the art of expecting failure

So, you have career goals? Assume you’ll never reach them, and you will always be pleasantly surprised!

Now wait, wait, hear me out! Much like my terrible advice about the benefits of sleep deprivation, there is a kernel of reason deep down in the weeds. You just have to dig a little. The lesson in sleep deprivation was “don’t overthink the rough draft.” The lesson in assumed failure is “don’t obsess over the outcome.”

Let me elaborate.

[Sidenote: I talk about sleep deprivation so much, I actually got spam asking if I’d like to provide free advertising for janky sleep products sooo, always have your contact information online folks, totally worth it!!]

My childhood was mostly ideology-free, but a handful of superstitions have followed me to adulthood. The greatest of all: malocchio. The evil eye. Spite. When you tempt fate (say, by speaking aloud, “I think this is the book that will get me an agent!”), somebody (don’t ask me who; somebody) is going to hear you. And just like that, you are not going to get what you want. You were too prideful. You made assumptions. You bragged, and that made somebody else jealous. The universe is going to humble you now. Bye-bye, agent.

If you accidentally admit out loud that you think you’re going to do well at something (pass that test, have a complication-free pregnancy, sell to that magazine), you better throw the horns real quick to negate any evil energy coming your way. I don’t mean throw them up, like you’re at a heavy metal concert. I mean throw them down, in a blocking motion.

And if you’re real serious, you get yourself a chili pepper necklace. I don’t make the rules.

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Charms: cornetto and mano cornuta. Credit: flickr/crwr (flic.kr/p/56pBXK) (cropped)

“But, Sam!” I hear you cry. “But, Sam, if you always assume you’re going to fail, how do you accomplish anything?”

That’s the trick. You do the thing anyway! And you put your absolute best effort in, because you know the universe is stacking the odds against you. And if you fail, well, such is life. But if you succeed–oh man, the success is even sweeter! You beat insurmountable odds to get there! You tricked your way past the weird Italian cow-related manifestation of bad luck!

Here is how this plays out in a writing career: you only make goals out of the parts you control.

Acceptable goals:

  • finish the rough draft
  • edit the work until it is the best you can possibly make it
  • research the appropriate markets/agents/publishing path
  • submit the work

That’s it. The goal isn’t actually acceptance at the magazine, or an agent, or a contract. Secretly, it is, but you can’t control who says yes. You can only control whether you try, and how well you follow the guidelines.

So, you wrote it: success! You sent it out: success! Now assume it’s never going to get anywhere, because as soon as you think you’re a shoe-in, the universe will strike you down. Start planning the next step as though the next step is inevitable. (“Okay, after the story gets rejected there, I’m going to send it here,” or, “Okay, this book won’t be picked up, so while that’s on submission I’ll edit the query package for my next one.”)

It’s a weird headspace to occupy, I’m not gonna lie. I have to simultaneously be passionate about what I’m working on, genuinely love it and put my whole heart into the effort, do my absolute best to target my submissions and write a great query letter, AND ALSO protect my emotions by managing my expectations. I have to get that “no” in my email, shrug, and say, “Oh well, maybe the next one! But probably not [throw horns for good measure]. But maaaaaybe.”

Embracing this has made the submission process so low-stress. I’ve got half a dozen stories and one book on submission, and when a rejection rolls in I just send the work back out. And hey, once in a while I open that email prepared to log another “nope” in my spreadsheet, and I am delighted to find it’s an acceptance or a full request! So I happily send that along, and I go back to working on the next thing.

Like all writing advice, your mileage may vary. If this sounds horrible to you, ignore me. Do whatever you need to do to stay motivated, because publication is just as much a game of persistence as it is a game of skill.

But if you’ve got work in your hands, and a list of places to send it, and you suddenly find yourself stricken with stage fright (which I did, for two whole months), try this:

Take a deep breath. Say out loud, “It’s not a big deal. When this comes back, I’ll try the next one.” And cross your fingers behind your back where the universe won’t see it.

Then send it out.

short story rabbit hole

CONFESSION:

I finished polishing my book, assembling the query package, and critiquing the first few pages… in April.

And then I got a bad case of nerves.

And I got it into my head that I’d send out a couple short story submissions, just to ease back into the cycles of submission and rejection and resubmission again, before delving into the deeper waters of an agent search.

And then I thought, “I’ve got two pro story sales under my belt, if I get a third one I can join SFWA and wouldn’t that be a suave addendum to the bio [not to mention access to a great support network]?”

And now it’s been two months! And I keep writing “one more short story” because, well, I’ve got an idea and why let it go fallow when it’ll just take a week to knock out and edit…

Sam. Sam. Stop!

Ayiyi.

I’m going to finish editing the rough drafts glaring balefully at me from my “in progress” folder. I’m going to send them out. And then everything else gets to remain in the notebook for a while because I am starting to get reaaal silly about all this.

If you hear me talking about starting anything else (I mean it! anything!) before querying, I kindly request a slap on the wrist.

Sam out.

FINAL is FINAL (unless it isn’t)

You gggUUUUUuuuyyysss! I finished the quote-unquote “final” draft of my cowboy vs mermaid high fantasy novel! A month ahead of schedule! It’s amazing what you can do when you start staying up an hour later at night.

I use quotes because it’s only truly the final draft if nobody picks it up. If I garner agent interest I’m sure there’ll be tweaks (if not revisions) before sub, and if I get as far as a publishing house there’ll be several rounds of work ahead.

BUT I DIGRESS. The important bit is that I’m one finished query package away from wading into the query trenches. The query itself is basically done. The synopses are in draft form. My documents are formatted and ready. LET’S DO DIS.

If you don’t care about the nitty-gritty of the query process, never fear! I am about to go radio silent on this matter until I have news. So it could be months or a year+ before I bring this up again.

In the meantime! I will be…

  • Sending out short stories
  • Sprucing up the website
  • Starting a newsletter (get ready, guinea pigs!)
  • Outlining the next book
  • …and then writing the next book

So there will be a good amount of work occupying my time/thoughts while I wait for the responses to roll in.

Wish me luck!

(Meanwhile: lap cats think they are getting their lap back. Alas, they are not.)

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the benefits of sleep deprivation

Now, hear me out! This may be the sleep deprivation talking, but I’m going to share the very limited, but potentially very valuable benefits of sleep deprivation.

I came across this great Twitter thread by Delilah Dawson:

And it struck a chord. Boy, did it! I started writing as a hobby when I was 10, so I had a pile of childish (but incrementally better) manuscripts in my trunk by the time I hit 30. However, my singularity moment (the book that finally leveled up to the point I’m eager to query it) was written in a delirious haze around my first kid’s first birthday. He STILL wasn’t sleeping, so I’d gone a solid year pacing the hallway every night, losing my mind with exhaustion and barely writing anything.

I was so sick of not writing that I decided: eff it! Let’s do this! And I set aside whatever scraps of time I could–at 4 a.m. or during naptime or after bedtime–and wrote in a feverish, stream-of-conscious delirium. I wrote about cowboys and ghosts and mermaids and saber-tooth cats and whatever else popped into my head.

The resulting rough draft was definitely, well, ROUGH. But it was also definitely a draft. Soon after I finished it, I started sleeping (sort of) through the night again, and I had the brainpower to edit that mess into something more coherent. And then edit it again. And again.

Something happened to me in that hazy period. I didn’t have enough free time to do anything but stick to my outline–I wrote wrote wrote forward and didn’t look back! And I didn’t have the brainpower to question myself on the sentence level–my doubts turned off, because there simply wasn’t room for them.

And it resulted in something weird, and fun, and full of voice. (She says hopefully.)

Do I recommend purposefully losing sleep to achieve a dream state of coffee-supplemented productivity? HELL NO, IT’S LITERAL TORTURE! But I do recommend treating a rough draft like something that will never see the light of day. Write forward, write for fun, write without worrying about who will ever read it.

And then oh my goodness, edit the shit out of it. D:

It might not be the book you ever share, but it might just be the book that helps your style shake loose.

patience, sam

Let’s pretend it’s January 1st, and I’m still hashing out goals for the year without explicitly calling them New Year’s Resolutions.

With me so far?

Good, because my aspirations for 2018 (baby milestones and reading goals and word counts and submissions) are all well and good, but my degree of success really hinges on one single, overarching, invisible goal underpinning the rest:

Patience, Sam. You’ve got to learn some patience.

(Also, overarching and underpinning? Yes. That’s how important it is.)

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This means taking a deep breath during sleep regressions and potty training setbacks. It means reading more slowly and mindfully and really absorbing content, even if it means I don’t hit a certain arbitrary number of texts.

It means slowing down to spend more time in the planning and revising periods of each book.

This is incredibly difficult for me! Once I get my teeth into something I FULLY COMMIT and I go LUDICROUSLY OVERBOARD and I just chug chug chug ahead without pausing for breath.

But manuscripts need to breathe. The longer they are, the more air they need. Every year I knock out a book, and then I do a round of structural edits to smooth out the bits I rewrote halfway, and then I bound off to the next project. This makes my word count spreadsheet pretty respectable, but as a result I have a pile of manuscripts I consider good but not yet great.

My biggest weakness stems from my primary strength. I love love love writing characters, and my plots revolve around the core character arcs I plan from the get-go. That’s great! It’s my favorite aspect of the books I read, so it’s the aspect I spend the most time writing!

But I write fantasy novels, and in order for a fantasy novel to stand out it needs vibrant worldbuilding to prop up those character arcs. In my eagerness to reach the emotional climax of a book, I have a tendency to start writing before I finish worldbuilding. I end up with a strong story in a plain setting, and that just won’t fly.

So, what does this mean for 2018? It means I’m starting draft five (ugh, FIVE!!) on my weird western 2016 novel, and it’s about to get a lot weirder. The bones of it are good. They just need a bit more flesh. It means I have to stop obsessing over my daily word count and acknowledge that days spent thinking can be just as productive as days spent typing. (So hell yeah they are getting a line on the spreadsheet.)

By waiting three or four more months to start querying (an eternity in impatient Sam time, but hopefully only a blip in my actual lifetime!), I’ll be sending out my best work instead of my best potential work.

And while that’s out in the world, I’ll start planning the next one.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!

so long 2017

Wow, talk about a blur. A year ago I was three months pregnant, juggling work and a toddler, planning our first family vacation, and determinedly putting together a spreadsheet of my top 80 SFF literary agents.

That feels like an eternity ago. Instead of doing a bunch of separate, bloated posts on my reading/writing/daily life in 2017, I’m going to touch on everything at once. LUCKY YOU.

So, what happened in 2017?

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I’d say this sums it up

LIFE

I had a second baby! Her birth was a nightmare, but we survived! She’s six months old already and she’s super mellow and sweet, but even the mellowest, sweetest baby is a slog in the early months and I HAVEN’T SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT SINCE JUNE!!! So when considering everything else in this post, please take my sleep deprivation into account.

I left my beloved day job in June. I had grand plans for how I would spend the rest of the year, because I’m an IDIOT and baby amnesia convinced me I could handle a toddler and an infant and still put a book or two on submission. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. SPOILER ALERT: staying at home with babies is way harder than my day job was, though to be fair, now when I feel like crap I can sit around in my pajamas glaring at the walls instead of getting dressed and smiling at library patrons.

 

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I’m nowhere near done with these

READING

I did it. Barely. I read my 52 books in 2017, and I only had to cheat a little bit with graphic novels/collections at the end. I’m moderately satisfied with this. I still have a towering TBR pile leftover from last year, plus new books trickling in from the holidays. There are SO MANY good books coming out this year, I have no idea how I’ll keep up.

But this year I started regularly reading SFF magazines, partly for research and partly because DANG there is some amazing short SFF coming out these days. I’ve been trying to read short stories while breastfeeding, in particular, rather than scrolling Twitter and feeding my baby rage-infused terror milk.

RECOMMENDATIONS: too many!! Let’s break it down:

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; any science humor by Mary Roach (this year I read Grunt and Packing for Mars)

Short story collections: Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang; Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Novellas: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells; Hammers on Bone and A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Novels: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (end of a trilogy, all great!); The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente; The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden; Red Sister by Mark Lawrence; The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey; A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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But it’s haaaard

WRITING

Clearly I didn’t live up to my grand pre-baby expectations. HOWEVER, when life forcibly slowed me down it actually turned out better for my long-term plans.

I’ve spent the latter half of the year reading industry blogs, following Manuscript Wish List on Twitter, digging deeper into my agent research, and really refining my career goals. When I do wade into the query trenches (IN 2018 I MEAN IT THIS TIME) I’ll be even more prepared for the process, and much clearer about what I’m looking for in representation.

While I am LIVID over the fact that I didn’t finish editing my 2017 book yet (I’m so…close…), the cause was a different kind of productivity: I wrote a small stack of short stories in between editing sprints. They’re the best I’ve ever done. And two of them will be coming out in professional SFF magazines in 2018! Woohoo! It was a bit of much needed validation this year. It’ll also mean I can attach writing credits to my novel queries. And one more pro sale makes me eligible for membership in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), so hey, more traditional legitimacy.

I wrote about 96,000 words. Galling after 2016’s 180K. I couldn’t even hit 100K? FOUR THOUSAND WORDS OFF, THAT’S NOTHING!! Heck, only 41K of that word count was before the baby was born. Once I got my brain unscrambled in July I added the remaining 55K. Like I said, galling.

The real culprit was editing. According to my fab writing spreadsheet, I worked on 224 days this year (~ 2 out of 3, not bad considering baby), and 125 of them were editing days. The editing was a mix of book editing and short story editing, some of the latter based on professional notes. I also took a month to study and practice writing queries.

What does all that tell me? Well, that my rough drafting speed is great, but my editing speed is atrocious. Time-wise, I’ve basically written my 2017 book twice. The book is a hell of a lot better following the additional drafts, but. Yikes. If I don’t finish it in January I’m gonna blow a gasket. To be fair, it’s incredibly hard to get into an editing mindset for 20-60 minutes at a time, during infant naps, while keeping an eye on a toddler. Luckily, I’m past the worst of it. My writing conditions will drastically improve over the course of the next year.

So that was 2017! Now, as for 2018–

Oh. The baby’s waking up. I better hit “publish” and run.

absorbing writing advice

I’m currently trying to finish a big overhaul second draft on my 2017 book. Every day I change my mind over whether it’s horrible or pretty good, but I’m forging ahead because I made a commitment to always finish my edits. Partly, because the book always improves, duh. And partly to train myself into good habits, because a writing career means you can’t lose interest and wander away after the first draft.

I’m at the 75% point…and…I’m being hit with a tidal wave of nextprojectphilia. This thing I’m working has been chopped into pieces. The SHINY NEW THING, on the other hand, is still shiny and new and maybe if I take everything I’ve learned and start working on that outline instead of these edits, it’ll be even better and I don’t have to look back–!

Yeah that’s a lie. The shiny new thing is always shinier, and when I’m 75% of the way through that one I’ll start staring longingly at the next one. Hence my resolution to always finish my projects. Otherwise I’d have a big digital drawer full of three-quarter-edited manuscripts.

At times like this I ramp up my consumption of writing blogs/books/podcasts, and slow down my consumption of fiction–mostly because I will gnash my teeth and wail and demand to know why my UNFINISHED book isn’t as good as this PROFESSIONALLY POLISHED book?!

The thing about writing advice is that it can strike you anew every time you read it. You think you absorbed it the first time, and to an extent you did. But fast forward a year and a manuscript later, and suddenly that exact same advice will make sense in a new way. Because now you’ve got some actual content to apply it to! You also get better and better at discerning which bits of writerly prescriptions advance your goals, versus which bits you can discard as irrelevant to what you, in particular, are doing.

Advice only matters if it helps you convey your story effectively. It might be perfectly good for one project, and useless on another. Also, you can always translate “never do this” to mean “never do this poorly.” (Nice reminder here.)

With this in mind, I’ve been working my way through the archives of the great 15-minute Writing Excuses podcast and taking notes. I’m still on season one, but there are already plenty of bits that I know I’ve heard before…but which are striking me all over again when delivered in concise, focused episodes, using honest-to-god SFF examples instead of canon literature. *cue holy trumpets*

Will I finish this manuscript by the end of the year? Yeeeeeaaaaarrrggghhhhhh I’m not sure. I’ve been sidetracked by Christmas cards and holiday baking and top secret Santa projects and–GASP–real short story edits from a real editor, which naturally take precedence over my unpaid practice edits.

So I’ll be back in a week or two with some entertaining family Photoshops, but writing news will probably be light until the new year.

ONWARD AND UPWARD.

writing is a scourge

I’m writing this in a noisy Starbucks, while getting mentally prepped to finish a short story. I’ve been making agonizingly slow progress on it all week, so fingers crossed that today is rough draft completion day. I don’t much like sitting in noisy coffee shops, but my library is closed on Sundays and I had to run other non-Sunday errands yesterday instead. I am so tired I feel queasy, but it’s my only chance to get this thing done!

I go out once a week for a chunk of uninterrupted writing time, and I only miss it for ill babies or a truly overwhelming confluence of family functions. I got up every 1.5-2 hours last night and feel like week-old roadkill, but oh well, it’s writing day! I’ll just slap my face a couple times and have some coffee!

Every once in a while it occurs to me that although writing is my absolute favorite endeavor, it is also the biggest burden in my life, and everything else I do would be far easier without it. All of my angst comes from constantly fretting over whether I’m writing enough, whether what I’m writing is good enough, whether I’ll hit xyz goal by the end of the day/week/year. When I prioritize writing I feel like a bad mother/wife/sister/daughter/friend. When I don’t prioritize writing I feel like a sham.

I’m in Year One Mom Zombie stage with my second kid, and I know my schedule will relax over the next 6-9 months, but instead of weathering the storm and watching all of those TV shows I didn’t have time to watch last year (or better yet, napping when the baby is napping), I’m trying to plant the seeds of a SFF writing career. Whyyyy.

And I am making progress! I’ve sold two stories to professional SFF magazines (both out in 2018, stay tuned!!), which is absolutely thrilling and some much-needed validation right now. But every few weeks I melt down and spend a full day laying on the couch, full of angst about the minutes ticking by, under-utilized. Hell, I’m already getting agitated because I’ve spent 20 minutes on this blog post so far, and that means 20 fewer minutes of Writing Day.

The trouble with writing is that it’s a hobby that requires brain power. It isn’t actually relaxing. It’s work. Work that I love, but still work.

So why do I persist at this? Honestly…I have no idea. I’ve wanted this since I was 7 and my second grade teacher told me I could actually write stories for a living one day. (Whether you can actually make a living at it is beside the point.) The periods of my life in which I regretfully set aside writing for Real World Obligations (need that graduate degree for that backup career yo), my desire to tell stories never faded. They just built up, and built up, and built up, and I filled notebooks with ideas I didn’t have time to expand yet, and I felt like my real life was on hold. And then writing again was agony because you get rusty and have to grease your way back in, but it was also an indescribable relief because I was finally telling those stories, and my ideas were so much better after I got a few more years of living behind me.

My last big writing gap was the latter half of 2015, when I went back to work after baby #1 and was basically clinging to consciousness for three months. I haven’t tolerated a gap like that since, even when I know it’s burning me out, because life is short and I have things to say.

So I’m still going. Even though I lose much-needed sleep over thorny world-building problems. Even though I cry with frustration over edits. Even when it’s something I immediately trunk and never let anyone read. I try to write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences or a paragraph of summary for the next day. If I can’t write then I read blogs about writing, or listen to podcasts about writing, or read book after book to analyze the writing. If you know me in real life, you know I’m incapable of doing anything by half. If I’m in, I’m ALL IN.

Writing is a scourge, but it’s my scourge. The joy of creating something, the satisfaction of typing the end, the nervous thrill of giving somebody a copy to beta read– it’s addictive. Maybe that’s all there is to it. It’s cathartic. It’s rewarding. It’s fun. And when you finish a project after months of torment, it’s a victory.

But that’s enough chatter. Back to work!


ETA: I realize in my fatigue and haste to write this post, I failed to give real examples of what I mean when I say prioritizing writing ruins everything else. Here is what I can’t accomplish, since I always pick writing instead:

  • I can’t maintain an exercise routine and have major writer bod. 30 minutes… EVERY DAY??
  • I can’t add much variety to my diet. I have a set of really quick meals that are moderately healthy, but anything better would require devoting more time to cooking.
  • I can’t develop any other hobbies. Used to have an Etsy shop– gone. Used to sew my own costumes– it’s been years since I made a new one.
  • I don’t make new friends easily. I chat with my siblings online every day, I have a monthly book club, and I have maybe two other people I see a handful of times per year. But I was that coworker who never went to staff events, and if we’re not related I probably won’t make it to your birthday dinner.
  • I’m constantly behind on pop culture. What’s out in theaters? What’s on TV? Maybe I’ll binge that show one day, when it’s all wrapped up and my friends assure me it ended well and is worth my precious time.

I think next week I’ll talk about why writing is worth the sacrifice. So far, I’m not really selling it, am I? XD

motherhood and creativity

breastfeeding

The daily struggle

This article by the Atlantic has been making the rounds recently, positing a lot of interesting questions about motherhood and creativity. Studies of rats (whose brain functions are very similar to humans) show that female rats become remarkably more creative, adaptable, and focused after giving birth, and that the benefits last long after their offspring grow up.

This, of course, raises the question about how humans’ brains are affected by giving birth and caring for children. And the article contrasts the potential benefits against the discouraging messages that women artists receive: namely, that having children is incompatible with maintaining a successful artistic career, that kids are a distraction, that you can’t pay attention to both. When in reality, for many women, the result is the opposite. The trouble, as with any second job, is time management.

Obviously there are plenty of creative people with and without children, and some mothers shift gears to childcare more than others, or find they hate childcare entirely, etc etc. But wow, yes, for me this is 100% true! I had a good number of ideas before, but after having my first baby I felt like I was suddenly exploding with them (plots, characters, structures, emotional story arcs, worldbuilding) in a way I wasn’t before. In particular, my best ideas now incorporate a better emotional climax into the plot/action climax. The frustrating part is not having nearly enough time in the world to write it all, so I have to pick and choose what to develop and then eke out chunks of time each week to plug away at whatever my current WIP is.

Part of it is life experience in general. I’m older. I’ve got a decade more reading and philosophizing and socializing and paying attention to current events under my belt than 21-year-old Sam did. I have more to say, so it’s easier to slip a theme or character arc into a story that previously was based entirely on explosions and banter (that said, you will pry my explosions and banter from my cold dead body).

But it’s also mommy brain, I’m convinced of it. I’ve had to learn how to multitask and focus like never before. If I want to write at all, I have to keep a story buzzing in my brain at all times so that when a 30-minute chunk of nap time becomes available I can jump right in and work like crazy till it’s over, and then immediately shift gears back to the baby. I wrote a book last year while I was massively sleep-deprived (my first kid took 13 months to sleep through the night!) and working a part-time day job. I wrote at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. and during 1 hour naps on the weekend. The first draft was feverish but fast, and I actually liked my stream of conscious prose better than when I used to agonize over every sentence and take all day to write a scene. Editing, of course, was a nightmare! But man it felt good to be working on something.

Anyway, I think the article is worth a read! Here are some of the bits that struck a chord with me, regarding creativity itself and the unique guilt/shame that comes with carving out time to write.

Regarding rat moms:

Even as her offspring grow and learn to fend for themselves, the neurological changes of motherhood persist. She will experience less memory decline in old age, and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes. She is more efficient, making fewer errors. She finds new and unusual ways to get tasks done—problem-solving approaches she had not considered before giving birth.

From artist Hein Koh, in response to another artist who insisted there is not enough energy in one person to split between art and children:

“Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist—I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ.”

Because yes, the multitasking is unreal, and the need to be efficient in all things at all times is all-encompassing. I gave up basically every other hobby and casual social events in order to make time for the things I wanted most: writing and spending enough time with the baby.

Regarding problem-solving:

Creativity requires making unusual connections. At its core, Jung said, creativity is original problem solving. This is an evolutionarily derived process that is important to survival. Humans who achieve high creativity usually have endurance and grit, Jung said. Creative people take risks, Jung said. They are bold, and adept at finding new and unusual ways to get tasks done.

There is enormous guilt in taking time away from your kids (I am sitting in my local library right now, during my once-a-week block of free time, and every week I feel the need to apologize 20 times while walking out the door). BUT, I am also so much better during the rest of the week when I take this break.

I am a better mother, a happier mother, when I am also able to carve out time to write. I am a better writer, a happier writer, when I am also an involved mom.

That is basically where I’m at right now. I’m trying not to feel guilty about splitting my time, but splitting my time is essential for my happiness. Sometimes I overdo it on both fronts and have a complete meltdown, but the weeks where I achieve a good balance are enormously rewarding.

Now let’s see how the dynamic changes as baby #2 gets bigger, and nap time ends. TWO TODDLERS COMPETING FOR ATTENTION? Get me the smelling salts, for I have collapsed.