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I promised myself when I had a child that I would not give up writing. Well, thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo, an abbreviated version of NaNoWriMo which is held every November, I managed to write 15,000 words in the month of April.

Having a three week old when Camp NaNo started, I have to admit to being impressed with myself for writing an average of 500 words a day throughout the month. Now, my firstborn is two months old, I’ve been in the process of editing my current WIP for months, and my blog has gone dormant.

How priorities change when you have such little time to yourself.

NaNoWriMo teaches me something new every time I participate in it. But one thing April’s Camp NaNo taught me was the importance of making achievable goals and taking deadlines seriously. Although I often self-impose deadlines on myself (e.g. edit novel by son’s birth, or post a blog a week on this blog), there’s something to be said for having others hold you accountable. I know when I have someone check in on me or I have a real deadline (not a self-imposed one) looming over me, I take things more seriously. I forgo turning on the TV, or put the pleasure book down, and pick up my WIP instead.

During Camp NaNo, I forced myself to sit down and write 500 words a day (or an average of), and I was constantly checking with myself to make sure that I would make 15K words by the deadline of April 30th. That involved prioritizingplanning ahead, and keeping track of my progress. Let me explain…

1) Prioritizing

Especially now that I am caring for an infant all day long, I must prioritize my day. If I want Because I need to get writing done, I have to put it in the list of things to accomplish. Some of my day can’t be changed, like feeding my son, sterilizing bottles, doing laundry so I have enough burp clothes and clothes for my child to wear, making dinner so my family has something to eat, buying groceries (and diapers) so I can make said dinner (or diaper said child) … but how long I spend on those tasks and when and how I do them is somewhat alterable. For example, Amazon’s subscribe and save is a great way to buy diapers ahead of time so there isn’t a last minute dash to the store for diapers. I can buy non-perishable food on Amazon, buying some groceries without leaving my house and increasing the time I have to write in my day. (But online shopping, alas, does not completely replace physically leaving my house to shop.)

One of the pieces of advice I heard the most while pregnant and shortly after my son’s birth was to “let the chores go and sleep when the baby sleeps.” Well now, that’s grand advice. If you want to accomplish nothing but keeping that child alive, do it. That advice failed to work for me. With four animals in the house, my husband and I still needing to eat, multiple doctor appointments a week for my son and some for me, copy edits still needing to be completed, my WIP in shambles … sleeping when the baby slept was all but impossible.

But beyond life responsibilities, I have a promise to myself to keep: don’t stop writing. So even though writing isn’t essential to a person’s life, I am hopelessly devoted to it. (Yes, if I had to, I could live without it–but I don’t want to, and I will find ways to write even with the precious little time I have anymore.)

2) Planning Ahead

For Camp NaNo I had to know how many words I needed to write every day–a number that would changed based on each day’s progress. (True, I could have just written that base of 500 words, but some days that simply didn’t happen for one unavoidable reason or another and I had to recalculate, which NaNo makes easy actually.) In order to reach that daily goal, I had to have some idea of what I was going to write when I sat down at the computer.

People tend to fall into the category of either outlining or sprinting away from outlines. I fall somewhere in the middle, to be honest. I never used to outline, but after completing several first drafts now lingering in various states of constant editing, I realized I needed a more efficient process. Now, I complete a sort of outline, and after completing my first draft, redraft my outline for a second draft (the current point I’m at in my WIP). This has drastically shortened the number of times I completely rewrite a scene. If you’re like me, a constant perfectionist editor, then try an outline. If it doesn’t work, blame me and return to your old ways.

3) Keeping Track of My Progress

In order to meet a goal or deadline, I must be able to track how far I’ve gone. The easiest way to do this for me is to keep track of word count. While editing, I tend to keep track of scenes or chapters, whichever is easiest for my project (I tried counting pages, but that got difficult when I would jump around and the page numbers would change when I deleted entire scenes).

I write down my progress in two places:

  1. first in the manuscript itself (I mark where I began, the word count I began at, and mark where I end along with the day’s final word count–even if I skipped around and return to that same section the next day),
  2. and then in a spreadsheet where I transcribe the same information.

The reason I do this in a spreadsheet as well as the manuscript, is so that I can easily go back and look at a month’s progress without flipping though my entire manuscript.

I’m sure others have different methods for keeping track of their progress, and I’d love to hear how in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for an easier way to track my progress!

In Conclusion…

When I got pregnant, I knew everything would change. However, I promised myself that I would maintain an active writing life. And so far, although this blog has suffered, and my writing has (temporarily) slowed, I have maintained a forward progress on my WIP.

My priorities, by necessity, have changed.

I often think of this blog with a stab of guilt for letting it go dormant so long. But keeping my child in good health, fed, changed, and entertained has taken 99% of my time. The remainder of that time is spent on my own WIP, and throughout the early months of this year, my first copy editing project: an anthology that I had the pleasure to both edit and write a short story for.

That anthology is now available on Amazon.com, so check it out if you like! It’s called The Way Back, and I had a wonderful time working with Michael Hiebert (prolific writer and author of Dream with Little Angels and Journeys Under the Moon: Writing and the Hero’s Quest to name only a couple), and on all the stories there, as well as writing my own short story, an excerpt of which I will share in my next blog post (I promise!).

This blog, although I enjoy it and think of it often, has been required to take a backseat. At least for now. I don’t intend to give up on this blog forever, but my posts will most likely be sporadic over the next year or more. I love sharing and learning about writing, and I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon.

A side note:

Journeys Under the Moon is a fantastic source for story structure. Hiebert taught a class on the subject using his book as a guide, and I have no regrets about enrolling in that class. It was some of the best time I’ve spent learning to write and learning to craft a story from start to finish. Check it out, I dare you.

Another Small Note:

There is an awesome website writing challenge called “A Round of Words in 80 Days,” which I have participated with in the past. Row80, as it is shortened to, is for people “with a life,” when they can’t drop everything they do in order to join NaNoWriMo once or twice a year. Its focus is daily achievement with realistic goals that factor in your life. It encourages you to make and meet goals, keeping them realistic and adjusting them if need be throughout the 80 day cycle. Four cycles are completed each year, and it’s a great community to get involved in if NaNoWriMo isn’t for you (too intense, wrong time of year, etc.). It helps to keep  you accountable to your writing life, and requires you to post on your blog your goals and your progress. It’s so great, in fact, I should sign up again!