All about writing! Motivation, inspiration, writing tips, copyediting, grammar & editing, hitting your word count, writing more, writing better, freelance writing tips and much more. Fiction writers, nonfiction writers, essayists and poets welcome. The Procrastiwriter is about procrastinating while writing, and how to be a successful writer around a full-time life.
I promised in my last post to include a little update about where I’ve been throughout 2017. Have I been busy procrastinating? Not really.
Okay, maybe a little.
2017 has been a growing year, a changing year. Cole went from six months old to 18 months old (I know, I also dazzle myself with my arithmetic skills), and swept us all away with him. He’s learned to get up and walk, to feed himself finger foods, talk a blue streak, kick a ball, and stack tiny wooden blocks. His capacity to adapt, grow and push forward, forward, forward, astonishes me every day.
For my part, I worked to reprioritize my time accordingly. I wish I could tell you that writing had a place near the top of that list.
Cole at 18 months old. Who left a teenager at my house?
But it didn’t.
Learning to Prioritize Stuff Other Than Writing
Following my MS diagnosis in November of 2016, I took casual stock of my health as a whole. Emotionally, hearing I had a chronic illness knocked me back a step or two, but if I’m honest, the blow was a superficial one. First, I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m driving, I’m running and working and typing and doing all the things I’ve always done. Yes, some things are harder and yes, there are symptoms that I deal with every day. I used to have clever fingers, watchmaker’s hands. I could untie the tiniest knots and thread my earrings and facial piercings with my eyes closed; now, it sometimes takes me a few tries to tie Cole’s shoes. My hands shake when I feed him with a spoon. My lower half goes numb for a few minutes when I begin exercising and my core temperature rises. Stuff like that – annoying, but hardly life-threatening.
Oh! I also turned 30 this year, the day this photo was taken.
Second, hearing my diagnosis that November evening was nothing – nothing – like hearing, only nine months earlier, that my soon-to-be-born child had no hands or forearms. Learning I had MS pales in comparison to news like that, like dropping pebbles into the crater left by a meteor. (Sorry, dinosaurs. Too soon?)
In some ways, having that experience first has made me much tougher when it comes to news about my own well-being.
Anyway, I deliberately faded into motherhood, and into prioritizing my health. My body was weak and out of shape from pregnancy and complications, including months of residual high blood pressure, so as soon as I could, I set about building it back up (and, uh, let’s be honest: slimming it back down). When Cole napped, and before he woke up in the mornings, I was on the treadmill, or swinging kettlebells, or doing pull-ups on my pullup rack (thanks, Greg!). Writing took a backseat.
(And, surprise!, MS meds help with the weight loss. See? Always a silver lining to everything.)
Cole meeting the beach for the first time.
I also had important projects to complete at work (I am a WAHM, or work-at-home mom. I’m at the office one day a week, telecommuting the rest of the time) that, due to their complexity and also due to deadlines, took deserved priority over my own writing work. Whenever I had a free moment on the computer, it was logged in to do more work.
For almost the whole year.
I started projects here and there, but to be frank, I didn’t feel like coming back to The Procrastiwriter with nothing “new” to report on the writing front. I was being productive, but this blog is about writing, not the website I helped build, or how to attend a conference call and put a toddler down for a nap at the same time, or finally being able to do ten pullups instead of just one.
Instead, to keep my literary lifeline intact, I made a concerted effort to read as much as possible. I put effort into picking up both indulgent and thoughtful books, loading up my Audible.com account with classics and contemporary works to entertain and educate me.
Blue Nights by Joan Didion was one of my favorites. I read it in two early morning sittings. I just sank into her prose. Gone With the Wind was another plain delight, and I fell a little bit in love with Rhett Butler and Scarlett, too. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed that almost 50-hour Audible read. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a must-read about the women of the Ravensbruck all-female concentration camp in Poland during WWII. (I was so inspired I drove to visit the Bellamy-Ferriday House referenced in the novel, just a few towns over in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Caroline Ferriday is hugely fascinating as a historical figure.) I reconnected with my affection for Nora Roberts novels. My Pat Conroy collection has been curated with reverence. He’s still my favorite.
I still can’t finish Anna Karenina. Sue me. It’s boring. I’m a Philistine at heart. High society novels make my eyes glaze over and my scalp itch.
Then Came NaNo
NaNoWriMo had me skeptical, but after winning it last month, I love it with no reservations. Some writers need permission to just create, and I’m one of them. I enjoyed every single second of my time doing the challenge and I look forward to doing many more when I have the bandwidth.
But it came with consequences. Some I’ve already written about. But many I’m still feeling. I’m still feeling the lack of sleep. I came down with a cold, or tried to, but the antiviral I take in combo with MS meds kept it from being more than just a sniffle. (Silver linings are everywhere.) I’ve picked up a terrible habit of drinking coffee and having at least one if not two bowls of cereal late at night while I write or try and fuel my mind into writing. And my output has ground to a halt from being just a teensy bit burned out (I’m at 53,000 words from 50,000 Dec. 1). But I’m allowing myself to snap back slowly. I’ll pick back up in January. It’s the holidays and Cole is cutting molars and learning words and his mirror neurons are firing in such a fury that he even yawns when we yawn now, that I am going to try and just flow with it all, rather than trying to wring efficiency out of every last moment. I simply don’t have the energy for living at 11 these days. MS, having a toddler, getting older, whatever it is, it’s teaching me to slow down, trust the process, and do a little consistently, every day, to reach all of my goals.
Or maybe that’s Elmo talking. Who even knows, anymore?
Merry Christmas, and a happy, blessed New Year to all of you.
Don’t start the reveille for my comeback tour yet. Things are still busy around here. But I’ve waited a long time to make an update. Almost a year, which, in blog years, is ten years. I’ve been on the fringes of the blogosphere but in all honesty, I’ve missed a ton. (If you’re interested in what I’ve been up to, keep your eyes open for an upcoming blog post.)
However, it is December 1, which is the first day of Decompress-from-NaNoWriMo Month. This year was my first year that I’ve won NaNo, my second year participating. Last year, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on November 28, which was a Monday, and I honestly lost all enthusiasm for NaNo, as well as plenty of other things. I was also about 10,000 words behind, having written only 30,000 words up to that point.
This year, I decided I would head back into NaNo with a vengeance. My unspoken modus operandi since my MS diagnosis has been: I will not allow MS to take anything from me, if I can help it. Not my fitness, not my hobbies, not my ability to participate in family life, and definitely not my writing.
In that spirit, I began a brand-new project on November 1. (#Preptober consisted of me drinking half a hard apple cider – I’m the lightest lightweight you’ll ever meet – on Halloween and staying up after Cole and Greg had gone to bed, roughing out a quick-and-dirty hero’s journey outline. I’m not bragging about this.)
Here’s what winning NaNo has taught me, and if you’re thinking of taking the plunge next year, consider this your caveat emptor.
5. Find Your Why
I’ve already explained most of my “why” for doing 2017 NaNo in the intro above, but in case you skipped right to the listicle, basically, I needed something to get me back on the writing train after health issues sidelined me last year in a big way.
But was that lofty and frankly esoteric motivation enough to keep my butt in the chair? Honestly, it wasn’t. Instead, I found myself focusing – surprisingly hard – on wanting 1) This year’s NaNo t-shirt and 2) This year’s “writer fuel” NaNo thermos. I think the t-shirt is snazzy-looking and I broke my favorite coffee thermos just recently, and naturally, I would not allow myself to buy either of those items unless I won.
Stupid? Maybe. But it’s the small stuff like that, t-shirts, and coffee thermoses,that can make all the difference. Most of this is old hat, but set a reward for yourself. Give yourself a concrete “why” for finishing NaNo (more than just “because I want to”), and it’ll help.
4. Prioritizing and Sacrificing Are the Same Thing
I’m proud of completing NaNo with 50,252 words under my belt for the month, but, frankly, I really struggled to make proper priorities out of things once I jumped in. I’m a one-track workaholic when I’ve got my teeth into something, and so I sacrificed sleep, I was on the computer often when I was awake, and although I tried to minimize it, both my husband and son probably felt the impact of my shift in focus.
As a result, I won’t be doing NaNo next year, even though I enjoyed it immensely, and won’t return to it until Cole is at least in preschool, so I can devote some time to it when nothing and no one else needs my attention first. Taking time away from family at night and throughout the day is something for writer parents of young children to consider carefully before diving in. Honestly, I didn’t consider it carefully enough, and that is a regret.
3. Nail Your Mantra Ahead of Time
It really helped when I lapsed into being super precious about word choice or was fearful of jumping into a scene that required intense emotion.
NaNo is all about filling the sandbox. If you’re the kind of writer who likes to edit as you go, agonizing over each word in a Thomas Wolfian slow-burn creation fervor, NaNoWriMo probably isn’t for you.
But if you wheedle and dawdle over your writing to the point that you’re not producing anything, consider NaNo your permission to write without involving your internal editor. Your mantra will help, functioning as the advice you’ll fall back on when things get tough, and they will.
2. Choose Your Writing Tribe Carefully
Did you know there are people out there who take it upon themselves to write entire novels (I’m talking 80,000+ words) start to finish in November, 50,000-word challenge be damned? I didn’t, but now I do, because I joined several Facebook groups for NaNoWriMo that were chock-full of these overachievers. I even changed my profile picture for the month, so I could be just like them!
Ultimately, I found this demoralizing, like I’d accidentally entered an ultramarathon intending to run only 26.2 miles. Running a marathon is an achievement, but ultramarathoners are running a different race altogether. And the ultra-worders weren’t my tribe – the ones who finished at just over 50,000 words on November 28, 29, or 30th were. It took me a while to find them, and effort to block out the others (that I could have been putting toward my writing, or literally anything else).
1. Set Your Mind and Keep It Set
If this sounds familiar, that’s because this is part of a Bible verse (Col. 3:2) that reads:
And set your minds and keep them set on the things that are above, not the things that are on the earth. Colossians 3:2
There were setbacks this month. Cole went through the 18-month sleep regression right around the Thanksgiving holiday, which we host every year, and both Greg and I were so tired we could hardly open our eyes. Other days busyness, missed naps, crankiness, and other obstacles popped up.
Instead of getting discouraged and imagining the ways in which each problem was surely going to ruin my chances at winning NaNo, I tried to adopt the attitude of ::shrug:: “I’ll win, anyway.”
Sometimes, it didn’t work. Sometimes, I was annoyed and stressed and run-down. The reality of living with MS is that when I miss sleep and am fatigued, my body does all kinds of funny stuff – I feel like a human tuning fork someone has just set to vibrating- and none of it is conducive to feeling healthy or writing well.
But most of the time, I didn’t waiver in my determination, which is a totally new mindset for me, I’ll be honest. I tend to jump all over excuses not to do things and use them accordingly. Not this time.
I wanted that damn t-shirt. And that thermos.
Did you win NaNo this year? Did you participate? Why or why not? Let me know what you think in the comments.