I’m Glad I Failed: How Rejection Letters Gave Me Freedom to Write Again

I’m Glad I Failed: How Rejection Letters Gave Me Freedom to Write Again

In college, I studied English. This probably made sense to all the people around me, as I’d spent most of every day in High School reading and writing. I suspect that I was probably called by people who didn’t know my name, “That girl in the mom jeans who writes all the time”. I’d dreamed of publishing a book of my very own for years.

But honestly, I’d fallen into my major more by accident than any kind of plan. I thought about going pre-vet, but I signed up for classes so late in the spring before my Freshman year that none of the critical classes were open, and I would have no choice but to spend an extra semester on it. I took classes in Forestry, but the focus seemed to be mostly on cutting trees down rather than protecting them. I spent a lot of time taking Geology (so much that I almost snagged a minor in it) but eventually wandered away from it, terrified of all the math classes I’d have to take to earn a degree there.

I had taken AP English in High School, and had so many credit hours in English already completed when I started college, that I figured I might as well major in it. And so I graduated, a little bewildered, with an English degree that included a concentration in Creative Nonfiction – nonfiction being another area I’d stumbled into entirely by accident, because the Creative Fiction class was never, ever open by the time I signed up for classes.

I spent no time asking my creative writing professors how I might establish myself as a writer. This wasn’t, after all, my plan. I was just letting the currents swish me to whatever end they might. I regret that I didn’t do a little bit more, because it would have been so very, very simple, but I just didn’t have a plan.

So, I left college with my BA in English (with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction) and managed to snag a job at a company that claimed not to be a call center, and was mostly not a call center, but I also spent an enormous amount of time on the phone, calling people. It was at this point that I discovered that calling people who I don’t know on the phone gives me horrible anxiety.

I retreated, and at about the same time my husband commissioned as an Officer in the US Army. He received orders to go to Washington State, and I went along with him. A little piece of detritus swirling along in the stream.

It was time, I decided, to write a novel. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. So, I got to work.

That first draft was a really strange collision of the principles I’d learned in Creative Nonfiction classes, and the sci-fi action that I loved the most. I figured that I could apply my freshly formalized literary sensibilities with the science fiction genre, and boom. I’d be crazy successful.

I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood yet, much to my detriment

I crawled through that first draft, and by the time I finished it I knew it was utterly awful. Demoralized, I put it away. Not only had my English degree failed to get me a decent job, it had also let me down in the writing of novels.

Eventually, I came back to it, shook out the dust and the spiders, and tore half the novel out. The other half, I rewrote. I edited everything. And feeling I could do no more, I submitted it to some literary agents.

The rejection letters poured in, and rightfully so. Passive voice and adverbs riddled my sentences. I disobeyed the law of “show, don’t tell.” And in my query letters, I couldn’t state the central conflict of the story. The package I sent out wasn’t my best work, and I hadn’t learned the industry nearly well enough. I retreated, and evaluated how to fix the problems that had resulted in so many firm “no”s.

At first, I didn’t make much progress. I felt like I’d been cheated in a million different ways. No one ever told me it would be this hard. My education had failed me. My skills had failed me. After years of work, I’d taken my chance, and I’d fallen flat on my face. I was bruised, and the idea of writing for fun, some days of writing at all, seemed like something that would only happen to other people.

But of course, I kept going forward, and very slowly I realized that all the failures I’d encountered belonged to me. Not to my bachelor’s degree, or my instructors, or agents, or the industry.

I’d placed too much of my identity on getting published – not on being a writer, not on telling stories, but rather on getting a book on the shelves of bookstores. I hadn’t had fun writing anything in years. I’d stopped crafting scenes that I liked, and started crafting scenes that I thought others would see as intelligent, as skillful. I’d lost my perspective on why I had started writing in the first place.

I realized that I had to start all over again. That I had to approach my writing in a new way, like I was coming at it for the first time. I had to learn to find what it was about writing that had made me start, and that had made me commit so much time to it.

So, I pushed out of my head all my ideas of getting published. I established some time to write during my days, at the same time every day, and didn’t worry so much about writing outside of that time. I took the pressure off, and I started writing for my own enjoyment again.

It took a long time, I’ll admit, to get out of that “must-get-published” mindset. It’s a strange tight-rope to walk, to strive for enjoyment in what I write, knowing that if I don’t enjoy the process no one will enjoy the reading, while simultaneously striving for improvement in my craft. Some days I still lean too far one way or the other. Some days I grow anxious and annoyed if I don’t get enough work done. Some days I obsess a little too much over my e-mail, waiting to see if my next word from an agent will be a rejection letter, a request for manuscript, or that dreamed-of offer. And some days, I don’t work hard enough to make sure that the writing time happens.

And gradually, I started enjoying my writing time again. It wasn’t just something I did because I had to do it. It was something I did because I enjoyed it. I stopped feeling stress every minute of the day, and I started to feel like I had a life again.

My writing became a place where I explored my thoughts about the world around me, where I took off on the impossible adventures that I love experiencing in the books that I read. I’m still not quite where I used to be, but I’m getting closer all the time.

What helps is knowing that if I keep working, and I keep writing what I enjoy writing, then someday what I’ve written will speak to someone. Even if it’s just a tiny group of people, then that will be valuable. It’s for them, this imaginary, tiny following, for whom I keep to my schedule as much as possible. That I keep sending queries, that I keep working to improve.

It’s for myself that I keep writing. Because getting words on paper, telling stories, taking journeys with my characters, is what I love to do above almost anything else.

 

Personal Life Update: I recently started a class on JavaScript. This is a very new thing to me – I’ve never done any programming beyond a little bit of HTML when I was in High School, which feels like forever ago. I definitely won’t be having as much time to post here for a little while, which is sad, but I’ll be learning brand new things, which makes me very happy.

Hopefully, when I get back into my regular rhythm of writing and blogging, it will be full of new and helpful knowledge. In the meantime, thanks so much for reading.

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When I Met Princess Leia

The first time I met Princess Leia, I was in fourth grade. My little sister’s third-grade class was on a huge Star Wars kick, so she picked up A New Hope at the local video rental shop. On a Friday night, she popped the cassette into our VCR, expertly fast-forwarded through commercials, and hit the ‘play’ button right at the opening scroll.

I don’t know at what point I got hooked. It might have been John Williams’ opening fanfare. Maybe it was just the fact that A New Hope threw me right into the action. There was no need to explain who The Galactic Empire was, or The Rebel Alliance. They were fighting, and look, there goes a spaceship! The film was filled with strange creatures, intriguing characters, terrifying enemies, and awe-inspiring weapons. That first viewing launched an obsession that has stood the test of time.

By the time I was in fourth grade, I was already pretty jaded about gender roles. I didn’t play with any of the girls in my class, because acting out real-life scenarios, like cooking dinner or sweeping floors, felt a whole lot like work. The boys might let me re-enact the most recent episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but Catwoman usually took a backseat to the fights between The Dark Knight and The Joker, and within minutes I was a forgotten figure, practicing cartwheels in the grass.

The first sight of Princess Leia in A New Hope didn’t inspire me. Ah. A pretty girl in a white dress. Other than her earmuffs-on-steroids hairstyle, she could have stepped right out of the type of movie where the ladies break out into song about how great it would be to find a nice prince and settle down on a planet with a good education system and live happily ever after.

I probably should have noticed that she was sneaking around on a ship that was under attack by the fearsomely dressed Darth Vader, but hey, I was a fourth grader.

I started to reevaluate my opinion when she shot her first stormtrooper.

Then she went toe-to-toe with the baddest bad guy I’d ever seen. Held captive, diminutive compared to the armored man towering over her, she stood defiant. She responded to his booming voice with courage, and even sass. Didn’t she know that he’d just strangled one of those guys in the funny white helmets? I was scared of Darth Vader, and I was separated from him by a TV screen. Princess Leia, though, seemed more irritated than anything else.

Over the course of A New Hope, Leia kept defying expectations. When threatened with Alderaan’s destruction, her fear was palpable. She mourned her people, her culture – everything that had once been her life.

Han Solo’s reaction to her, as she takes charge of her own rescue mission and orders him to jump down a garbage chute, is perhaps most fascinating. The self-assured, universe-weary rogue stares in wonder. A damsel, yes. In distress, not so much.

I think it’s really easy to forget how revolutionary Princess Leia was, how revolutionary she still is. How many other characters, male or female, dare to rage across the screen as she did in anything other than a moody drama? A million copies have been tried, and a million copies have failed to capture the spirit of the original. Princess Leia stands alone, driven by an inner fury, a singular purpose.

I’ll admit that I didn’t appreciate Princess Leia throughout my Star Wars drenched youth. I wanted too much to identify with the Jedi. The idea of The Force was intoxicating, the buzz of a lightsaber like music. That was what I wanted, and so Princess Leia fell into the background. It was Luke Skywalker I followed most closely, and later, as I delved deeper into the canon, Mara Jade. Anyone who didn’t wield a lightsaber or connect to the power that bound together the fabric of the universe seemed far less interesting to me.

And yet, always Leia was there, and as I got older, I came to appreciate her more and more. Of all the primary characters in the Star Wars universe, she has by far the greatest leadership skills. She commands armies that fight incredible odds against the encroaching darkness of the Empire. She never backs down when she is called on to lead. And she’s never afraid to make bold choices or take risky shots.

She calls upon a friend of her father’s, whom she has never met, to help combat a weapon capable of destroying planets. She jumps down garbage chutes, refuses to abandon the base on Hoth until the last possible moment, disguises herself as a bounty hunter to rescue Han Solo from Jabba’s Palace. She does everything with admirable courage, as well as cunning reason. Maybe Luke Skywalker wasn’t the best choice to be trained as the last Jedi Knight after all, though I suspect Yoda would have found a much more infuriating student in Leia.

These days, as excited as I am to see Rey on the movie screens, as thrilled as I am to see a Jedi Knight of my gender wielding a lightsaber and The Force, I am equally excited to see General Organa Solo. Still commanding armies in the fight for galactic freedom, still dealing with the drama of being a Skywalker with her head held high. It is Leia who, of all the characters in Star Wars, seems the least escapist, the most grounded in a life that looks familiar to me. Yes, she is a high-level politician, but she is also a decision-maker, someone who must face reality as it is, and find the best way through. This can’t be said for many of the characters in the galaxy, who constantly retreat for training, or to recover from massive mis-steps.

I’m looking at you, Luke Skywalker.

 

I think it’s the rage, honestly. When I was younger, I was an idealist. Among my friends, I was the most likely to bewail, “But why can’t we all just get along?” I was most likely to quietly explain my Zen point of view when everyone else raged about the difficulty of one of our teacher’s quizzes.

Somewhere in the midst of my young adulthood, I lost my grip on that Zen, and when I did, I found a well of something hot and, to me, terrifying and uncomfortable. I found myself angry at the fact that things hadn’t worked out the way I’d thought they would. The universe, it seemed, had turned on me.

But I shoved that anger down, because it makes people uncomfortable. It didn’t take me long to recognize that. Yelling was not appropriate, was not cute, was a little bit scary. So, as much as I could, I swallowed it. I learned to work through it, to look at things differently, to adjust my expectations.

Now I wonder – would Princess Leia have done all that, or would she have fed her rage and used it to power through, until she set things back on the course she wanted? Probably a little bit of both.

Leia rises up above the title of Princess, and becomes something else. A woman willing to lead, willing to take risks, a woman who refuses to run or back down. More than perhaps anyone else in Star Wars, she fights, unceasingly, for what she believes in. And these days, it is Leia whom I admire most.

The View from Right Here

The View from Right Here

It’s really easy, as an unpublished author, to get caught up in dreams of the future. My goal for a long time now has been to find an agent, find a publisher, and get my work on the shelves. It’s something I’ve imagined since junior high, something I’ve worked towards for years, now. I want to tell my stories to other people, to hear that they’ve enjoyed the journey, or best of all, that it made them think. Or even that they hated it, though that is less desireable.

I want more than just to write. I want to be read. And more than to be read, I want to have a conversation with people. I want them to know my characters, I want them to go on this adventure with me. I want to know what they think might happen next, how they relate to my story, whether or not it has any meaning to them.

So, in some ways, it’s a bit like torture, to have written so much (I’ve finished one novel in a series, and the first draft on the second novel, and I’m working on a third and totally unrelated manuscript, now) and still have only a few readers among my close friends.

But, this is no way to live as a writer, constantly querying and waiting for responses, waiting for that chance to move on to the next step. It’s a recipe for complete frustration. So, I’m trying to cultivate an appreciation for where I am right now. I’m trying to learn to appreciate the view from right here.

 

It’s All Mine

What good is there, in being an unpublished writer? What good is there in existing in this state of longing, without any idea of what might happen next?

First of all, I can write selfishly. I can work on making exactly the kinds of stories I want to make, without the expectation of an audience. No one is standing over my shoulder, anxiously waiting to see the next page, the next paragraph, the next novel, filled with ideas of what it might look like. I can explore every little side path on the way, I can indulge in the kinds of writing I like the best, and no one can tell me that I should do otherwise. I am my only critic and I am one of a very small group who is attached to my work.

If a scene wanders off into strange territory, I am still writing to an amorphous, imagined audience. I don’t have to question what they might think. I don’t have to worry if they’re going to find that scene or that character’s actions difficult to believe. Because I know when I start thinking about that, the way I write will change, and the paths I decide to take will be different.

If what I want to write is a long, dialogue-free scene about a character wandering through the forest and contemplating the meaning of her choices, I can. I can appreciate how beautiful a scene like that is, without worrying that it doesn’t fit the overall tone of the book, or that it isn’t what my readers expect. I might have to cut it later, but for now I can write it, fully invested, because it’s what I want to write. I can describe it down to the pebbles in the creek where she stops for lunch. I can detail everything she eats, and never wonder if perhaps it’s a little silly.

So, there is undoubtedly a freedom to being an unpublished author. I’m under no obligation to please a large audience. No one is investigating my work, seeking minutiae to critique, the places where my voice rings false, the grammatical errors, the plot holes. It is only my own criticism that matters, at this point, mine and the occasional beta reader.

 

Room to Fall

Then, there are the mistakes. For now, I’m allowed to make them in front of a small audience. When my writing is very bad, when I put on paper a character who isn’t as rich and complex as I’d like, it’s a small audience that witnesses my errors. When I write something downright confusing, I still have time and space to go into my manuscript and make improvements.

I can take risks, without concern about what my critics will say. I have room to learn new techniques, with no agent, no editor, no publisher, no audience to tell me what direction I should take, what makes for a good voice or style. There is a place in my writing for falling down and getting back up, unseen.

Yes, this means there are very few who can tell me exactly where I might be going wrong, or exactly how to fix it, but it also means I can learn for myself. There is a frustration in that, but also joy, and ownership of success when I get it right.

I like writing without the burden of abundant criticism. Yes, those critiques are necessary to making progress in writing, but some of them are just plain wrong. Like that time I was told by a critique partner that I ought to read George R.R. Martin to learn how to build descriptions.

Yeah, I’ve read George Martin, and while what he does is incredibly good, it’s not my style, and not what I’m aiming for.

It’s tough, though, to sort out the useful criticism from the bad, and even knowing that some of the critiques I’ve gotten have been way off track, it still stings a little. I’m not trying to write Game of Thrones, but the fact that someone found my writing lacking, even if their suggestion for fixing it was awful, isn’t so easy to deal with.

So yes, being able to make mistakes in my own time, and being able to correct them as I prefer, is a huge advantage to being a writer without an agent, without a publisher, without a paying audience.

 

Writing in Shadows

Then, there is the wonder of possessing a secret, a secret that most of the world doesn’t even know to ask about yet. I hold my books, all the events in them, and all the places where they might go, in my hands and in my head. It is in my power to talk to my friends and family about the story that I’ve written, but I don’t.

This is mostly because I’m a writer, and not because I love keeping secrets. I am actually a terrible secret-keeper, under most circumstances. The only reason my stories aren’t bouncing out into the world is because I can barely string together the words to describe the plot without a piece of paper in front of me. I write better than I talk, and so for the most part what I’ve written is locked away.

Still, it is all my secret. Every word, good or bad, still belongs to me and no one else. And there is something special, rare, and wonderful in that knowledge, even as I experience the frustration of being in a fandom of one. All the rough edges and all the beautiful moments lie in the dark, known only to me. They are mine, as wholly as an unborn child belongs to its mother.

 

The Mundane

Finally, there are all the obligations of being a published author – a successful published author, anyway. The public appearances, the book signings, all the I-don’t-even-know-what. I can see, even from where I stand, that being an author is about a whole lot more than just writing whatever you like. There are other people to please, and many places to go.

Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, typing up my meandering thoughts on what I like about my current writing life. I’m wearing Yoga pants, my sweater (a blanket with sleeves, if we’re being really honest), lunch beside me, my kids playing nearby. It’s not ideal for concentration, perhaps, but it’s comfortable. Far more comfortable than having to go out in the world and convince other people that my book is one they want to put on their reading list.

I’m more than willing to do all these things when the time comes, but for now, it’s nice that I don’t have to.

 

Going Out

I look forward to that brave and wonderful moment when a book that I’ve written goes out into the world. I don’t think I will ever stop seeking that achievement. I’ve certainly pursued it longer than I imagined I would when I started on this journey.

But I also am trying to savor where I am right now. I’m enjoying the freedoms that I have, the comfortably obscure corners in which I write. Because the view from right here isn’t so bad.

Quick Meals for Busy Days

For most of my life, I ignored the daily task of cooking. It seemed like a dull job, and one that I didn’t care to spend much of my time on. Other people threw pasta into boiling water, broke ground beef into bits, and baked potatoes, and I was fine with eating whatever resulted.

This sounds a little snooty, I guess, but the truth is that cooking wasn’t something to which I gave any thought. Food happened, I ate it, and that was that. When I needed to make food, I usually dumped it out of a can and threw it into the microwave. I went a long time surviving on ramen noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, spaghetti, and Campbell’s soup.

This is a radical change from the way I eat, now. Right this very moment, the smell of baking bread is wafting through my house, a loaf that I made from scratch. I can roast whole chickens; make my own broth; whip up cookies, cupcakes, and ice-cream; and even serve up fresh, home-made pasta noodles. If I have a recipe for it, I can make it, and sometimes I can make it even if I don’t have a recipe.

It turns out I love delicious, complicated food.

Of course, as much as I would love to have hours every day to work on cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, the reality is that I don’t. There are diapers to change, books to read, walks to take, letters to learn, laundry to do, a job to prepare for, and stories to write. Sometimes I look at the clock, and I can’t believe that dinner time is fast approaching. And if I’m in the middle of an intense writing sprint, then I definitely have to cut down the time that dinner takes.

When life gets busy, though, I have built up a list of recipes that I turn to that are super quick while still satisfying my foodie needs. And now, I will share those recipes with you. Also, so I can look at this page when I’m trying to remember all these amazing meals.

First up are a few recipes from the site Half Baked Harvest. This is my go-to site when I want a recipe that is rich and flavorful, and Tieghan Gerard has never let me down. I’m eagerly anticipating the upcoming cookbook, which is guaranteed to be packed with delicious food.

A lot of recipes here are longer and complicated, but a few of them are so ridiculously fast, and these are the ones I go to when I’m busy.

15 minute Bangkok Peanut Mango Pasta is low in ingredients, really fast to throw together, and also delicious. I’ve even substituted soba noodles for the pasta, which makes it even faster, and it came out great.

Fast Recipes for Busy Writers - Peanut Mango Pasta
Oh so tasty.

If hearty Italian fare is what you’re craving, then Crockpot Tuscan Sausage and White Bean Ragu with Buttered Gnocci just cannot be beat. It takes a little planning to get everything in the slow cooker in the morning, but then in the evening you just need to cook up some gnocci (or if your family hates gnocci like my very strange family, any other kind of pasta) and scoop the sauce on top. This meal is ridiculously decadent, good enough for guests, hearty enough to serve a crowd, and just plain delicious.

Then, there’s Crockpot Salsa Verde Chicken Pozole, which is not only fast, it’s also fun to make. You need a food processor for this one, or you can cheat and buy canned salsa verde. I do recommend trying it as written at least once, though, because that fresh-roasted salsa verde is awesome.

If you want to explore some more, then here’s a whole listing of all the quick recipes from Half Baked Harvest. Just try not to drool all over your keyboard as you scroll through.

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Okay, I’m back from scrolling through all that beautiful food photography.

If you’re looking for something even faster that you also want to eat on a hot summer day, then the Greek Tortellini Salad from Two Peas and Their Pod is great. It is also a huge hit with my kids, once Little Dude has picked out the tomatoes. The Hubs picks out the cucumbers. He says the smell reminds him of copperhead snakes, which I say is weird.

Some other basic recipes that come together super fast, but are still satisfying include baked potatoes with toppings (I always follow Alton Brown’s method, and my potatoes come out great every time), veggie and cheese frittatas, and lentil beans over rice with naan on the side. All of these recipes are incredibly versatile, adaptable to a wide range of flavors and ingredients, and are also satisfying. When I’m cooking for my family, these are all necessary qualities.

As for that bread I talked about earlier, I often follow standard recipes because my stand mixer does such a great job taking care of the kneading that I don’t expend much effort. But, when time is lacking, I love using the recipes in the book The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The theory is that one can stir together a huge batch of very wet dough, let the yeast go to work for a couple of hours, and then throw the dough into the refrigerator to use at any time in the next two weeks. I’ll admit that I was skeptical of how bread would come out without at least a little bit of kneading, but the results so far have been great. In the last week I’ve used a rye recipe to make a loaf of plain rye, a loaf of muesli bread, a loaf of granola bread, and a loaf with cranberries. Being able to pull some dough out of the refrigerator, add in a few extra ingredients, and then throw it in the oven is addictive.

Oh, and using the dough for a pizza crust resulted in the best pizza I’ve ever made at home.

fast meals for writers
This pizza was ridiculously fast and easy.

And finally, my number one resource for fast, gourmet-tasting recipes is Sheet Pan Suppers. This is the cookbook on my shelf that sees the most use. I pull it off the shelf at least once a week, which is a ton for me. Most of the recipes are incredibly quick, and the flavor they pack for the time they take is on a whole other level. Some of my favorites include the Curried Chicken with Califlower, Apricots & Olives; Warm Tuna Nicoise Salad; Soy-Mustard Salmon & Broccoli; Cilantro-Lime Steamed Halibut & Spicy Coconut Rice; Fancy Tuna Melts; Thick-Cut Pork Chops With Warm Apple-Cabbage Slaw; Pepperoni French Bread Pizza; Hearty Ratatouille with Goat Cheese; and Smoked Cheddar & Apple Grilled Cheese.

Yes, I love this book. It introduces some really great techniques that make for delicious results. Seriously, you can’t beat making six grilled-cheese sandwiches at a time in the oven.

When I’m busy and hungry, then these are the recipes that I turn to. They all satisfy my desire for flavorful food, fit my family’s tastes as well, and come together fast. They are basically the perfect NaNoWriMo recipes for my fellow foodies. To say the least, I’ve tested all of them extensively, and they’ve never let me down. So, if you’re looking for some satisfying meals during your next writing sprint, then I recommend you try some of these.

Plus, I’m always on the lookout for more recipes. Do you have a list of favorite meals for busy evenings? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

 

The Writing Habit Returns

The Writing Habit Returns

So, I might have mentioned how important it is to write every day about twenty times per post. That’s because I absolutely know from experience that consistency is the only real way to progress in your writing. When I’m writing regularly, I get more done, and my work is better. There is not just comfort in a scheduled window, in knowing that during a certain block of time I will be able to sit with a pen in my hand, but it also helps my brain know when to kick into creative mode.

As a bonus, I tend to be a much happier person when I write regularly. There is just something about writing a really engaging story that makes me feel like a real human being.

The problem is, I haven’t had a good, consistent writing habit recently. Not even close. I’ve been shoving writing into random places in my day, here and there, and that means that sometimes I get it done, and sometimes I get into bed without having scratched down a single word. Basically, at the rate I’m going I’ll finish the first draft of my next novel in, oh, about two years.

That is no way for a writer to behave.

I’ve had a lot of very good reasons (and a few not-so-great reasons, I’m looking at you Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) for why my writing habit has fallen to the side. I learned a few years ago that I’m the kind of person who simply cannot go without decent sleep. With Little Dude and Little Miss going through one cold after another all winter, I stopped waking up early to make up for all the times I got up at night to wipe drippy noses and administer Baby Tylenol. Sleep, and by extension my mental sanity, take precedence over the early morning writing. I know my limits, and that’s a good thing.

And then of course there has been the new job that I may or may not start at any moment, and which I spent several weeks preparing for. Getting together a wardrobe for a job in a real office, that I actually have to drive to, required a shocking amount of my brain power.

But my itch to write has been growing all this time, and now seems like a good opportunity to get back on track with my writing habit. A real, scheduled, planned into my day, happens no matter what kind of habit.

Bright Ink Writes
Yes, I need this hour of time, where it is just me and my notebook.

As long as no one gets any more colds, of course.

I started this morning by getting up at 6:30. Little Dude woke up about five minutes later, so it turns out that’s not quite early enough. I’m thinking, and I quake to write this, that my alarm will have to be set for 5:30. An hour is actually a lot of time, especially if I can get better at writing in the evenings, too.

But oh, 5:30 is obscenely early.

I also added a little habit tracker back into my monthly bullet-journal setup. I’ve found that sort of thing both encouraging and helpful for establishing a daily habit. I just love shading in a box on the days I accomplish my goals. I feel like Hermione Granger would appreciate this about me, although she and I would probably spend way too much time trying to outsmart one another to really get along well. Maybe just swapping planning methods would have to suffice.

The biggest hurdle in establishing a habit like this, though, is building up the mental fortitude. I am not a morning person – not at all, not even a little bit. Having kids has forced me to get out of bed at times I’d much rather be sleeping, and to get up before they bounce awake, ready to spread chaos everywhere they go, is even more of a challenge. I love nothing more than staying buried under my covers as long as possible. So it’s going to take some serious will-power to drive myself out of bed in the mornings.

It helps that I know how important a daily writing session is, and getting the work done first thing in the morning is such a satisfying thing. I’m counting on that to keep me going.

Because really, who can write any kind of book while their toddler is on their lap, driving a little plastic red motorcycle over their notebook? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tried that, of course, but it’s definitely not the right condition for amazing work. Especially when the writing is totally illegible when it’s time to revise.

This is perhaps the trickiest thing about juggling a writing habit and parenting: the constant change. I’m sure this is at least partly my fault, because I’m pretty terrible at creating a daily schedule for the family. It’s difficult to plan for writing when one morning I take the kids out on a walk, and the next we read books and do crafts. When some days Little Dude takes his nap at 11:30 and the next he doesn’t sleep until 1:30, if he ever takes his nap at all.

We do have mealtimes very regularly. I do not miss breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, or supper. Not ever.

But there is a problem of not always quite knowing where writing time gets in there. Last autumn, I fit in a couple of hours every day during nap time, no problem. But as Little Dude’s naps get more unpredictable, so does my word count.

Rather than fight to lock everyone into a specific schedule, I’m more inclined to stay flexible and work out a new method. So, trying for an hour of writing time in the morning is going to be my first salvo in the battle to reclaim a higher word count. I’m reminding myself that even though it will mean sacrificing some sleep, it will also mean that I can get a lot of words done before anyone in the house even wakes up. To a writer who is also the parent of small children, distraction-free writing is a miraculous thing.

I can already imagine the satisfaction of getting Little Dude out of bed, and making breakfast knowing that I already have three or four pages done. Of watching whole chapters pile up around me at a steady rate, rather than in little spurts. It will so be worth getting out of bed that early.

Although you might need to remind me of that at 5:30 am a week from now.

Here is the thing that gives me confidence going into developing this new schedule: I’ve done it before. I have found ways to fit in my writing, even when everything around me is chaos. Even though things have changed recently (again) I know that I can find a way, and I can make it stick. And when things change again about a week from now, then I will figure that out, too. It’s one of the great challenges of being a writer, finding that secret, personal time when the words can get on the page.

If it means getting up super early, then so be it. I’ll make some extra coffee, and it will keep me company in that quiet morning hour.

So, when do you write? And what have you done to establish a writing habit in your life? I’d love to hear all your tips for making it happen. In the meantime, I’ll keep you updated on how I’m doing at getting up early.

As always, thanks for reading!