writing routine

Why I Got Rid of All My Notebooks

decluttering as a writer

I've been receiving notebooks as gifts for as long as I can remember. Well, as long as I was telling people I wanted to be a writer. Notebooks are easy gifts: they can be beautiful, they can be practical, and it's an easy writing accessory that everyone understands. 

As someone who has kept a journal my entire life, these notebook gifts have been a blessing, honestly. I've rarely had to buy my own journals, especially if someone goes above-and-beyond and gives me a Moleskine for Christmas. However, it also has meant that I've always had a surplus of notebooks. 

In fact, this surplus started to get really embarrassing when I was pregnant. I unearthed a box of blank notebooks while getting organized and cleaning out Forrest's room. I had a stack of empty notebooks on my desk, on the bookshelf in my office, in a drawer under my desk... I had notebooks. I had notebooks upon notebooks. I had more notebooks than I would ever use in my life. Why? Because I cannot hand write fiction, or poetry, or anything. The only thing I use notebooks for is journaling. And a girl can only journal so much. 

It was time to bite the bullet. I always wanted to be the kind of person who could quietly sit with a notebook and write a story. At least get out the bare bones of it. I like journaling by hand and I like taking notes; I like writing out my grocery lists and to do lists. But trying to describe something, to actually write, by hand is a huge challenge for me. I know myself well enough now to know that it's just never going to happen. That's fine! 

So I had to get rid of all those notebooks. 

Some of them were beautiful, and expensive. Some of them I had bought myself, sure that the "right notebook" would spur my creativity. Some were cheap ones I'd bought in the last days of School Supply sales. Some were gifts. Some were party favors, or I received free from work. 

They all went. Into a box, that went to Goodwill, that hopefully sold them to someone who needed them, who can actually write in a notebook. It felt weird to let go of them, to let go of the idea of the kind of person I thought I could try to be. 

Writing with a Toddler: How to Win NaNoWriMo & More

As another NaNoWriMo check in: I officially won NaNoWriMo on Thanksgiving Day!

I hit a small snag when I copied & pasted my 50,100 word novel into the NaNoWriMo validator and was told I'd only written 49,600 words. I copied and pasted again and, again, was told I'd written 49,800 words. Ok, so at least it went up. 

The word count validator was broken, NaNoWriMo.org didn't believe me on Twitter, and it was a huge pain. I wrote an additional 600 word scene, while screeching at my husband and homph-gomphing some extra coffee, and got validated, but I'm still mad. 

Why am I still mad? 

Because writing with a toddler is really, really hard. 

Writing 1600 extra words per day with a toddler is a challenge that I'm not entirely sure why I took on, but I did it. 

And I did it exactly 5 days before the deadline. 

I'm sorry, but I'm very impressed with myself right now. 

I'm somewhat less than impressed that I've blogged what? Five times in November alongside NaNoWriMo? That's a big oops, but in my defense, November has been quite the month, personally and socially, so it's to be expected. 

When it comes to writing with a toddler, I find myself constantly challenged. I'm creative all day at my day job and when I get home, I'm pretty much moving nonstop. I'm playing with Forrest; I'm making dinner; I'm cleaning as I go. It's hard to be creative when you're mentally and emotionally wiped out, that's for sure.

But when it comes to writing, I set a few rules for myself. 

1. I try to set aside 30-60 minutes every evening to write.

This might be when Forrest is spending time with Danny, post-dinner but pre-bedtime. Or this might be when Forrest is already asleep. If I have important chores to do (like vacuuming, laundry, or deep cleaning the kitchen), I put them off until later in the evening. I make myself write--whether it's for NaNoWriMo or work, my blog or in my journal--for at least 30 minutes. It just has to be done. 

During NaNoWriMo, by keeping this schedule, I really improved my word count. I also found that if I got Forrest to nap while I wore him in our Ergo, I could get a solid 45 minute (or more!) writing time in. It all adds up. 

2. Don't worry about writing when your toddler awake. 

Maybe it's just me, but I know myself and I know my child. I cannot get anything done with him during the day. I can lightly clean the kitchen, keep him fed and clean, and work on organizing downstairs. But the minute I try to sit down, he's all over me. If I'm on the couch with my laptop, he wants the laptop. If I'm at the kitchen counter with my laptop, he's standing at the gate crying because I'm not with him. If I try to write while I'm feeding him lunch, he's yelling because he needs all of my attention. That's how it is with toddlers. And really, I'd rather get him to repeat "all done" or play pattycake than write anyway. 

3. Give yourself a break.

You know what? There are some days where I just can't write. Where I'm just so tired (Forrest is teething or he refused to eat all day, or we had doctor's appointments, or whatever) that I can't do anything else. On those days, I curl up on the couch and watch the Simpsons, or I run a nice bath, grab my Kindle, and turn on my favorite podcast. And you know what? I don't beat myself up. It's ok! You can't get everything done! That's fine. Forgive yourself. 

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Follow Up: Is It Possible to NaNoWriMo with a Newborn?

Months ago, in the time I refer to as "pre-Forrest," I wrote a little post about attempting NaNoWriMo the month after Forrest was born. At the time, I really felt like NaNoWriMo was both possible and totally impossible. So much of it depended on "how things were going" with the baby and, as I've written before, I had no reason to believe I wouldn't have the absolutely perfect little darling newborn. 

I got a comment recently on that old post about whether I succeeded at NaNoWriMo. In November of 2015, I had fully planned to write follow up posts--but if you go back in my archives, you'll see I posted only 3 times in an entire month. So that's how that went. 

I realize, however, that I never actually wrote a follow up. So here it is, nearly a year later. My NaNoWriMo with a newborn follow up. 

Did I Succeed? 

When it comes to success at NaNoWriMo, the deciding factor is, obviously, did I hit 50,000 words? The answer is no, I didn't. So I failed. 

However, I did write about 20,000 words in the first 2 weeks of November. That is obviously Not the Goal, but it's a sizable enough number, especially given the fact that I was caring for a very fresh little human, pumping every 2 hours, and taking care of a house. For the first 2 weeks of November, Forrest still slept relatively well in his swing for naps, so I could squeeze in 30-40 minutes of writing before I had to hold him and watch TV. (Not that I minded.) By the second week, however, he was rebelling against the swing, so I took to wearing him in my Boba wrap to write. This worked reasonably well until he started to hate the Boba wrap, so I was relegated to the couch again. 

In November, Forrest was still quite small and sleeping a lot--like, most of the day. If I got a few spare minutes, I was eating or making another pot of coffee or trying to clean up my house. I stopped worrying about NaNoWriMo and thus, gave up on it. 

I got about halfway there, which is farther than some people get. And, full disclosure, I also pumped about 800 ounces of breast milk in November, so who's a failure really

What I Learned

Life is nothing without lessons. Whenever I don't do as well at something as I expected, I try to at least take some kind of lesson from it. So, if you're expecting a baby and thinking of attempting NaNoWriMo with your newborn (or just-out-of-that newborn stage baby), here are my suggestions: 

  • Be realistic. Not every baby will nap independently as a newborn. Some babies are great sleepers, but poor eaters, which means you have to keep a diligent eating schedule. If you are having your baby right before November, you have no idea what kind of baby your baby will be, so set realistic goals for yourself. 
  • Know that you'll be exhausted. This goes without saying, but if you have a few spare moments to sleep, you'll take them--versus writing.
  • Get a good wrap or baby carrier. I love my Ergo (I wish I'd gotten it instead of the Boba wrap). I still wear Forrest for naps in the Ergo now. It's easy to sit and work, or wash dishes, or do all kinds of things while you baby wear. 
  •  It's ok if you don't "succeed." Realistically, you might not hit the goal, but if you try, you've still at least tried something
  • At the end of the day, flexing your creative muscles, in whatever capacity you can, will keep you feeling human, even when your life is taken over by the tiniest, meanest boss you've ever had. 

Have you attempted NaNoWriMo with a newborn or young infant? Tell me about it on Twitter @michellelocke_

Preparing for NaNoWriMo in 3 Easy Steps

Are you a NaNoWriMo newbie? 

Take it from someone who has won three (four? I can't even remember) times: preparing for NaNoWriMo is a way of life. I mean, if you want it to be. 

The truth is that you're just as likely to "win" NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month) whether you dive in without a minute of planning or spend a month outlining, scene building, and character mapping. But that doesn't mean you should jump in willy-nilly. If you're really dedicated to writing a 50,000 word novel in November, planning should be part of your process. 

Here are my tips for a successful NaNoWriMo November. 

1. Plan your time.

What's your November look like, time wise, really?

For those in the U.S., November is a holiday month. I've always struggled with NaNoWriMo during the week of Thanksgiving. Be honest with yourself: how much time can you see yourself dedicating to writing (and I mean, really writing) every single day? 30 minutes? An hour?

My goal has always been to spend 30 minutes to an hour every weekday after dinner writing, hopefully to my daily goal (1,700 words). On weekends, I try to dedicate two hours to writing--with the intention to get as many words on the page as possible. This has always worked well for me: on weekends, I can often write 5,000-7,000 words ahead of my goal, which means when Thanksgiving rolls around, I don't wake up at 1am in a cold sweat realizing that I'm now 4,000 words behind my goal. 

2. Write an outline. 

Depending on how you like to write, this might not be an option you love. But hear me out! I'm not typically an outline writer either. I usually like to have a rough idea of what I want to say, what my characters are like, and that's about it. But when it comes to NaNoWriMo, that just won't do

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, you have to think of it like this: it's more of a brain dump than a novel. I know, I know, unpopular opinion. But it's true! When trying to get 50,000 words on the page, you eventually have to settle for any words on the page. And that's much easier to reign in when you have an outline. 

I recommend dividing your rough idea into 10 chapters. Each chapter needs to be at least 5,000 words to hit your goal. Now, write down 5 scenes (1,000 words each) that you want to take place in each chapter. 

Why does this work? Eventually in November, you're going to forget a day, get sick, get tired, or just plain hit a wall. You can always glance at your outline, pick a scene, and write... and at least hit your goal for the day. 

Then you can worry about editing later... like in December. 

3. Get support.

Talk to your friends, your family, your cat or dog. Tell them about your novel; get them pumped about it. Describe the plot, the characters, the setting. Tell them you how much time you want to dedicate to writing everyday. 

Why? you ask. So they can hold you accountable. When you decide to ditch writing for after dinner drinks, you might notice your literature-loving coworker giving you side-eye. "How's the novel?" She'll ask and you'll remember: you're writing a book that she's excited about too. 

The more support you have, the more your friends and family know about your goal, the more they can help you to reach it. That might mean watching your little ones (if you've got 'em) for an hour while you write, or taking your dog for a walk, or promising to bring you a bottle of wine and a pizza after you finish your writing. Start talking about it now and you'll breeze through that novel this November. 

Do  you have your own tips for preparing for NaNoWriMo? Share with me on Twitter or in the comments below!