writing life

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I have no idea what I’m doing

It’s always a challenge to fit writing into my weekly routine. I have a wonderful set of friends from different work places, schools, and eras of my life (not to mention a giant family), but that means at any given time I haven’t seen so-and-so in a month or two, so I’ve got to go out to lunch, or dinner, or to this one party… and suddenly my weekends are booked a month out, and oh dang now another month has passed since I saw so-and-so again. And whoops I haven’t updated my blog, or finished putting up all those photos I just bought frames for, or read that book for book club, or cleaned my damn bathroom in forever.

If you love something you’ll make time for it. My conundrum is that I love a lot of people and a lot of things (well, not so much the bathroom…), so it’s not technically possible to spend as much time with every pursuit as I think it warrants!

The key is obsessive time management. I’m a wizard with a weekly planner. But when work takes me away from writing for a while (writing may be important to me, but so is paying the bills!), then I’m a little rusty jumping back in. To complicate matters, every phase of my writing life seems to kickstart under different circumstances, so each time I jump back in I have to work out a new routine.

In high school I shared a computer with my siblings. My dad had a computer, and we had a computer. Pretty swanky for the early aughts! My older sister and I worked out a deal to ensure we both had ample writing time. She got the day, and I got the evening. However! I really got the good end of this deal, because she also didn’t wake up terribly early. I could sneak on while she slept and do some prep work, then hop back on when she finished in the afternoon and stay up as late as I possibly could. During this period I wrote at least one book per year, weighted heavily toward summer vacation. They were super amateurish and derivative of course, but I was having the time of my life!

I got so used to feverish, late night writing that this habit followed me into college, even though I finally got an honest-to-God laptop and could use it whenever I wanted. Even when it came to my homework I was distractable during the day, then as soon as the sun set I was focused and unstoppable. The summer leading into senior year I moved back to my college apartment a month before school actually began. I stayed up later and later each night, sleeping in later and later each morning, until I was completely nocturnal. It was amazing.

I could never do it again! I’d have a heart attack.

After college I entered the world of shift work, and suddenly I did not have a set time of day or night when I was free. I was working two jobs, one of which started shifts as early as 6 a.m., and the other of which had evening shifts running as late as midnight. The best way to maximize my income was to be an opener at the former and a closer at the latter, which meant sometimes I worked 6-2, 4-midnight, and then had work at 6 a.m. again the next day. Pure hell! At my peak I worked 21 days in a row (not all double shifts of course!), threw up in the bathroom on my last day, and then spent my single day off resting in bed before the next week started.

Suffice to say, my writing life went up in smoke for a bit. I finally transitioned from two retail jobs to one retail job plus graduate school, and then to one archival job (!!) plus grad school plus volunteer work. My schedule started to revolve around deadlines rather than shifts, and looked a bit like this:

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This is where that weekly planner comes into effect.

At this point my writing life became my vacation life. At about $1,422 per class, graduate school had to take priority, so I would only tinker with creative ideas during the semester, then go wild on short stories during winter and summer break. This lasted two and a half years. I got a moderate amount done. I published some shorts in small range publications and felt good about myself. Certainly a hell of a lot better than during my initial post-college phase.

Then, at long last, in December of 2013 I finished my graduate program. Crazy scheduling wasn’t behind me, because I emerged into the professional work force with three part-time jobs. Gots to beef up that resume somehow! I was a digitization archivist, a collections processor, and a cataloger of Franciscan books. But this time around I was a lot savvier, and working in an industry that lent itself to a M-F schedule. And I decided fuck it! I’m making time for this! So now my life looked like this:

This white board was the only way my husband knew how to find me at any given time.

This white board was the only way my poor husband could find me.

I guarded my Saturday Writerdays with fanaticism bordering on the comical. I kicked my grad school coffee habit and only drank coffee on Saturdays in order to make it extra effective. I woke up early, drank coffee all day, and stayed up as late as I could, working like a maniac because if I was only writing one day per week I was damn well going to make it count. In a series of manic 16-hour Saturdays, I wrote a book for the first time since undergraduate college. I’ve rarely felt so good about myself. During the work week I spent my evenings reading and relaxing with my husband. On Sundays I ran errands, cleaned the condo, and saw my friends. And on Saturdays I glued my ass to the chair and wrote 10,000 words.

As quickly as it came, it was gone. As I’ve mentioned before, I was sucked back into a stressful work abyss from April through December. It may have been the most depressing writing abyss yet, because it followed a period of such exhilarating productivity.

And now I’m entering a new phase, and have to work out a new routine. I’ve got about three months of working part-time before baby arrives, and then I’ll have three months of constant infant care, and thereafter I’ll be juggling part-time work and baby care. It’s going to be rough! But I think my experience with different sorts of scheduling will give me the tools I need to work it out. It’s going to be a hybrid system, because I will no longer have the time or energy or selfishness to carve out a 16-hour block of the week. I also won’t be able to guarantee a daily free time like the days of old.

So this will partly be a matter of taking advantage of time as it comes up (got a free hour? don’t spend it dicking around on Tumblr! work on that outline instead!), and planning the occasional chunk of mommy free time with the aid of husband and family. Something like Saturday Writerday may re-emerge in that fashion, but it will likely max out at 4 hours rather than 16. I won’t need to set a timer because my internal baby monitor will cause my breasts to explode instead.

This post is long enough, and I have no pithy way to end it. I’ll record my successes and failures on this here blarg, so here’s hoping it’s more of the former than the latter!