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Betsy: Success stories

I noticed in the last couple of days I seem to be spewing advice about how to write/finish large works while being a mother. Where do I get off…? Aren’t I struggling just as everyone else is?

I am, but for very different reasons, ones that have more to do with not having time to feed my creative spirit than logistics. Currently, I’m divorced and have every other weekend free. My kids are older. I could conceivably find plenty of time to write. Different problem there, which perhaps I’ll share some other time.

As it turns out, looking back I realize I had success writing creatively when I had young children. I just confirmed that I apparently wrote a whole screenplay when I was still married and my kids were just under 2, 8, and 10. I wrote my first screenplay when I had a 6-year-old and 4-year-old with a chronic illness requiring frequent hospitalizations. How the heck did I do that? I’ve thought back on it, and I wanted to share how I did it in case it is useful to anyone.

I can remember pretty well writing my first screenplay. First, I wasn’t working. That helps a lot and certainly not everyone has that freedom. My mind was clear to focus on my work and I didn’t feel like I was squeezing in my own writing between my “real” work. (When I write for a living, I have a very hard time writing creatively.)

Second, I knew what I was doing. While I don’t tend to work with an outline, I find that when I have a pretty good idea of the beginning, middle, and especially the end of a piece at least vaguely in mind, it is easier to aim for the ending, like galloping toward a finish line. Except it’s more like hiking up a mountain, because I really enjoy the view along the way.

Third, as we’ve discussed in other posts, I had a scheduled writing time. My 6-year-old was in school for most of the day, and my 4-year-old was in preschool for three hours a day, five days a week. With the drive to and from preschool factored in, I could count on 2.5 hours every day for my work. I probably used one day per week for straightening the house or food shopping.

Finally, the minute I sat down at the computer, I worked, making the most possible of the time available. Knowing the time was there–and how much time I had–was very helpful.

The funny thing about the second screenplay is I don’t even remember writing it, but according to e-mails with review comments that I saved, I managed to get the thing done while my youngest was between 1 and 2. Because I did not use any childcare at the time, I can only assume I wrote it during his naps while the others were at school. (My ex was not very helpful, so I’m sure he didn’t watch him while I worked on weekends.) Alex must have been a decent napper (funny how you forget what #3 did). And I imagine that the minute I put him down I went right to the computer to work.

As we’ve talked about in other posts, there were tradeoffs. For sure, the tidiness of my house suffered. The first screenplay is probably around the time that I stopped keeping Lego Systems kits together, which meant that all of those expensive kits became useless. Honestly, I regret that, but I can’t say I regret having a finished screenplay that was at least read seriously at several studios, even if no one ultimately bought it. I guess this is what you need to think about when you let things go. multimedia-message10.jpgRight now, I’m surrounded by mess, the result of years of letting things go in favor of writing. (Oh, and I gained a lot of weight, too, as I let exercise go and healthy meal preparation.) It’s hard to recover from, and cleaning is not what I want to be doing during my spare time. I think my neater friends shudder when they see my mess. What’s ironic is I really, really like things organized and I hate clutter. But I guess I’ve trained myself as much as possible not to see it anymore, or to convince myself that I’ll take care of one small pile of it tomorrow…

As a technical writer, one small tip I recommend to anyone writing large, structured documents–fiction or non–is to keep each chapter or chunk in its own document. While you might title each document by chapter number, you might alternately want to title each document by subject or current contents, at least in the early going. I find that doing so helps me think about which chapter I want to tackle, and also I don’t have to open documents to find out what’s in them (which can waste time and distract you from what you really mean to do).

As a working mom, I find it infinitely more difficult to do my own writing. How some of you manage to juggle it all is beyond me. I’m in awe and admiration of you.

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