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.
This week I had a couple of reminders that I don’t need to overthink this blogging thing too much.
On Wheezy Waiter, Craig Benzine commemorated spending 11 years making videos by talking about how he manages to keep up with making so much content: by not worrying about being perfect. You have an idea? Do it. It might be crap? Probably, but still: DO IT.
I honestly don’t spend as much time as I could proofreading my posts, but I always feel like I can’t post unless I have something specific to talk about, be it my latest writing failures or examining a potent quote from a book. If I want to keep up with doing this, I need to be willing to write up ideas and put them out there, even if they’re not great.
Here are a few of my favorite things from this week.
Raised by TV. A very funny podcast where Lauren Lapkus and Jon Gabrus talk about television they watched as kids. It’s like being in a conversation with my favorite friends, which is fantastic, though it’s hard when you’re trying to surreptitiously listen to a podcast at work, and Lauren Lapkus saying “One time the computer turned on by itself at school and I thought it was a leprechaun” makes you choke-laugh.
Axolotls. I already knew about this animal, but I processed a children’s book on these little Mexican salamander things this week and I was reminded how adorable they are.
My writing group. I was just mentioning offhand a problem I was having with a story, and they managed to convince me to keep trying, and got me excited to start working on it again. Proof that it’s always, always good to get a group of writers in your corner.
On a recent episode of The Yarn podcast, Victoria Jamieson (author/illustrator of the middle grade graphic novels Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School) spoke about how hard being that middle school age was for her, and how that informed the way she wrote her books.
I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book, it’s kind of naturally what the books have fallen into… When I write my books I try to write about some of the hard parts of being that age because as a kid I liked to know that other kids are going through what I go through.
Jamieson writes about middle schoolers because that age was so hard.
Ten years ago I would’ve picked the same spot for myself. And I did pick it, with all the longer stories I wrote focusing on 11 year old girls. But, that was right at the beginning of my 20s, my actual hardest age, as I was about to discover. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself.
In my late 20s, and now early 30s, I finally feel more settled with who I am, what I need, what I want. Also finally, after a lifetime and two degrees, I’m getting the hang of writing. So is it any wonder the novel I’m currently querying stars an awkward 20-something? Is it a surprise that the story I’m anxious to brainstorm now is about a woman fresh from adolescence who doesn’t understand what she needs and wants? (I’m also sure there’s a metaphor in their enemies being ghosts and demons, respectively.)
This isn’t to say I won’t attempt middle grade stories still (I have one written and waiting for a readthrough and other ideas stewing) but now that I finally feel settled, I keep pulling from a time of frustration and confusion to write.
Does your writing center around a hard time in your life? Do you pull your characters from somewhere else?
I get attached to things where I made a start. My worn out Monchhichi I’ve had since a baby still sits on my shelf. Moving out of the condo my husband and I lived it depressed me, even though we’d outgrown it (before miss baby even came along).
She has her bad days, where she cries and whines, and needs to be held and rocked and read to. Even on the good days she holds tight to your arm while PBS (or, let’s be honest, something on Netflix) plays on the TV, she finds today’s favorite book and wants you to read it again (and again and again) or grabs your hands because it’s time to practice walking again.
I’m not complaining (ok, maybe a little bit); I love to hold her and play with her and listen to her laugh. Still, all of this interaction leaves little time for writing during the day. I cram a few paragraphs in while she naps, and try to get some writing done when she’s down for the night, between spending time with my husband and getting some actual rest. While this helps me relax (going to long without writing makes me feel itchy) it always feels like too little. A page or two, a few days a week — how much am I really writing.
A decent amount, it looks like.
I usually write by hand, a benefit of which is when I feel stalled up in the story, I can take a break from writing and type up the chapters, getting myself back into the story. I’ve hit my second snarl of this write-through, so I began flipping back through my notebook to find where I’d last started up my writing.
And flipping back and flipping back…
I can see by the way I’ve gone through my outline some of the progress I’ve been making as I sit at the desk, hunched over my notebook in the glow of the baby monitor. But seeing this chunk of pages is an actual measurement of what I’ve done, of how far I’ve gotten as I move forward inch by inch.
Bonus content: I’ve always had problems fitting in my writing, the baby is just the most recent excuse.
In his post, “The Pram in the Hall”, he brings up his own point of view, along with the point of view of many other writers, that you don’t have to be a bad parent in order to be a good writer, or that focusing on your parenting necessarily takes away your ability to write.Read More »