I wrote recently that after an Instagram post by Victoria Schwab I was inspired to track my own writing. My marked off blocks don’t look as impressive as hers, and aside from a few anomalies the page looks mainly like a single column of purple boxes.
But there’s a purple box on every day.
Knowing that I’m marking myself, I make sure to take the time and sit and write, even if it’s in the evening and I’m tired and all I want to do is watch Disney vlog videos on YouTube. I can’t stand the idea of having a blank spot so I sit and I write, and the consequence of that is that I’ve found a momentum in my writing, it’s easier to pour out the words. So, even if it’s only a little bit, my pages are stacking and stacking in a way that makes me feel…good.
I’m also allowing myself to qualify lots of things as writing time. Critiquing, blogging, even querying. These are things that I want, or need, or want-need, to do, in order to feel complete, in order to feel accomplished, in order to feel like I’m working towards any sort of a goal. So I mark off that time. And again, I feel good.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up. Maybe a couple weeks, maybe forever. Maybe just until I regain my momentum enough that I don’t need my little boxes to remind me of what I’ve gotten done.
I’m curious about what everyone else does to keep track of their writing, whether you go by time in the chair or simply word count, and how you keep yourselves motivated.
I was talking about my time getting my MFA at Lesley University, and I mentioned how in awe I always was of the moms who worked full time and also decided to go to grad school.
“Mom’s just figure out how to fit that stuff in,” my coworker said.
And I realized how bad of a job I’ve been doing of that, of fitting my writing and editing and blogging into my life. Yes, I’m busy, yes, I’m sleepy, yes, I’m way too anxious, but writing is important to me, and I can’t not do it.
I starting by keeping myself accountable, marking off time spent on writing (or writing related tasks) in a notebook, little purple blocks for every 20 minute increment. So far it my log looks mostly like a single column of blocks, as most days I squeeze in a little time while she’s sleeping. But keeping count forces me to not let myself just skip a day, so I don’t have a horrible little blank spot.
I’m also remembering just how much I can get done in a block of time. Twenty minutes, if I’m on a roll, is 2 notebook pages of writing. It is a short blog post. Even when that’s all I do in a day (and right now, that’s usually all I do in a day) it stacks up noticeably.
I was never the best at utilizing my time before I had a kiddo. With her around, I’m forced to go against part of my nature and be organized and motivated. Kind of like when I was working on my MFA, and those deadlines nearly crushed me. There is less spare time, and that can make me feel like I’m getting less done, but maybe those little chunks will, eventually, add up to more.
Lately I’ve been having trouble keeping up with my writing. You know, for some some reason. So I keep looking for ways to keep myself motivated, and to force me to get in a little bit of writing every day.
One thing I’ve done, ever since I was supposed to keep track of my freewriting in a creative writing class, is I mark on the page of my composition notebook where I’m starting my novel writing for the day. It’s a nice visual so I can see where I last came in, and also gives me a clear goal: “One page from this mark. Two. Three pages…”
On a Instagram post from author Victoria Schwab a few weeks back, she shared a picture of 10 days of writing, with 25 minute intervals marked off on a notebook page in little black squares. This was her writing, editing, freewriting, so on. Some days she has several, some days she has one. But there’s always something. “Books don’t happen all at once,” she writes, “but one increment—one line, one scene, one chapter at a time.” Seeing all of those things she does — that all of us writers do — added up in small, manageable chunks, it all seems so much more doable. And, probably, so very satisfying to see your own little boxes add up over time.
I’ve been feeling brittle, emotionally. Nothing particularly bad has happened, just all the little things adding up and putting their own tiny weight on my anxiety, so that I don’t realize it’s ready to break until it’s near happening.
Just like the little things stress me out, the little things lighten the load.
I got my library copy of I Hate Fairylandvol. 4 by Skottie Young. Nothing like candy-colored massacre to cheer anyone up.
Cheryl Strayed’s soothing voice giving advice on Dear Sugars. She and Steve Almond released their last episode, but I think I’ll go back and listen to some of the ones I missed.
My baby toddler dancing to the concert scene in Sing. It is a sight.
This closeup picture I accidentally took of the wood on our deck. It was a pleasure to find on my phone when I was flipping through videos of my dog and kid.
And writing. Anything I can get it, getting out a chapter while she naps, scribbling a few sentences in my car before walking into work, madly typing up a blog post after she’s gone down for the night and I’ve finally finished those chores.
There were My Little Ponies. Garfield comics. Beanie Babies, of course. Once I had one of the things, I needed all of them to go with it.
My mother tried to focus me sometimes. For a little while I tried collecting little ceramic animals. At the store, I picked up a whale, an otter, a racoon…
“Why don’t you try collecting certain ones?” my mother asked me. “Just collect the ocean animals.”
I paused, my stomach twisting. I did what she said, because it was logical, because she was right. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I wanted them all.
I’m an adult, now, and I still feel it. My sister-in-law bought me a Disney Starbucks “I Am Here Mug” for my birthday once, the EPCOT one. I love it, just like she knew I would. But there’s a little twinge in my heart when I look at it. Because I don’t have the rest of them.
And I need them.
My daughter is barely 1 and 1/2. She doesn’t understand that certain things go together. But she’s beginning to gather. This past week she picked up every little acorn she found on her grandparents’ porch, and toted them around the house in greedy little fists. She fished through a clear vase full of sea glass, picking out only the deep dark blues. She is beginning to collect, and even though I fear for the space in our already overly-cluttered little house, but I’m also excited by this new part of her personality she’s showing, this little girl who is so amazing and special and yet sometimes just like me.
Growing up I had a love for The Simpsons that was greatly fueled by the fact that it was not allowed in our house. (I’d say “banned”, but can you really ban something that syndicates in the slice of time when your children are home from school but you’re still at work before parental locks existed? No, you can’t.) I never became the huge fan that some of my friends were, but there’s no denying that some of those episodes that aired during my childhood were some of the best things I’ve ever seen. (“Summer of 4 ft. 2” particularly spoke to me in a way that television, on a whole, never had before, in a way that 10-year-old me could not articulate.)
Since the 90s I’ve dropped and picked up the show, losing some love during some bad episodes, coming back for the HD, loving or at least being amused by newer jokes, falling in the nostalgia hole when FXX does its days-long marathons.
All of this intro is to talk about how Kate Leth, one of my favorite comic artists and Internet people, has been putting up goofy comics riffing on The Simpsons all summer, #simpofriends. it’s a bunch of simple line art done on actual lined yellow paper. It kind of makes fun of the show (“The bad father has arrived.” “Oh no.”) and kind of honors it, it’s goofy (Milhouse is a vampire?) and straightforward (Homer hates his sisters-in-law, they don’t care), and it’s a little dumb and kind of smart. Basically simpofriends is great and perfect, and my day lights up whenever a new one pops up on my Instagram feed. I don’t know how long Kate Leth plans on doing this, but I hope it’s basically forever, or at least another year.
Each time I go to the library with my daughter, I show her books. “This one’s got dogs!” “Look, a duck!” But she sits in the rocker, or chews on a train, or presses her snotting nose against the glass of a papier mache Charlotte’s Web display.
Then we’re in the picture books. She sees one, and she points, excited. Finally, I think, a book she wants. And I go to grab it…
…and it’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
“What? We own this book.”
“It’s sitting on our bookshelf.”
“I read it four times yesterday!”
She looks at me as if to say, What part of “Ehn!” don’t you understand?
I plop her on the carpet. I place the book between us, and open the first page. And for the first time since I brought her inside, she sits still.
Here are some movies my daughter has been obsessed with.
Secret Life of Pets. Cute jokes about pets, but by the 500th viewing you start to realize that the plot makes little sense and you can’t understand how the characters move around. What is the rabbit’s actual goal? How did that guinea pig stuck in the vents make it into a different building? Why didn’t Katie properly introduce two strange dogs before leaving them alone together for what has to be the longest workday I’ve ever seen? According to my toddler, though, this movie has everything: it has dogs, it’s got, well…more dogs. She is in. To. It.
Trolls. I’m going to admit — I enjoyed this. I liked the songs, I liked that everything looks like it’s made out of felt, I even liked the crazy story. It was just fun. There’s been no big demand from miss baby, though, so we haven’t rewatched yet.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Baby’s first anime! I wanted to watch it, and I put it on thinking she’d ignore it. Instead she pointed excitedly at the screen whenever a cat or some other animal showed up, and in between seemed like she was actually watching the movie. Mama’s little girl is an anime fan; guess the apple really doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Moana. Songs: check. Beautiful water: check. Adorable pig: double check. My daughter claps when the end title slams on the screen, as if in appreciation, and she’s made a enough lilting sounds during the musical numbers to convince me she’s trying to sing.
I recently joined in with my coworkers in reading a book from the Great American Read, and began reading Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a lengthy paperback I picked up, over 500 pages, a size I’ve been avoiding for the most part with the limited reading time a needy toddler gives to me. But as I started reading it while my daughter fell asleep on my shoulder one afternoon, I turned the pages, faster and faster, and though I still have half a book to go I am chomping my way through Adichie’s book faster than I would have thought.
I look at the way Americanah is written, and I should not find it so appealing. So much narrative summary, going quickly over the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, should leaving me feeling separate, distant from the characters. Instead Adichie’s words and sentences coil around me deeper and deeper into their thoughts, their worlds, until I am enmeshed in the story of a girl who grew up poor, who moved to America and was so disheartened with the path her life was taking she shut out the person she loved the most; the story of a boy who grew up comparatively privileged but enters adulthood to find life so much harder than he thought it should have been, every dream he had suddenly unreachable. There is so much history to the she writes about, and I’m impressed by this writing that is so different from what I write, from what I thought I would want to read.
I didn’t mark a particular passage that I can quote now, and when I flip back through the pages I can’t find the one line to illustrate what I mean. It’s the whole thing, the cadence of the sentences strung together, and I am pulled deeply in before I even realize what has happened.
I finish nursing her for the night. Sleepily she reaches for her pacifier. I help her plug it in her mouth, and she settles in my arm as I open Llama Llama Red Pajamafor the hundredth, three-hundredth time.
I read, but I’ve memorized the book, so I also watch her. She tugs gently, purposefully at her curls. Her eyes close, but she isn’t quite asleep. She shifts a little at each page turn, and when I finish and bring her to my shoulder, she lifts her head and looks at me. I finish a song, kiss her face, and place her in her bed as she reaches for it, milk and words already lulling her most of the way to sleep.