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Writing,  writing process

Feeling too frazzled to write? Just write one page

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A page a day is better than no pages at all. Believe it or not, so is a page a week. You can write one page.

Before I became a parent, most of the books I read on writing professionally insisted that I should focus my energy on doing a large amount of work in a short amount of time. One of the older books in my collection is The Weekend Novelist, which prescribes a detailed action plan. You’re supposed to set aside your weekends for an entire year in order to get a book done. It’s an attractive, and probably effective, strategy for somebody who is not me, which is why I haven’t chucked it out the window yet. Real mom talk ahead: I’m lucky if I can write one page without fielding forty-seven demands for snacks.

Want a realistic writer mom goal? Shoot for a page a day, and don’t feel bad if some days you can’t reach that either. A page a week is still 13,000 words. That’s 13-15 (or more) perfectly respectable articles. More on this in a moment.

If you’ve already hit multi-gazillionaire celebrity writer status, I’m thrilled for you. Meanwhile, the rest of us are still piecing our creative soul projects around other people’s wants and needs. Nowhere is this truer than for mothers, who make up the bulk of the caregiving demographic. (We know many, many fathers, non-binary parents, and childfree caregivers are in the trenches with us on this too.)

Image transcription: Kelly Hoover Greenway on Twitter: “Mothers must make art in between. In between carpool and cooking, practices and play dates. In between boo boos and breakdowns, bedtimes and breakfasts. In between work and worry. We make art in between. #amwriting #WritingCommunity”

@KellyHGreenway

While concentrated and uninterrupted writing time is the stuff of dreams for creative-minded caregivers and parents, especially busy moms, sitting down to write with this expectation is horrible for us. Family members don’t seem to enjoy being ignored during the week when we’re trying to work, and then ignored again on the weekend when we’re trying to write. Plus, if you’re like most pandemic parents, you probably don’t have reliable childcare. Exactly when are you supposed to see your family, get the house clean, or have a little downtime?

After hours—OK, years—of open frustration, I have reluctantly concluded that pursuing this kind of writing practice does not function for me at this point in my life. I have two young toddlers and three elementary students. An uninterrupted weekend is something I’m only going to get if I check into a hotel.

If I’m going to do that, I’d just as soon be checking out the bar, the pool, and the downtown shopping scene.

No, if I’m going to get any extra writing done, I’m going to have to squeeze it in during the snippets of time that pop up during the course of my day. Cracking a laptop instead of hiding in the laundry room to type frantically on a tiny phone keyboard is practically a luxury, even for actual work that I get paid for. Bookmarking all of my free weekends for the next 52 weeks isn’t a viable drafting timeline.

When the people you care about come home at a different time than planned, and mess up your schedule, you cannot let this behavior halt your work while you bottle your frustration.

This is bad for relationships. It’s also exhausting.

WordsCollide.co


I’m not going to win NaNoWriMo. I might have the occasional free afternoon where I could get a couple thousand words written, but that’s more the exception than the rule these days. I have several youngsters in my full-time care; my husband and I are self-employed; and something around here is always breaking, making a ruckus, or escaping (sometimes all three!). There’s also this gorgeous thing called sleep that I’m rather attached to, or would be if we ever got any. (Helloooo, weekend mornings! Has anybody studied why children must wake up earlier on the days that school is out? I’m convinced it’s part of a secret world domination plot that involves parent torture.)

Two of the author's children are pictured. Parenting and caregiving require writers to set realistic goals. Write one page,. If you're writing a page a day, don't punish yourself for not writing more.
Real kids. Real messes. They’re cute and all, but not the most helpful writing partners, unless you count ruthless edits. Sometimes I truly can’t write even one page for the day, but it’s a much more manageable goal than most writing calendars on the market allow. Photo by Kate Wehr

As it stands, the standard “accomplish Herculean task in long stretches of uninterrupted time” writer advice is not going to work for me. I know this because it didn’t and hasn’t. Even before having children at home, juggling tasks in a way that enabled me to stay in a steady workflow was difficult. Now, it’s almost impossible. Yet crafting is a vital human emotional need. Finding space to work on our projects instead of openly resenting the people we love for their constant interruptions and curveballs is a necessity for writer parents.

When people I cared about called, or came home at a different time than planned, and messed up my schedule, I couldn’t let it throw off my mood for the day. So for far too long, I let this behavior halt my work as I bottled my frustration.

This is bad for relationships. It’s also exhausting.

I quit working on personal projects because I was tired of being interrupted. I couldn’t concentrate, and I was perpetually annoyed at never, ever having time alone to focus.

Image note: “Study Says Motherhood is Equivalent to Working 2.5 Full-Time Jobs.” Source: Baby Chick

Sound familiar? Then it’s time for you to change tactics. Start thinking about what you can accomplish within shorter amounts of time. Caregiver breaks–when they come at all–come in bursts. Whether you’re a parent or a senior caregiver doesn’t matter all that much here. To meet your innate creative needs, you’ll have to go into adaptive mode.

Take that math we tried above for a minute. (Remember I said we’d come back to this?) A standard double-spaced manuscript page is 250 words. Since actual word count per page varies significantly, editors estimate 250-300 words per page, with 250 as the generally accepted baseline. This is, by the way, how you should budget your page count if you’re shopping for a freelance editor.

If you wrote 250 words per day, every day, and did nothing else, you’d have 91,250 words’ worth of raw copy in a year.

Congratulations, that’s a book. A book that desperately needs to be edited, but, hey, still a book.

Let’s say you took weekends off (or used some of those days for research and edits). We’ll throw in two weeks’ vacation too because hahahahahaha, who’s been doing that for the last two years? With 247 consistent working days, you’ll hit 61,750 words.

Yup, still a book.

That 13,000 words we came up with in the beginning? You’ve got an e-book, or a dozen-plus freelance articles.

Maybe I can’t do ten or more pages a day right now. I could write one page, though. You can write one page, too.

It’s a couple of paragraphs. You can write that. And on the days that you can’t–because we all have them, no matter how many years we’ve been doing this–you will be able to push back against the anxiety that tells you that you’ll never finish, because you know one missed page isn’t that long. On a better day, you might steal a few extra moments to write more than one page and make up the difference.

But if you don’t, that’s OK.

One Comment

  • Stuart Danker

    Sometimes even one page is a big ask, and that’s when I try one sentence, then one paragraph.

    Anyway, I don’t know how parents do it. But I personally know an award-winning author here in Malaysia who wrote her book while her children slept. Inspiring, to say the least. Thanks for this post!

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