Angela graduated from Lesley University's MFA program in January, 2013, and now spends her time writing children's books and fantasy stories.
She spends the rest of her time watching nostalgic shows on Netflix, trying to knit a blanket, and endlessly scrolling through Twitter.
Last weekend my husband and I took the kiddo and the doggo for a walk. Part way through the walk, our daughter started looking up, and saying “Hi.”
“Is she saying ‘hi’ to the moon?” my husband asked, looking at the faint white portion of moon visible in the blue sky. A few minutes later, she waved again, again saying hi, and there was nothing she could have been looking at but the day moon. She wasn’t acknowledging birds or squirrels or cats, instead her focus was stolen by that barely visible shape.
This past week I started reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with her at night. As we’ve been over, she loves Brown Bear, Brown Bear, so I figured she’d like the illustrations of the caterpillar. But we didn’t even get to him before she was drawn in. On the first page, while the caterpillar still lies in his egg at night, the moon with a faint face smiles at us.
She doesn’t babble, or say “Hi!” She’s wordless as reaches out and touches the subtle features even she sees as a face, her attention captured by the simple detail.
It’s a small thing. A pathetic thing, even. Writer friends of mine write for hours every day. For me, since my daughter’s been born, it’s hard to squeeze my writing time out of the day. And when I do squeeze out that time, it’s easy to think of other things I want to do: clean the house, eat lunch, watch the first third of a movie. I want to write, I want to write more, but it’s hard to build up the energy.
Except now it’s been getting easier. I’ve been marking off my writing time, and it helps. I can’t stand a blank spot in my list of dates, so even on long busy days where I couldn’t get to writing in the morning, I sit at my desk at night and try to get 10 minutes. 20 minutes. 30. And now 40.
It’s a muscle. My brain starts to fizzle by the end of it, not used to keeping a steady pace for so long. So I build it up. Work myself up. Find the space to care for my daughter, live my life, and fit writing in. Until it’s 50 minutes. An hour.
Writers with kids — how much are you able to fit into a day? How do you do it? Do you wish you did more?
She does not read yet. Still, to her, books are objects to hold. Pages are to be thumbed, flipped, bent, tasted. Pictures are things to touch, caress, and kiss.
Reading is sitting in a chair, mom or dad as a cushion, while milk is drunk and llama llama rhymes drift into her ears. Or it is storytime, standing 2 inches from the page the librarian holds up, giving a hard stare to the story she tells.
A book is thrown to the ground, pushed away, in favor of the one she really wants. She may choose to watch a favorite movie, decide to bang on the back door until we go outside, but a book is a thing she returns to when she sits in her bed or pulls everything off the shelf. A book is how she ends her day before she goes to sleep.
Maybe books will be her everything, or maybe just something to use to pass the time. Whichever way, she will be a reader.
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.