On writing and motherhood – Dealing with the guilt

I thought I should write a quick post about my constant companion when writing: Guilt!  It’s that constant, nagging feeling that I’m taking time away from my boys to do something that feels self-indulgent; I keep questioning my motives, my principles, my priorities, everything… But at the same time, if I don’t write, I feel unhappy and I’m not a very nice person to be around, I’m not a great mother. So what to do?

The guilt really seems to attack when I’m writing; I don’t feel too bad when I’m working or doing more “productive” stuff… I guess it’s to do with an underlying feeling that I’m “wasting” my time. But what it means to waste my time? After all, when I’m cleaning, or cooking I’m wasting my time as well; it’s just that those actions feel more immediate, more urgent. There is a voice in my head that keeps telling me that writing can wait, but deep down I know this is not true; writing is something I need to do. Besides, I think it is a good example for my kids; it’s important for them to see that their mum is working on projects that make her happy. But somehow, no matter how much I rationalise things, no matter how much I tell myself that wanting to be creative is not something to be ashamed of, I am. And I feel guilty. I guess I’ll just have to embrace guilt and learn to live and work with it…

I’ve been looking for examples of successful writers who are also mothers and stories on how they deal with similar emotions; I came across various articles and blogs covering this issue (there are tons!). From the many views and opinions I read, the points I take away in terms of techniques for me to apply are:

1 – Find time to write and don’t make excuses. Don’t wait until  your children grow or until “the day” you are truly inspired and magically find that you have lots of free time to write. That day may never come…

2 – Set clear, but realistic, writing goals. In order for you feel that you have achieved something and didn’t waste your time (I feel guiltier when the time away from my kids amounts to “nothing”). The writing goal can be anything from daily word count, specific outcomes (e.g. describe place x) or longer term goals. In my case, the goal that I picked for August (i.e. to start a different play every day) has greatly fired up my creativity. As a goal for September I’ve decided that I’ll write one 10′ play a week (based on some of the stories I came up during August). It is a realistic goal that is still challenging and fun at the same time.

2 – Learn to compartamentalise your life, so you can enjoy your different roles (mother, wife, writer, lawyer, whatever…) more, with less guilt.

3 – Have some sort of routine. In particular in the beginning. Most writers I’ve read about tend to have a set time for writing that is sacred, usually when the kids are asleep or at school. I have not yet found the ideal time for me. I am more productive early in the morning but that’s when my boys need their breakfast, so I have to find an alternative…

4 – Learn to accept that you cannot do everything and that there are things that you may want to delegate or simplify. This will always depend on your personal priorities.

Some interesting resources I’ve found:

Book: “Writing Motherhood“. I stumbled into this book and was impressed by its reviews. I’ve just ordered it and look forward to reviewing it here later on.

There is a very interesting article in the Boston Globe (click here), where five writers who are also mothers discuss how being mothers has helped/hindered them.

Podcast: Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m not a big fan of hers and I’ve only listened to the first two episodes of this podcast, but I liked what I heard so far, in particular the second episode, where she has a conversation with Cheryl Strayed on motherhood and creativity.

There are many blogs dealing with this subject as well. It made me feel so much better to read about so many successful writers who experience similar feelings to mine. The blogs I liked the most:

Motherese (it’s got interesting articles about different mother-writers)

The Rachel Papers (blog of the Australian writer Rachel Power, who wrote a book on Motherhood and Creativity, which I also hope to read soon…)

Literary Mama

Ok, that’s my weekly blogging time gone… time to go back to my boys 🙂

 

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31 plays x 31 days challenge – mid-point review

I’m half-way through the 31×31 challenge and so far I’ve only finished one play in a day, but I’ve managed to come up with 13 interesting ideas (I had to skip a day). Not all of them are worth developing further, but I feel that at least a couple of them are good enough to use as base for future work. More than anything, I’m happy that I managed to find the time to write, every day, no matter what. If I can keep up this habit,  I’ll be a contented person for the rest of my life!

So, in terms of what is helping: As I said in my earlier post, using the Pomodoro Technique hugely helps. I get lots done in one short but very intense burst. Also, I’m using the “Way of life” app, which allows you to track habits. It is exactly what I was looking for. Many times I’ve read about how Jerry Seinfeld swears by the “Don’t Break the Chain” method, by which you are meant to write everyday no matter what, or else you would break the chain and would have to start the whole process again. I  see how that method can be helpful and a good motivator for many people. But it doesn’t work for me; I’ve tried it, and found that if I wasn’t able to write on a particular day, because life happens, then I would lose motivation and wouldn’t write again for a while. Instead, this app allows you to have something similar, but more flexible and “accommodating” of real life pressures. So if you write, you mark the day as green; if you don’t, you mark it as red, but if you don’t write because of exceptional circumstances, you can just “skip” that day, without breaking “the chain”. The more green I see on the screen, the more fired up I am to continue (even when there is one skipped day thrown in there!). I just hope I’ll be able to stay on track!

 

On being accountable and building a realistic writing routine

Like most people who choose to write as a hobby, I struggle when it comes to finding a realistic writing routine. I have days or weeks when I feel inspired and manage to carve out regular slots of time to sit down and write; however, these bursts of writing energy tend to be followed by months of complete inactivity. I am getting tired of this vicious circle. I’ve looked into many tools and methods that help create new habits, but have not used any of them in a consistent enough manner fort them to truly be of help. So I’ve decided to start again, and use this blog as a way of staying accountable. I’ll write every week to share what I have (or have not) achieved and the tools I’ve used to do that…

1) First things first – Setting writing goals

I used to have a boss that would constantly ask me to set out my 5-year plan. That used to drive me mad, as there is no way I can think (and plan) so far ahead. I can have a vague idea of what I want, but I struggle with the details when there are so many unknowns. I find short and medium term goals easier to work with.

So  here go my short and medium term goals:

Short goal: Come up with one story/play idea a day for 31 days (I’ve started this on 1 August). My initial intention was to follow the “31 plays in 31 days project”, but I soon realised that I didn’t have the time (or the energy) to write a full play (even if they were in short format) every day. However, I thought it would be a good enough challenge to come up with an interesting and fleshy idea every day (something I can develop into a full-length play later on).

Medium term goal: To have finished, to a good standard, two short plays by end of the year.

I’ve got some longer term goals in my head, but for now I’ll only focus on these two…

2) Getting organised – Finding time to write:

Finding time to write and staying focused are two key things I need to master if I want to achieve my goal. Because I have two 15 month old babies, work full-time and have other side projects, finding a regular spot to write is almost impossible. I’ve tried getting up before the babies or staying up late but soon accepted that I need to embrace flexibility and write whenever, wherever. Having a clear daily goal hugely helps, I find that as the end of the day approaches I have more urgency to write. What helps me stay focus and keep my writing “sacred” and separate from the rest of the world that surrounds me, is using the “Pomodoro Technique”. I break-down my writing into slots of 25 minutes. The more I can fit in a day, the better. But to my amazement, even with only one Pomodoro slot a day, I manage to write a lot. I strongly recommend this technique for people who struggle to find time or tend to procrastinate…

3) Staying accountable:

Apart from using this blog to stay accountable, I’ve picked a “habit tracker” app from one of the many available out there, to make sure I mark every day and reward myself for my achievements…

Because I’m not so concerned about my word count this time, I’ve ignored word counting apps…

So with that… I’ll go and set the clock for my next writing session!

Goal

Best way to write… is there any?

 

 

fb073-longhand

I recently listened to an interview with my two favorite teacher-writers, Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron; they were asked about writing methods and whether longhand was a requisite for a full writing experience, or if writing on a keypad was acceptable. As I expected, they were both partial to handwriting, but they acknowledged that writing on a laptop worked for many people. They believe that it is usually more difficult to achieve the same level of spiritual connection with your writing if you are not using a pen and paper; somehow by typing on a keypad the whole activity becomes more cerebral, and less intuitive. I agree wholeheartedly with that. I LOVE writing by hand; it feels intimate; it allows me to truly switch off and float. It is not the same thing when I write on my laptop. I keep re-editing what I write; there is no flow. Not for me, anyway. However, if you want to write a lot, and you want to be able to edit, and produce something you can work from, nothing beats the laptop. I hugely admire those writers that are able to write whole books by hand, with very little editing. When I think of Dickens, Victor Hugo, writing masterpieces on paper, and then think of modern writers complaining about writer’s block… maybe it is because now we can start a story many times over and then edit it a thousand times without having to re-write the entire thing…maybe we have too many options when using a laptop; too many directions our stories can take…

I thought that it would be interesting to do a poll about this…