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The Story Of My Chaotic Writing Life

Friday, November 13, 2009

My internal alarm wakes me in the blackness of cold dawn. I make my blurry way downstairs to the kitchen, following the scent of timer-brewed coffee. The lop-sided hamster wheel is clunking, the only noise in the yet sleeping house. I sit down at the table and flip open my laptop. As the screen sputters to life, I wrap my work-worn fingers around the coffee mug and take a deep breath.

How much can I get done in my hour and a half of daily silence?

I take thirty minutes to respond to emails and read early-bird blogs. Then I force myself to focus on my writing. I desperately need the morning jump start. The quiet centers my creative energy and I race against the clock on my screen to squeeze out every possible second of writing time.

Then I hear the patter of footsteps above me. Doors open and close. Toilets flush. The noise begins. For a few minutes I try to block it out. My fingers refuse to leave the keyboard, desperate to eek out the precious words hovering in the silence of my mind.

The slap of little feet sounds in the hallway. The kitchen door swings wide and I'm greeted by the sunshine of a smile. "Good morning, Mommy." My heart warms and now my fingers slip easily away from the keyboard and I reach out to my little man for a hug.

It doesn't take long for another child to appear. More sunshine. Then another, and another, and another. Until the room is bright and alive with laughter and squabbles. My quiet dawn has slipped away. Another vibrant day has begun.

The voices of my large family surround me. The passion of their joys, tears, anger, and excitement follow me throughout the day. I am indeed a wealthy woman for the richness of their love and the treasures I find in motherhood.

And yet, a deep part of me is made richer from the writing life too. That writing soul calls to me until finally it demands I sit down again. By mid-afternoon, I'm ready to give my writing it's due time, another two hours of solid, no-internet writing time.

No matter what plans I've put into place to occupy my children, my two afternoon hours of writing are a jumble of mothering and writing. I write for five minutes then stop to listen to my daughter share her excitement about the book she just finished. I write for another short burst before I must clean up the child who didn't make it to the potty in time. I type out a paragraph and jump up to rescue my son's favorite football from the teeth of the dog.

And that's the story of my chaotic writing life. Each of my children need me in their own way and I struggle to be both mother and writer at the same time. Much of my writing is squeezed into the every day moments of ordinary, chaotic life.

However, recently I have attempted to bring more order to my chaos. Here are my top 5 time savers:

1. Stop striving for perfection: I can't perfectly keep up with reading the blogs I'd like to, or always respond with perfect, thought-filled comments. My emails have spelling and grammar mistakes. My housework, cooking, and parenting are less than perfect. And that's okay. Nobody else expects me to be perfect, so why should I?

2. Involve family: I pay my oldest three children to take turns babysitting during my two hour writing block in the afternoons. On the rare evening when my husband isn't working or coaching, I head to the library to work uninterrupted. And on Saturdays he takes over child and house responsibilities so that I can have extended writing time (mostly at the library).

3. Sacrifice: I sacrifice sleep, hobbies, TV, free "me" time, and my social life. Even in the evenings, after the kids are in bed, I usually try to squeeze in another hour of writing work. Fortunately for me, with having five children, I've already had plenty of practice sacrificing many of my own interests. So it hasn't been too hard to give up more.

4. Work faster: I don't have the luxury of dawdling anymore! Whether folding laundry or fixing dinner--I work efficiently. Same with my writing. I can't linger over a troublesome word or fixate on a particular phrase. I fix it and move on.

5. Set work hours and stick to them: My working conditions aren't always ideal. If I waited until my life is perfect and quiet, then I'd never get anything done and I certainly wouldn't be where I'm at today. Instead I make the most of my scheduled writing time, even if it's less than ideal. Each two minute burst of writing eventually adds up.

What's the story of your chaotic writing life?

53 comments:

  1. Another fantastic post. I'm with you on 1 and 4.

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  2. I know the feeling of constantly being interrupted while writing. Sometimes I end up putting the writing away for a while and focusing on my children. At other times I gently remind them that mom is working and I'll talk to them when I'm finished. When that doesn't work, I go back to step one. : )

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  3. I have much the same plan as you for incorporating writing into my mothering day.

    The first thing I accepted was that something had to give. It couldn't all be perfect--on any given day, the house could be messy, I could be messy, supper might not be cooked, etc. Sometimes it all happens on the same day!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  4. I really got a sense of your writing voice here, Jody, and it's beautiful! Loved reading this post, and love your five tips for time saving. I've done many of the same things...stopped striving for perfection (hence the messy house 5 days of the week) and giving up some "me" things, like television shows...that sort of thing.

    Great post, Jody!

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  5. I'm in awe of you and other young mothers who write! What incredible determination, dedication and hard work it has to be!

    I'm embarrassed to say that my husband and I are retired and hang out many days with only the interruption of a dog who needs to go out, a phone to answer, our daily household activities and errands.

    I should be able to write a novel a week with the time available. But that doesn't happen because I have to struggle every day with two chronic illnesses and lots of meds with side effects.

    So like you, in some ways, I have to manage to plug in writing time between those moments of debilitating illness and those of controlled symptoms.

    For each of us writers, the journey of writing is a different adventure full of hurdles to jump and finish lines crossed in victory! Thanks for sharing your journey. I love being along for the ride!

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  6. First, this was so beautiful. I love how you expressed your love for your children! I feel the same way in the morning. Evenings, unfortunately, are a little more stressful for me. *cringe*
    But I loved reading this and also your time-saving tips. I totally agree with them (and don't ever feel guilty for not commenting on my blog. I've been surprised by how much you've been able to comment, actually)
    As for chores, I always race through mine. I do them well, but I do them fast. :-)
    Have a wonderful day with your family!!

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  7. Jody, this was beautifully written. I sighed all the way through it. I don't know how home schooling mothers write, or mothers of little ones. I thank God that He didn't give me the desire to write until my children were all in school full time because I know my house, with me as their mother, would have been a chaotic mess if I'd tried to squeeze writing in with raising them 24/7. I need chunks of time to write.

    Thank the Lord, He's made you so you can handle this, Jody. It isn't easy, I know, but He obviously knows you are capable of it all, or He wouldn't have put this journey on your heart at this stage in your life. Blessings to you, dear friend!!!

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  8. Lovely post Jody. I saw your every move, with your fluid storytelling.

    My writing life looks a lot like yours minus three kids. I'm learning to use my time wisely because I can't get it back.

    Thanks for sharing your tips, it helps to know what works for others.

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  9. Great post. I always find it interesting how other writers, well, write, but also when and where, how they deal with distractions, and everything else.

    Thanks for sharing!

    S

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  10. Thank you for sharing, Jody. You are such an inspiration. I so worry sometimes that the third child will suck what little writing time I have and I won't ever get anything done. I see, though, that I can make it work if I really want it (which I do). Thank you!

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  11. Sounds about the same as yours. I slip in the writing time when I can. I like the idea of scheduling time, though. I've tried doing that this week and it seems to be working.

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  12. Super practical ideas, as always. Time is such a factor - has limited my blog visiting, too. On the idea of perfection - I read that anything worth doing is worth doing imperfectly. If we wait until it is perfect, we will never go public with it.

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  13. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. Here is where our stories meet. My children are great gifts from God. My writing swirls inside me, also as a gift. I love your tips and thoroughly enjoyed reading about the start of your day (even the flushing toilets). ;)

    The story of my chaotic writing life is to write in the gaps, the small crevices, the gaping holes, any and every single gap. I write in the gaps and every time something gets filled up.
    ~ Wendy

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  14. Love your voice in this post. Again, it affirms I cannot wait to read your novels. (like how I pluralized that?) ;)

    Love the idea of setting a work time and sticking to it. WHen I had a job outside the house I had to be there those hours and it's a good idea to look at writing the same way.

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  15. If I didn't get it before, I get now why you got a three-book contract. I think you are amazing, Jody. Really.
    Karen

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  16. I quit work to stay home with my 3 children and that was 20 years ago. I put writing aside during that time, except for journals. My days back then, sound so much like what you describe. No project attempted could be done in a single sitting due to so many interruptions. But I never regretted a single one. My youngest child is 17 and driving now, and so I can begin to dust off those old story plots and outlines and have chunks of quiet time to renew my writing.
    I applaud you for juggling both worlds so efficiently. My favorite tips were 1 and 3. You will have more time one day but enjoy all those little rays of sunshine that are beaming in your life today.

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  17. It sounds like you and your family work well together in all your endeavors, helping one another, supportive always. It's wonderful to have a team like that behind you, isn't it? Have a nice weekend, happy writing!

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  18. I am impressed by your hard work, sacrifice, and your ability to do all of the above AND manage five children! You are a hero and an inspiration, Jody :)

    My life became hectic when I had to go on full time with my current job. I work for and with wonderful people but it's the wrong place for me. No creative outlet, no creative work. I get home and I'm exhausted from sitting at a desk, more so than if I'd been out working in the yard, or on a manuscript.

    I am thankful for the time at work I can work on my book. No one minds as long as I answer the calls when they come in. But the constant interruption makes for less inspired moments. I'm having to figure out just how to reconnect with my passion in the midst of having to sacrifice the most productive part of my day.

    You've given me inspiration to do that. Thank you.

    Have a wonderful weekend,
    Jen

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  19. You wrote this so beautifully! I could see you sitting there in the early hours working away and then your family comes to life! Once again, I am amazed at all you accomplish. What you are doing is important and your books will change lives. Don't ever feel the pressure to respond on blogs:) I know I would only be able to do what I can do and I have all the time in the world and I waste much of it. Thanks for some encouragement to work harder!

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  20. My favorite part of this was when your kids come in and sunshine appears. Isn't that it? Mornings bring fresh motivation and a heaping teaspoon of patience. By afternoon, both can seem mysteriously missing! I really enjoyed this post.

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  21. I hear of writers who are able to successfully mesh the two parts of their days -- but I never can. When I try to mix little ones and writing, the little ones always seem to get shorted. So, I'm a night owl and do most work while they are asleep. Plus, I'm lucky enough to have them in school so can grab an hour or two during those days as well.

    beautiful writing in this post, Jody. no wonder your contract is signed :)

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  22. Amen to #1! :-)

    C.S. Lewis rarely had more than half an hour to write during the many years that he cared for an old invalid out of respect for his dead war buddy. And that old woman was much less pleasant than our children!

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  23. This is wonderful. I juggle work with watching my sons. It's an interesting balance to have. The moments of silence when the youngest is down for a nap and the oldest is at school are awesome.

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  24. How very true. If we waited for the perfect moment to write, it would never happen.

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  25. Thanks for sharing, Jody - I always like hearing how others juggle writing with everything else going on. Number 4 resonated with me - I'm always looking for the fastest, most efficient way to get all the "other" things done that I need to do in a day (evening really, since I'm at the day job 8 hrs a day).

    The majority of my writing is done late at night, after dinner and household chores are done and I can give it my full attention. My "set work hours" at home are 10:30pm to midnight 6 nights per week, and I do guard that time pretty religiously.

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  26. Jody - I sometimes struggle to manage my time with one child. I'm so inspired to hear it can be done with 5 children!

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  27. I continue to be in awe of you, Jody. Three children--one teen, one grade school, and one preschooler--consume my early morning and evening time. I've learned not to fight it, nor to feel guilty or resentful about that, and not to shortchange them. I also work full-time. So writing for me consists of the after-bedtime hours and weekends when the kids don't have activities that require my presence and/or attention.

    You do have a beautiful voice, which shines through in all of your posts, but here especially. Wonderful!

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  28. I enjoyed hearing about your early morning routine. You make it sounds so magical. And I suspect, with the right words on the screen and then the sounds of your little ones, it is :D

    My writing life isn't nearly as organized as your and has thusfar proven comforting in its inconsistencies. I get in writing on Fridays the most because I have some free time from the kiddos. But otherwise, most of it's done after they go to bed at night.

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  29. You've provided such a beautiful vignette for us here, Jody. It's wonderfully written! I could follow you into your day, visualizing the the moments of solitude and family love and your joy of writing.

    As a minister's wife my days and evenings were often chaotic, filled with visitors and meetings. In those days when our children were young poetry comprised most of my writing. The poems wrote themselves in my mind as my hands were busy elsewhere, and then in the quietness of the nighttime hours I wrote them down, sometimes even scribbling in a notebook in the dark if something occurred to me after I had gone to bed. I firmly believe we can and will make time for our passions if they are important enough to us.

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  30. Loved the description of your day. Brought back some memories of trying to work on envelopes or commissions while raising my two girls. What I learned? Enjoy those small interruptions, the squabbles noise and chaos. They go by too quickly and then the house is very silent.

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  31. You are amazing! I follow many of the same guidelines you've shared even cutting time from personal grooming (ponytail everyday, anyone?) to acquire more time for writing. I swear that the clock hands move faster when I'm writing.

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  32. Your description of morning sounds so beautiful. I'm a morning person and you were reeling me right in to your personal space.

    You are very wise to enjoy the children as welll as the writing. Children grow way too fast.

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  33. So familiar. Your writing was so compelling, I felt as if I could smell the coffee.

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  34. Oh Jody, I admire you so much. You are my heroine. I hope I can be like you when I grow up.

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  35. Wow--I totally had this image of the Proverbs 31 woman. Thanks for sharing your life with us!

    It sounds like you're making a lot of sacrifices--but it will be worth it!

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  36. The very first Bible study I wrote was accomplished over a year's time. An hour here, 30 minutes there - I worked on it in between household duties, homeschooling, parenting, church activities, etc.

    Staying-at-home is a full-time job. As I have begun writing more, I have realized that - like you - I have to carve out a time and stick to it. I've just recently realized this after a time of trying to balance everything out. I was going back and forth trying to juggle it all throughout the day and it just wasn't working. I have finally found a schedule that is working well for us all and includes time for me to write. I now have a specific writing time which is after lunch when my little one takes her nap and my older daughter finishes working on school work that she does on her own. On Mondays, my hubby is also willing to be in charge of house and kids so I can have more concentrated writing time if I need it. It is all working out very well.

    Thanks for sharing with us about your life and how you fit writing into it.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
    Karen

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  37. Great list. I think I need to work on one or more of those. The perfection part- oh yeah, that is a big one for me. I need to let up on myself. :)

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  38. Wow... you're such a GREAT Mom, Jody! I'm completely envious! (Yes, I know... a sin... I'm working on it!)

    My life is...kinda just in the "getting through" stage right now. Praying about how to change that to a thriving stage. I work during the day, come home and kiss hubby on his way out the door to his part-time job, then take care of kiddos in the evening, but I've come to the realization that I do a HORRIBLE job at that--ESPECIALLY after reading this! I'm pretty much give out by the end of the day, and my patience is not, um, stellar.

    Your five things are RIGHT on, and thanks SO much for the rendition of your morning. It made me smile and sigh just reading it:-)

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  39. It's so great you have such a numerous family! I'm planning to have a big one too, because I come from a very small and quiet family, only child born from only child, so I love noisy and big families.
    Nowadays, I'm finding some problems in regards to writing time, because I have so many tests that in my little free time I relax... But today I discovered that my useless half hour waiting for my Classical Dance class could be used for that...
    Thanks for the cool post, excellent as always! =)

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  40. I loved your inspiring post, Jody! You've managed to achieve something all of us desire - balance.

    You might want to consider submitting an expanded version of this post to a writers' magazine like, "Christian Communicator." Many writer/moms would benefit from your wisdom.

    There are many things in our lives that gobble up our time like the old Pac Man game. You've discovered a way to keep that critter out of your life and retain what's important.

    I can't wait to read your book. :)

    Blessings,
    Susan

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  41. Hi. I have wanted to visit your blog for some time, but life stuff keeps getting in the way. Sounds like your five time savers really work.

    I do have scheduled writing time that no one, no how can stop. Unless it's like this week and an emergency occurs. (My cat, a beloved family member, passed away.) Anyway, I see you are well on your way to seeing the fruits of your labor. I write for children, not adults. But I will stop by from time to time to visit with you, if you don't mind.

    This coming week is unplug week and I really need to unplug. But I hope to get to know you better in the coming days and months. God bless and have a wonderful weekend.

    Happy writing

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  42. I'm so impressed with you. I'm busy, but you have way more on your plate than I do.

    Enjoy your extended writing time tomorrow!

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  43. Great post, love to hear that others have the same chaotic lifestyle and still manage to get some writing done.

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  44. Yes, letting go of perfection is a big challenge for me. The perfection of my writing, but also waiting for the perfect time or conditions to sit down and write. Those conditions never come. So, if I want to be a writer I let those go and just get things done.

    Another great post, Jody!

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  45. Great post from a great mom who's also a great writer and storyteller--as well as an inspiration. Wow!

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  46. Your blog is a recent discovery for me and I'm so glad! I found you when I was trying to find out what happens in Pub Board meetings, as my first book proposal survived one just last week. (yippee :) Thank you for writing this post. With three kids 5 and under, I often wonder if I'm a crazy woman trying to write. But the day you describe here looks so much like my own and it gives me hope and encouragement to know that there is no magic time of life to write. You squeeze it in and make it work. Thanks!

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  47. Hey, Jody, just stopping by to tell you I awarded you at my blog. =)

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  48. Great advice and I'm in awe that you can get so much done with all those kiddos. I have a two-year old and sometimes just managing him along with my writing is overwhelming. :)

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  49. hi there ^^!
    warm greeting from Bali island

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  50. Amazing you are doing this with small children. I have a hard time sticking to my writing schedule and I only have on child left at home. She is is 15.
    You have inspired me to be more consistent.

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  51. This was a wonderful post, Jody.

    :-)

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