Do A Little Bit Of Everything Every Day

Before I became a mother, I had carved out a pretty cushy writing life for myself. I teach college writing classes online and I do freelance writing and editorial work, so my job was extremely flexible. In the morning when I woke up, I made myself some coffee and sat down to write for four or five hours. Then I would go for a walk or the gym, take a shower, and spend the afternoon grading papers or doing other bill-paying work. If the morning’s writing session had gone particularly well and I didn’t have a lot of pressing “other” work, I might spend the afternoon writing as well. I took weekends “off” but usually spent a couple of hours on the weekend writing anyway.

Writing-wise, I got a lot done. And I could justify the small amount of money the writing actually brought to the household budget because I was getting published and was becoming recognized as a young adult writer of some talent. Costs were minimal and I brought in enough money through teaching and editorial work to make up for what I wasn’t bringing in through writing.

Enter the birth of my son 15 months ago and I was ushered into an entirely different reality. When I wake up in the morning, I still make coffee–but now I hang out with the baby while he plays. I work hard to check my email and get a shower before his morning nap so that I can hit the ground running as soon as his head hits the pillow. I’m still juggling the bill-paying work with my writing career, and it seems like that money doesn’t stretch as far as it did before, so I’m always drumming up new ways to make money, which eats into the writing time even more. I do have a babysitter, but I need her to get the bill-paying work done, especially since my son is a poor sleeper and rarely takes naps longer than an hour. (Hour long naps happen only when I’m lucky!)

I’ve lost the luxury of time, something any mother knows all about.

So I’ve been learning to write in increments. The best advice I’ve received all year came from another writing mother who also juggles a demanding full-time faculty position at a community college. Her kids are older but she knows what writing moms deal with. I was making an appearance at a literary festival and fielding audience questions and her question was this: “How do you balance it all?” I laughed and said, “Not very well!” Afterward, she came over and told me that the year before, she’d started her new job and was wondering how she would keep writing and still keep up with her workload. She’d noticed–as I’ve noticed–that many of the other full-time English faculty “used to write.” She didn’t want her writing to be a casulty of the job. So she asked another faculty member with a strong publishing record in poetry how he managed.

And this is what he told her: “Do a little bit of everything every day.” Do a little bit of grading…do a little bit of writing…do a little bit of committee work…

Her advice hit me like a ton of bricks. My strategy up to that point had been to clear my plate of everything else and then try to get a morning to write. I was always frustrated, though, because I’d get my grading done (it had to get done, after all) and I’d get the editorial work done (I was on deadline, after all) but when I sat down to write, inevitably, that would be the morning when my son wouldn’t take a nap. Or he’d be sick. Or I’d sit at the computer with nothing to write because I wasn’t in the mode for it. I’d never had that problem before–the writing always flowed. And it always flowed because I sat down every day and what I was working on was always in the back of my mind. Take a week or two weeks off and then try to write for several hours–uh-uh, wasn’t happening. The juices take a while to flow and you have to keep them flowing. So writing just a little bit every day makes total sense. If all you have is 15 minutes, do it. If you’re lucky enough to have an hour, take it.

That advice isn’t just for writing, by the way. If you’re anything like me, you battle daily with Creep and Clutter. I’m learning to attack one thing every day. That means I’m not trying to keep everything bright and shiny, but if I can clean one drawer in 15 minutes, at least that one drawer is better. I’m hoping that this will help me get and stay organized over all.

And as for the writing, it’s happening. It’s just a whole lot slower than it used to be….

Comments 7

  1. CC

    This is good advice! I hear your great organization – great flow you had – pre-mom-dom and congratulate you. Part of it seems to be just getting used to a new situation, finding a new rhythm, though be-it slooooow, as your last line had me chuckling.
    As a mom of a 17-year-old, I have been there and now am easing out of that original mama-mind state. Here is a blog I started on Duke City Fix’ group, Duke City Mamas “anybody want to comment on being a mom and making time for art?”
    where many other pieces of good advice were shared, my favorite being, asking people close to you to help.

    I just got your book This thing called the Future and am looking forward to reading it, by the way!
    Saludos de Burque,

  2. Connie Goedert

    Welcome to the world of motherhood; but you just ruined my excuse for not going to the gym. Love ya and miss you here in New York.

  3. Jennifer

    You are so right about this. I just started keeping a weekly checklist that breaks things down into each day, but I am content to just check off one or two things. That is the secret, for me: just do a little. This season, the season of small children, feels as if it will never end, but it is such a tiny sliver, a whisper of time. Embrace the joy of little bits!

  4. Tabitha

    I think that might be the formula for success in just about any endeavor. I know I can sure apply it to many areas of my life…this isn’t the time when anything is ever going to be completely done, but I can keep chipping away.
    Thanks for sharing that wisdom and insight!

  5. jo(e)

    When my kids were younger, they all took music lessons, which were usually 30 minutes long. That meant that almost every weekday, I’d find myself sitting in the waiting area of the music studio for exactly 30 minutes. I’d bring my laptop and I’d decide on one thing I was going to do, like write a blog post or work on a poem or grade some papers. I had no distractions at the music studio, and I always surprised myself by how much I could get done in that 30 minutes. It was sometimes the most productive half hour of my day.

    So now that’s the formula I follow. I know that if I can get 30 minutes of free time with no distractions, I can tackle one project.

  6. Annemarie O’Brien

    If anyone can pull it off, Jess, it’s you. Good luck with all that you have on your plate!

  7. Jess

    Great idea, Joe! I’ll keep this in mind when my kid is older and has music lessons!

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