don't mean I signed up on the website (I didn't even visit the website once), nor did I track my word count, which came nowhere near the 1500-odd words per day required to reach the NANO goal of 50,000 for the month. I didn't join any discussion groups or attend any write-ins. What I did do was work on a novel every day of the month, working from premise to plot, sketching out scenes, fiddling with character details, laying out a rough outline, and revisiting one of my favorite fiction-writing guidebooks. I did not write a novel, and I'm totally fine with that. Perhaps by next November, I'll have a terrible first draft of this one and can rewrite it for NANO.
Lyric Essay. I took a workshop with the Maine Writer's and Publisher's Alliance on writing the lyric essay, which I've been interested in learning more about for a long time. From the workshop I got a better grasp on the form, assembled a reading list, and have a few ideas for lyric essays of my own. Now I just need more time...
Podcast. Coincidentally, I discovered the Marginally Podcast, which is about writing while working a day job, at almost the exact moment I returned to work and have been binge-listening to all the back episodes during my commute and breaks. When I was writing full-time, I had a vision of incorporating "professional development" into my days, but I rarely made time for these activities because I was so focused on getting my book done (and, I admit now that those days are gone, wasting too much time on leisurely breakfasts, obsessive news-following, and, though I wouldn't call this a waste, playing outside). Now, though I'm ever mindful lest I become not a writer but a person who takes writing classes or attends writing conferences or listens to writing podcasts, I feel like this is the exact kind of professional development I need—how to fit writing into the teensy margins of my life. I enjoy the hosts' back-and-forth chats about how they struggle with writing-while-working as well as the advice from their many guests. My writing community is mostly spread far afield, so it's been fun to listen and pretend I'm part of the conversation. I've picked up a few helpful tidbits along the way, like touch (or poke) your work every day, and the concept of default mode, that time when you're doing something like walking, that doesn't require a lot of mental concentration, and your mind can wander (I stopped listening to the podcast during my morning commute after that, so that I have at least a little time during the day to let my brain just be).
I've brought these habits with me into December, which is the month in which I really need to start panicing about the holidays (and actually doing something about them). I'm still getting up early to write (though taking Sundays off now), pecking away at my novel every day, listening to podcasts, and squeezing in writing, and writing-related tasks like submissions, publicity, website updates, editing work, inbox cleanout, etc., whenever I can—once the kids finally go to bed, after I walk for the first half of my lunch break, during stolen moments on the weekends. After the holidays are over, however, I'm determined to take at least a couple of weekend days per month to focus solely on writing, so that I can delve more deeply than 15 to 30-minute sessions allow. Because I need to expand my margins.