Monday, April 11, 2011

Schedules, rituals, & routines

Last year I got to meet the fantastic, super-cool Blake Charlton. The man is an inspiration--he's going to Stanford medical school and putting out quality fantasy fiction. And he blogs and tweets and cracks up everybody around him, too.

Of course, the first thing everybody asks is: "How the heck do you manage to go to med school and still have time to write?" I asked it. He volleyed: "You're a mom. How do you do it?"

I honestly don't know how Blake does it, because medical school isn't like other school. Going to (normal!) school and raising kids are both lifestyles that can actually dovetail quite nicely with the writing life, because children and school both demand structure--a schedule, a regular routine.

A smart writer finds a way to settle into a regular writing schedule. You get used to writing at certain times, and your body helps remind you to sit down and pump out some words. It's a lot like the way that if you eat lunch every day at a certain time, you'll be hungry even if your schedule gets thrown off.

Kids thrive with routines. It's comforting for them to have clear expectations about their day. You can use that to your advantage if you're a writer. My daughter comes home from school and eats a snack--but then she very regularly takes some quiet time to herself. Sometimes she hangs out in her room and listens to a book on CD. Sometimes she watches a movie. Sometimes she just disappears into the basement and hides. But I can pretty much count on at least half an hour of downtime in the afternoon that I can use to catch up on weird writerly tasks (blogging or reading slush or something).

School kids often have a structured rhythm to their week, as well. I feel a sort of ticking clock during the week--a friendly pressure to get the bulk of my writing work done before the weekend. That nudging really encourages me to keep on top of my to-do lists.

Kids also need a certain amount of ritual. Rituals are related to routines; they help kids mark off time and make it meaningful. Rituals come at the small scale (the careful rite of bedtime activities, the same every single day) and the large scale (the comforting ritual of Thanksgiving family breakfast followed by time in nature) and even the sporadic (weddings and funerals).

Writers can use ritual to their benefit, too. Having a certain specified sequence at the beginning of your writing session can help you shift from the prosaic world into the creative realm. Doing something special when you start or complete a project can help you cut your ties to a project so you can move your energy into the next one.

For me, I can't imagine being a mom who wasn't a writer. In part, it's because in those brief months when The Midget and I lived alone, I realized that to be a good parent I would have to put aside all pretenses and be really and purely myself. If I was going to be psychologically healthy enough to take care of a kid, I was going to have to take care of myself and live my life purposefully, with intention and passion. I knew I was going to have to give her advice about pursuing her dreams, and I couldn't undermine those values by turning my back on hers.

Your children deserve parents who are the best possible people they can be. And if you are a writer, then you owe it to them and yourself to be the best possible writer you can be. It might sound overwhelming, but you can make it a part of your ordinary life. Getting the words out is just like remembering to brush your teeth before bed: a routine. A ritual.

1 comment:

Christie said...

Well said! I'm trying to make it a habit again. A little tricky, as you know, because there are other things that also need our time. I'm hoping that just setting aside these hours--whether it's for writing or editing or whatever other commitments we have--using this time well and consistently will become natural.