If you’re feeling stuck and having trouble reaching your writing goals, this post might be for you. As a new mom and writer with a full-time job, I’ve been struggling “to get it all done,” but this week, I made some serious headway.
Disruptions to routine
For most of February, especially the latter half, I failed to keep to my daily writing goal. With a perpetually sick baby waking up 3-4 times a night, I was (am) exhausted and unmotivated to do anything other than sleep. There were a few especially tough nights, and I went several days in a row without writing anything.
When I don’t write, it affects my whole mood. It’s a bit of guilt but mostly frustration that I’m not making progress on my novel. On the days I have a good writing session, where I get into the flow, or finish a scene, I feel complete. I’m better able to focus on all my other tasks at work and at home because I have created that day. It sounds a bit pretentious–“Oh, I must create every day, or I’m just out of sorts!” *drapes arm dramatically across forehead*–but it’s kind of true.
I’ve been feeling down and a little hopeless, but this past week, however, I decided to try something new. My circumstances haven’t changed. My baby’s still sick and I haven’t gotten more than three consecutive hours of sleep since December.**
So what’s this new, life-changing strategy I implemented this week?
Time-constrained writing sessions.
A lot of people already do this (Pomodoro Technique). They set a timer for X minutes, write until the buzzer, then move on with their day. I was not one of these people. I was strictly in the “word count” camp, and my measly 200-words-a-day goal was attainable. I could hit that goal most mornings, but in recent weeks, I’ve had more trouble focusing and getting started. At any minute during my writing session, the baby could wake up. Depending on timing, I might not get back to my computer. Waking up earlier wasn’t an option because my sleep was already so fragmented.
I could see my habit slipping, though, and I thought, if I spent as much time writing every day as I did washing bottles, this novel would be almost finished! What if I set a time-based goal instead of a word-based one? That way, I would still have time to get the baby fed, changed, get ready for work, etc., because I knew for a fact my writing would only take up a set amount of time.
Here were my rules:
- I would write for 30 minutes, uninterrupted if possible.
- The only reason I could pause my session was if the baby woke up during it.
- If I didn’t write for 30 minutes before work, I would finish the session that night.
Whether it was 50 words or 500 words, I could go to work knowing that I had honored my commitment to my passion. Going into this, I thought I’d be getting 200-250 words a day in that session, since I can get at least 500 words an hour when I’m focused, often more.
On Monday, I ate breakfast and drank my coffee while skimming over the scene I was in the middle of. I started the 30 minute countdown on my phone. Immediately, the baby started crying. Discouraged already, I paused my timer at 29:53 and went to settle him back down. I got everything ready for the day, then came back to my writing. That morning I wrote 590 words.
I felt great that day. Every day this week, I have written for 30 minutes, sometimes a little more if I’m in the flow and have the time. During each session I hit 400-600 words, which is a much a higher average than I was getting before. I wrote 3800 words total this week. I finally feel like I’m back in the flow.
Granted, it won’t always be like this. Some scenes are just easier to write than others, and I was in a chunk of story I was pretty comfortable writing. After a month of struggling, though, I needed this win.
If you’re in a rut, try something new
The point of all this is that even if someone thinks they’ve figured out what works for them, they are not static. People are always changing. Life circumstances and routines are always changing. If a tried and true method is failing you, try something else. Look up how your favorite authors stay productive, and try those techniques. One day, I fully expect to go back to word count goals, but for now, my 30 minute sessions are productive, and more importantly, manageable within my unpredictable schedule.
**This is a result of choices I’m making, and I own that. I am aware there are ways to get more sleep, but I have my own reasons or obstacles for not pursuing them. It’s still tough, though, and this post describes a solution that works for me.