The other afternoon, my oldest daughter–4 years old–came up to me in the bathroom after I’d just finished washing off the hour I’d spent on the cardio machines at the gym. She had her iPad in hand with the timer running and she held it up to me and said, “There, Mom. Now your minutes won’t fly by anymore.”
Ah, kids. They see right to the truth of things, don’t they?
Yes, since the day my first daughter was born, my schedule has been in disarray, never with enough time to do everything. First, with the middle of the night feedings, there wasn’t much of a schedule at all. There were two nap times, then there was one. Then came another baby, which started it all over again. And even now, both girls wake up at a different hour based on the season. The most recent schedule change was my fault when I joined the gym and have had to figure out the most optimal time to fit it in around meal times and nap times and the times loosely titled, “this is roughly when mommy needs a break or she’ll need to schedule a meltdown.” Except today, they have runny noses so we can’t go to the gym at all. Just when I think I’ve got my writing time figured out, something changes again.
Jobs, family commitments, school, change in seasons. It’s always something threatening to push writing time aside.
I like schedules. I like waking up knowing when I’m going to get the time I need to make progress on my story. I also understand that part of having a schedule is allowing for flexibility. Life changes all the time and unexpectedly and in an instant and if we allow those surprises to derail us, pretty soon days and weeks and months pass and the writing doesn’t happen. People ask me all the time how I manage to write with two kids under 5 and the answer is complex and yet simple: I just do. It doesn’t happen every day but it is a big priority in my life, so I adapt. I have to.
I know a lot of parents are about to shift their schedules again as their kids (or they themselves) return to school. Here are a few ideas for making writing part of your everyday life, no matter what pops up:
- Make an “ideal” schedule. If you had 100% control over your day, while also taking into account all of your commitments, how would you fit everything in? Get creative with it. Once you have it, stick to it as best you can, knowing it won’t always work. The great part about the ideal schedule is that when you inevitably get lost along the way, you have something to come back to, to center you.
- Don’t be inflexible. I’ve wasted a lot of time making that mistake. I often get so frustrated on the days I wake up early to write only to have the girls, for the first time ever in their lives, wake up even earlier than that. It’s easy to allow the writing not to happen because it wasn’t how I planned it, but the only one who loses from because of my irritation is me…and my work-in-progress.
- Reassess often. Whenever a more “permanent” shift in your schedule happens, pull out your “ideal schedule” again and take that into account. Or, if you ever reach a point where you’re not being as productive as you wish you were, you may need to change things up just to keep your creative mind on its toes.
- Stay in control. I think the hardest, scariest, most frustrating part is feeling like you aren’t in control of you own schedule and by extension, you life. Don’t fall into that way of thinking. Remember that no matter who counts on you or what your days entail, you are the one who decides how you allocate your time. It isn’t always easy to say no or to sacrifice, but just as your days may sometimes shift to become harder, one day soon they will shift to become easier too.
As much as I wish my daughter could do some fancy trick on an iPad to make time move slower or add more hours to my day, the reality is my only choices are to put my work on the back burner until a long expanse of easy days open at my feet, or I have to make the most of the time I have. For now, I can live with busy days and a certain amount of chaos. What I can’t live with is allowing my minutes to fly by without using them to get one step closer to my dreams.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.” – Annie Dillard