A Motherly Writing Pace

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Guest Post by Kelsie Engen
This post was written by Kelsie and was originally featured on her site, kelsieengen.com

These days my writing life is achingly slow. 

Like my daily goal of 500 words is often overwhelming. And by overwhelming, I mean stressful to the point where I feel like snapping at my 4-year-old, exasperated with my 2-month-old, and irritable with my husband for whatever he’s (not) doing wrong. *Sigh*

The only way I get any writing done is by waking before 5 a.m. to hastily write on my phone (thank you, Scrivener, where I do 90% of my writing these days). And honestly, that doesn’t even feel like writing.

Has anyone else felt like this lately, or is it just me?

Thankfully, I wrote about this on Instagram one day, and was rejuvenated by the response from my followers. (Gotta say, IG is one of the best writing communities I’ve found.)

Here’s what happened when I vented:
a) I was validated for having a lot to deal with at the moment, and
b) I learned that others feel the same way.

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Working and raising a family is a constant balance, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that working from home without childcare and trying to raise two young children is absolutely exhausting and beyond frustrating.

After starting this blog post, I read an article on The Writer about motherhood from a freelance writer and shared it with my Twitter and Facebook followers. It touched a chord deep in me as her words rang true. Here are a couple of gems that spoke to me:

"The truth is that I don’t find the time to write. Finding the time is a myth: the time doesn’t exist to be found.
I make time for writing because it’s a life preserver in a sea of diapers and tantrums and middle-of-the-night wakings and arguments with a 2-year-old about the colour of the sky. I make time for writing because it makes me heartbroken not to.
What I do know is that when I make the time to write, I’m not being selfish or indulgent. I’m not wasting time or dabbling in a trivial hobby. I’m not saying that being a writer is more important than being a mother."

I don’t think non-writers understand this kind of longing.

Perhaps if they liken it to their favourite obsession or artistic hobby they do; I suppose I couldn’t know. But this kind of non-writing guilt, the ache and itch that writers constantly fight… it’s like a disease you can’t shake. And moms who write get afflicted with this more than others, I think. (I can only speak as a mom who writes, so dad writers who might be reading this, forgive me if I offend).

Writers often speak of being unable to give up writing, while motherhood – this all-consuming, endless, exhausting job/career/lifestyle –can suck all the writing time out of your life like a giant vacuum more efficient than the one we mothers just ran over the hairy, puke-stained carpet with.

So we carve out the time to write by not scouring every puke stain, or letting the laundry sit unfolded until we need the basket again, or set the toddler in front of far too much TV just for 5 uninterrupted minutes of writing time. Because “a non-writing writer is a writer courting insanity.”

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What I’ve personally learned lately is this:

1. Kids never cooperate when you want them to.
No, instead they have needs that we don’t expect to have to meet when we don’t want to meet them.

2. Kids are a constant death to self sort of revelation.
Am I really that selfish? (Spoiler: yes, I am.)

3. Kids are a constant reminder that writing is one thing that makes me feel like me.
I chose this, and it’s hard some days to accept that fact and the distraction from writing that kids are. Don’t get me wrong: I love them dearly. (But they are time consuming little beasts that can drive a woman to wine!)

4. Kids are a terrible joy.
Yes, they really are. They are sweet, loving bundles of energy, frustration, terror, and chaos.

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Personally, I find parenthood a mixture of the above things – with or without writing.

But infancy exacerbates everything. Never does a kid need you so much as when they are a newborn. Waking, sleeping, eating, pooping, oh boy. There’s not one thing they don’t need you for. It’s utterly exhausting.

Not a day goes by now that I don’t wonder how or why people (especially mothers) do this again and again. After the first one, my husband and I almost decided to quit right then and there, come out ahead with one healthy kid, ya know?

Somehow, three years down the road, we decided we’d like another. (I’ve since decided we might have been crazy, but too late.)

So, how do I get anything done these days? Thank goodness for Scrivener on iOS. And an ability to ignore heaps of laundry and dishes. And dust.

Honestly, my laptop hasn’t gotten a lot of use lately. It seems that every time I break it out, it trumpets an announcement to my children that I will be doing something other than focusing on their tiniest of needs. And that is utterly unacceptable by their standards, let me assure you.

But the phone, well that’s a little bit more subtle. I can even track my word counts on it with Scrivener, and that makes me happy. (No, I’m not a Scrivener affiliate, but perhaps I should look into that). Still, every day is a reminder that this time of life is a season of slowing down.

My children are only babies once. They won’t be held and cuddled forever. Pretty soon they won’t want me to hold them or kiss them or even hug them. Being forced to slow down forces me to evaluate how I spend my time.

There have been a few surprises, even to me.

1. My return to blogging.
I’ve found it rather cathartic. It’s also a form of shorter writing that perhaps feels more encouraging so that I can finish something without more investment and it’s not too hard to pick up my place after getting distracted.

2. My struggle with my series and other novels
Never before have I been so forgetful and felt so utterly failed as a writer. (That doesn’t even make sense, but maybe you know what I mean.) I walk away from a good day’s writing, having put down 1000 words or so, only to realize that 999 of those words are a rabbit trail which, looking back in the context of something I later reread, doesn’t even make sense for the plot. And that’s frustrating beyond measure.

3. My addiction to writing
It’s as much my identity as mom or wife or daughter is. It’s who I am, and by accepting that and fighting for it, I reconfirm how vital it is to me. Could I live without writing? Yes. But, like living without my husband or kids, there would always be an empty spot in me aching for it to come back.

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To get more done, I've focused on the following: 

1. Prioritize
Honestly, this is number one to me. If I have a writing deadline, self-imposed or otherwise, then I have to get it done first. Whether it’s 500 words or a blog post or a short story revision or an editing job, it must be done before the “fun” stuff can be done. (Netflix, I’m lookin’ at you.)

2. I can’t do it all
This falls into line with number one, but I've accepted that I cannot accomplish everything I want to. Our time, mental ability, etc., are all limited resources. Thus we must prioritize and realize (simultaneously) that only some things on our “I wish I could do list” will get done today. Especially as a stay-at-home-mom, the to-do list is never finished. Never.

3. This is a phase
Repeat after me: “This is a phase. This too shall pass.” Some days, that’s all I have left to cling to after another day of 50 words or less put down on my WIP and I’m too exhausted after the kids are in bed to even string two coherent words together. Some days when the kids are up way too early and need me nonstop, and I am that insane writer who hasn’t written in three days, this is all I can tell myself.

Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow is another day. I leave a legacy with my kids, one that is far more important to me than a few words on a page.

Kelsie Engen is a writer, editor, literary fiction lover, classic book lover, warrior of God, mother of two, insatiably curious learner, too much a thinker, debater, NaNoWriMo-er, constant editor, runner, horse racing lover, classic movie lover, amateur photographer... (None of the above in any particular order). You can visit her website or say hi on Instagram @kelsieengen.