Still Learning

Babies operate on their own schedules, and good luck trying to dictate anything different!

I learned that more quickly and painfully when my daughter decided to cut what is usually a many hours- or even days-long process of arrival down to two hours. Of course, I knew this about babies years ago, but knowing something in theory is not the same as knowing through experience.

This does not mean I can’t have a writing schedule, but it does mean that my schedule follows no clock.

My little one has something of a routine. She wakes me up for the day most often between 6 and 7 am. Stages of eating might be interspersed with time in her play gym. She can keep herself occupied for up to half an hour or so, which gives me a chance to run around and get things done. As much as I’d like to use that time for writing, I use it for other necessary things like a bathroom break, making coffee, and shoveling food into my mouth before she realizes that mommy is eating when the baby is not.

A couple times, she’s played long enough for me to write a few sentences in the current story or get out a blog post. But I can’t count on that time.

This cycle of eat-burp-play, repeat as necessary, takes an average of two or three hours, often with a few eyelid inspections thrown in for good measure. Eventually, when she judges herself sufficiently full, she will sleep. And sleep and sleep.

So long as I’m holding her. And since this is generally the best time to write, I’ve become rather proficient at one-handed typing.

Afternoons? Well, I’m back at the day job three afternoons a week, for now. (Jury’s still out on whether I’ll have to revise that down.) The rest of the afternoons fill up quickly with visits and errands and attempts at cooking and chores.

Evenings are the crankiest, fussiest time of day, so my only other regular chance to write comes after she goes down for the night. If I can stay awake!

I managed a grand total of three sentences last night before falling asleep over the keyboard.

Yet despite being acutely aware of my limited time, I have more days when I don’t take that morning opportunity to write. Wise time management has ever lost out to my procrastination habit, and the phone now provides me with endless distraction when the baby tethers me to a chair.

Though perhaps – just perhaps – some subconscious part of me knows those are also my only times to sit and stare blankly, as this borderline introvert/extrovert occasionally needs.

Or maybe that’s just another excuse to procrastinate.

In any case, I’m learning how to fit writing with her schedule and it hasn’t entirely backfired. Yay, me!

And yay for a baby easier than I could have imagined.

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The New Face Of Self Care

Self care looks very different with a baby. Self care used to be painting my nails, or cleaning the house (not fun, but necessary for my ability to function well), or an hour-long phone call with a writer-friend, or taking a day to sleep in and read a book cover to cover.

See where I’m going with this?

None of these are remotely feasible anymore. Like my writing process, my self-care is changing:

  • Any day I let myself take the time to use shampoo and conditioner, rather than my husband’s 2-in-1 is a good day. I did that this morning and the little one was screaming when I got out. But I took a breath, grabbed an extra towel for my suddenly leaky boobs, and let my husband handle it. (Which he did beautifully. It was an ego boost for him, a needed break for me, and some solid daddy-time for a daddy’s girl – an all around win!)
  • Cleaning? Um. I’ve been watching cobwebs grow and learning to be ok with it. The baby in my arms is so much more important than dusting.
  • I try to keep the house stocked with fruits and vegetables – preferably those I can eat with one hand with little to no prep time (or prepped in advance, when the rare opportunity presents itself) – to balance out the quick-shove-something-in-you-mouth-and-get-back-to-the-screaming-baby convenience food. My body thanks me and the baby thanks me. Or will when she’s older. Maybe.
  • I give myself permission to be in sweats or pajamas all day every day.
  • But make sure they’re clean.
  • And exchange them for actual clothes if I have to leave the house. This helps me feel like a more functional, if less comfortable, member of society. But I discovered an added benefit the other day when I made the dubious decision to wear a flannel shirt (that usually never leaves the house) grocery shopping. I nearly walked out the door without buttoning it.
  • Self care means bringing my laptop to bed and causing myself muscle spasms from awkwardly typing one-handed while rocking the baby and hoping the light from the screen won’t wake her.
  • And sometimes self care is letting her scream another couple minutes so I can pee and fill my water bottle and grab a snack and make sure my notebook and computer are in arms’ reach for the next endurance stretch.

Through it all: baby snuggles. Which are quite possible the best things ever.

Word Count Surprise!

The other day, I woke to an email congratulating me on reaching 10,000 words for NaNo.

The night before, I’d plugged in the day’s word count to the site without looking at or thinking about the month-to-date total, so the email caught me by total surprise. Cue the dance party!

 

100 or 1,000 words doesn’t seem like so much in the great scheme of things. But 10,000? No matter what measure I use, that’s a lot. 10,000 is a couple of short stories.

Actually, by the end of NaNo, I’m hoping to have completed three short stories. Well, their first drafts, at any rate. Though it’s not looking likely I’ll make it. Remember: I am counting blog posts and journal scribbles, so this word count isn’t even mostly story.

Story words or not, knowing I can write that much in a month while mom-ing – and the month isn’t over yet – comes as a giant relief. I can still write! I can make appreciable progress!

Go, me.

So Far . . .

So far, the little one is asleep and I’ve just broken 8000 words with my writing for the month.

How awesome is that?

When I’m updating my word count with 100 or 200 words in a day, it feels like a drop in the ocean. My biggest writing day so far? Something over 600 words. My daily average, according to stats tracking on the NaNo site, currently sits at 434, which seems higher than it should be.

It’s a relief seeing these small amounts add up.

I squeeze writing in where I can – where it’s feasible – but I allow myself not to, as well. Frequently, I have a free hand and I don’t use it for words. Instead, I’m reading a book, or catching up on social media, or reveling in this tiny-but-not-as-tiny life we made.

That last one involves snuggling and photos. Lots of photos. My Instagram is nothing but baby photos, Twitter is often hopefully pithy baby related comments, and my daughter has her own album on my Facebook. It’s the first Facebook album I’ve ever created, and I’ve had an account since 2007. I am most definitely one of Those Parents. And yet you would be amazed at my restraint.

It’s good that I don’t try to cram in words at every spare second because that’s not sustainable. I’d burn myself out in short order. Besides which, the whole point of my revised NaNo challenge is to figure out this new balance.

What I’ve learned so far:

  1. Don’t draft by hand when I’ll have to transcribe it later. This little one just does not allow me that much time, so in the interest of productivity and my mental state, this is no longer an option (after having been my preferred process for more than a decade). And no, I’m not interested in dictation software; composing aloud is a tragedy waiting to happen, I don’t want to use a crap program that will just cause me more work in the long run but can’t justify to myself the expense of a good program, and the times it would be most useful – so far – are times when I least want to risk waking the baby.
  2. Multiple projects at once are my friends. Where before I couldn’t split my focus enough to make this a feasible approach, split focus is now my baseline standard. Can’t make words come on one project? Switch to another. Most recently, I’ve had two short stories in process of rough draft going in Scrivener, plotting of another short story by hand (because plotting just works me through things; I don’t have to type it later), and a novel manuscript on my Kindle for the necessary read-through before tackling revision.
  3. Don’t power through; sleep. When the computer starts sliding off my lap, or the pen starts making feathery blotches on the page, or the Kindle starts slipping from my fingers, it is past time for me to sleep. I need to be functional for the little one, and I need to be functional to make my words coherent.

November is zooming by too fast, but at least it’s not over yet! Next month, I get to refigure this fledgling balance (again) with the addition of working part time.

P. S. The baby has slept through the entirety of me writing this post, and today’s word count sits right around 750. The day is still young! The thought of perhaps reaching the 1000 word mark in a single day makes me giddy.

Of Course

Of course, this is when she sleeps. Now, when we should be out the door within half an hour and it will take at least that long to get her ready. Of course, she sleeps hard. Hard enough that once I put her down, I have time enough to brush my teeth, and pluck my eyebrows (which are remembering the bushy caterpillars of the teenage years), fold laundry, even type this post.

Or start to. It is still uncertain at this point whether or not I’ll be able to push the “Publish” button before she fully wakes.

My NaNo attempt has so far resulted in words! Not nearly as many as I’d hoped for – certainly not as many as I would like – but there have been words.

I’ll take what I can get.

And I’m relearning how to cram a word here and there, in between feedings, and cleanings, and my attempts at self-care (which, let’s face it, are primarily the wonderfully prolonged snuggle sessions with the little one). Occasionally, I’m even able to multi-task and write at the same time.

One hope of NaNo was for me to give myself some outer accountability. But I have discovered that all the accountability in the world will not phase a newborn. We operate on her schedule, no exceptions.

You know what? I’m ok with that.

But managing my own expectations of myself is a never ending process.

#NaNoWriMo17

In a strange turn of events, I’m actually participating in NaNo this year. For the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as November, when people sacrifice their lives to crank out 50,000 words of novel. In 30 days.

I’m doing a modified challenge and talk about the details over at Anxiety Ink.

The last time I participated, years and years ago, I realized NaNo wasn’t for me. Writing for speed made me break my stories in horrible, often irreparable ways. (At least, they weren’t worth the cost to fix.)

But the writing process, for most of us, is a thing constantly in flux. What we need can change from year to year, project to project, or day to day. I don’t know if that word count demand would still leave me with broken stories.

I won’t find out this year. My fundamental goal in participating this year is to figure out how to write productively with an infant. Right now, she’s asleep on my chest as I type around her, and she doesn’t seem to mind. I’d put her down and save myself the discomfort, but then she’d be awake within five minutes and demanding food within ten.

She has no appreciated today’s attempts to put her down, rather than letting her sleep in my arms. And quite honestly, I don’t want to put her down; she’s growing so quickly and I don’t want to miss a single snuggly baby moment.

November has not helped me out, so far. Then again, November usually ends up being a weird, chaotic, overfull sort of month. Today was the first I could even attempt to experiment with setting her down more frequently.

I’d intended daily prompts. How many have I done? Exactly none. (Though blog posts like this count towards the word count I’m tracking on the NaNo site, and I’ve made a fair dent this evening in getting details out of the way so I’ll be able to sit down and work on some prompts.)

Some novel work might make its way in, but I wanted to allow myself to focus on figuring out the routine – my new process, now that I have a tiny human depending on me for everything.

The first week of November is nearly gone. I have written more today in two hours than the last four days combined, and I’m not done yet.

It’s a good feeling, to combat the creeping sense of failure that has been growing.

Wish me luck!

I Am Superwoman: Part Two

In case you missed it, you can find part one here.

With everything going on, I made two requests of my baby-to-be: arrive in October – anytime, so long as it’s October – and be under eight pounds.

I thought those were reasonable enough, and she apparently agreed.

At work, I managed to pass along the bare minimum of training so our new hire could run the office by the end of September. When October arrived, I could finally breathe. Training continued and October 6th became my last day to work. With the baby due on October 15, I hoped that would give me time to get the house in some semblance of order.

Early, early the morning of October 3rd, she decided she’d waited long enough. After a two hour labor (I’d never heard the term “precipitous delivery” before, but now am intimately familiar with it), our perfect baby girl arrived.

The thing about such a fast labor? My body never had time to catch up. In more ways than one. See, I never felt that flood of endorphin- and hormone-laden emotion everyone guaranteed would hit me like a freight train. The nurses put her on my stomach, and I felt nothing to differentiate her from any other baby I’d ever held.

I wondered what was wrong with me – what had broken and how I could possibly be a decent mother like this. I worried that I’d made a terrible, awful mistake.

Then that night when a scare landed her in the NICU an hour away from me, I wondered if I was about to lose her and this was my body’s way of protecting me.

She’s fine, by the way. Amazing, in fact.

In all that lonely soul-searching (I didn’t breathe a word of this even to my husband, who followed her to the NICU that night), I remembered that all relationships take work. I’d never considered that choice and that effort extended to parent-child relationships, but it makes sense. You have to work at it. You have to make a choice to work at it.

Or I did.

That choice for me was a no-brainer.

Everything since has felt so incredibly perfect and right. I’m loving motherhood. And you know what? I’m pretty awesome at it. My husband calls me superwoman.