Tired

To all the people who insisted that I wouldn’t know what tired was until I had a child of my own: no; tiredness and exhaustion are still the same old beasts. The only difference is that now I can’t just sleep the morning away to make up for the lack of sleep.

Actually, I think I often sleep better now. Falling asleep used to take me forever. I’d lay in bed and run through all the things I could be doing and getting done. So many times, I would have gotten up, if only it wouldn’t wake my husband. It felt like a colossal waste of time. But these days? I don’t remember my husband coming to bed, much less him falling asleep.

After the baby goes down for the night – the first time, anyway – I usually struggle to stay awake. Sometimes I give in to the lure of sleep. It helps if I’ve managed a chunk of writing that day, or if I’ve been operating on fumes so long that my body refuses any argument. But sometimes I ninja out of the bedroom and upstairs to my writing corner.

I’ve never thought of myself as a workaholic. Then again, I’ve never worked a day job I felt passionately about. Three weeks into unemployment, writing still isn’t my first priority – being a mom fills that slot – but I feel no guilt letting the baby fuss as I type my edits or add a few more lines of story. She knows I’m there and aware of her. She has reached the point of learning how to do things for herself, how to fix things and how to self-soothe. Hovering now only starts to undermine her confidence in herself.

And I would much rather my daughter see me writing or reading than staring at a screen. This role model gig is no joke.

But I work – write – whenever and wherever I can. This means late nights on days when 5 am becomes Baby Playtime. The tiredness is oddly easier to deal with than trying to fend off tiny hands that just want to do what Mom is doing. (She has her own keyboard because of exactly this, but its intended functionality is questionable, at best. Only Mom’s will do, apparently.) Also, the ability to focus on a task for more than a couple minutes at a time is priceless.

Tonight, I’ve been lucky in my ability to stay awake and in the baby’s deep, deep sleep – both of which are quickly coming to an end.

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Sparking

In case you’re tired of me always talking about the baby, let me tell you about sparking. I don’t mean the white-blue sparks that that arc and buzz and pop in an electrical outlet gone haywire. That shit’s likely to burn your house down. Flip the circuit breaker and call an electrician.

And if you want the house to burn? Follow the same procedure and also call a therapist.

I’m talking about story sparks. Those kernels that pop into your brain to spark like that faulty electrical outlet. The good sort of spark. The kind you want.

Unless creativity and imagination are the antithesis of all you hold dear, in which case, this blog is probably not for you.

The spark might be the way the reflected sunset turns a field to raspberry gold, or a cloud formation  that at first glance seems to contain a snow-capped mountain, or the recitation of a tongue twister that sounds like arcane chanting. It might fizzle and never develop into anything, or someday it might become that perfect descriptor or plot element. Maybe it will even keep sparking, take root and grow into a story all its own.

I like to set aside pages in my notebooks for these, but I recently discovered I hadn’t done that at all in the current one. When I’ve nearly filled it.

Apparently, I haven’t had many sparks in the last year or so. (And don’t even get me started on the fact I’ve taken nearly a year to fill a single notebook.) Droughts of inspiration are real, people. And they’re normal. They’re okay! Even if they’re beyond frustrating and demoralizing.

I’ve been in a drought for a while. A ton of creative energy goes into a baby! Obvious, I know, but I never anticipated it might contribute to creative burnout the way a novel draft might. No one warned me.

I wasn’t going to talk about the baby . . .

But maybe, I think, I’m starting to bounce back. I’m sparking again! And it’s wonderful. It feels good to be back.

Goodbye, Ursula

Ursula K. Le Guin has never been on any list of my favorite writers or writerly influences, but she has is both of those. I have read embarrassingly little of her work, if for no other reason than I am that stubborn sort of person who the more you tell me I should do a thing, the less likely I am to do it.

My first year at Smith College, I read The Left Hand of Darkness for my scifi/spec fic class. You’re supposed to declare a major in your sophomore year, and I had no idea what I would do. English, the obvious choice as a writer, was not an option, since I’ve always loathed essays. (One of my writer friends tells me I was just never taught how to do write them the fun way.) I might have daydreamed about pursuing theatre, but I knew I wasn’t good enough (and back then I really wasn’t; I wouldn’t learn how to be completely comfortable in my own skin for years). Linguistics would have made me deliriously happy, but that required self-design and classes on other campuses in the Five College Consortium, and I wasn’t sure I had the drive to effectively handle that workload.

It maybe would have helped if I’d developed any career goals beyond “fantasy writer.”

The Left Hand of Darkness blew my mind, and the professor discussed Ursula Le Guin’s background in anthropology. Both of her parents were anthropologists, and that education greatly enriched the stories she was able to tell.

That same semester, I was taking a cultural anthropology course and loving it. So I made a deal with myself: if I got a good grade in the class, I’d major in that. And I did.

Cultural anthropology did, in fact, turn out to be a phenomenal course of study for a fantasy writer.

But even before college and The Left Hand of Darkness, some of the first books I read on my own and my favorites for years as a young child were the Catwings books. I rarely, if ever, see those books mentioned in discussions of her work. To this day, I cannot fully wrap my mind around how deeply and thoroughly those stories affected me as both a reader and writer.

In all the many roles she filled for countless people, I can only say that I would not be the writer I am today without her. RIP Ursula K. Le Guin. Thank you.

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.

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.