Over the past couple of months it’s been so encouraging to talk with friends and family about the publishing of my first novel. Invariably, the conversation tends to end up in the same place:
With three young children, where do you find the time?
I mean, it is a valid question. Most people, for one reason or another, have some sense of the exhaustion and time demands that characterize being a mom to three young kids.
I’ve felt it all to my core.
When I began my writing journey in January of 2020 our youngest was only a month old and I was still very much in the fourth trimester (where the world is a bit of a blur). We also had a toddler who had an unfortunate tendency to scream for hours in the night. And then there was our busy four year old who needed constant entertainment. Then there was the pandemic, canceled preschool, mounting restrictions, and a husband who was battling health issues.
It’s a miracle that I accomplished anything… let alone write a novel.
But I did.
I wrote it entirely in the margins of my days over two years. There were no writing retreats or extended hours of solace. In fact, I don’t think that I was ever able to string together much more than a couple of hours at a time. There were no picturesque desks or perfectly curated workspaces. My writing space was anywhere that I could balance my computer on my knees.
So, back to the question…
How in the world did I manage to write a book?
I decided to.
I know that feels like a pat response, but that decision became the catalyst that propelled me. The temptation to make excuses NOT to write was intense. Honestly, I had every reason to quit, or even just delay the process. My world was upside down. Well, the entire world was upside down.
But I couldn’t help myself from wondering…what if…
What if I decided to creatively find a way to prioritize my personal goal?
What if I decided to uncover and maximize pockets of time in my day?
What if I decided to make sacrifices to gain something I had always dreamed of?
It was not impossible. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t impossible.
However, practically speaking, I knew that making the decision was only the first step. I could decide to all I wanted, but I needed to put some feet to that decision.
The following action points are what worked for me and for my reality to bring my little book baby to life.
- Time Audit
When my husband and I were first married, we read Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover and it completely changed the trajectory of our finances. We came into our marriage with over $53,000 worth of combined debt and within eleven months, by following the plan outlined in that book, we were debt-free with the exception of our mortgage.
One of the primary tools for monitoring our money was a budget. (Sidenote: I am so incredibly grateful for the amount of time and effort Jeremy has put into keeping our budget up to date over the past nine years, because it’s literally been the best gift.) But before we started our budget, we needed to take a month and just track our spending so that we could see where our money actually was being spent.
I found it helpful to approach time in the same way.
As a young mom, my time is in high demand. Just like with our budget, I needed to take an audit of my day to see exactly where my time was being spent. Here were some things I wanted to consider:
- What does a typical day look like for me?
- Where are there pockets of down time in my day?
- What parts of my schedule are non-negotiable?
- What things can I multitask with writing?
- What season of life am I in and how does that impact my time?
After being intentional (and honest) about my time, I made some interesting discoveries.
- There were large chunks of time where I was sitting and rocking a baby or sitting and waiting for my children to fall asleep. Those times I was typically on my phone, scrolling through social media or watching Netflix.
- From wake up until lunch I rarely stopped, but after lunch my children and I were both ready for some quiet time.
- After the kids went to bed, I was typically worn-out, but not ready to go to sleep. I needed some time to myself before starting the process over again.
- The amount of time that I spent streaming shows was surprisingly shocking. If you’ve never used your phone to track your usage of each app, I highly recommend it (but brace yourself for the results!).
I’ve recently heard Caleb Peavy, an expert in creative marketing, explain it by saying that “you can’t be a creator and a consumer at the same time.” The realization that most of my free time was spent consuming media when I could be creating was fundamental in pushing me toward success.
- Determining Periods of High Energy
This goes hand in hand with taking an audit of my time. While I needed to know how I was spending my time, I also needed to know my own body and exactly when I was able to function most efficiently.
Years ago, I listened to a message by Carey Nieuwhof where he talked about the difference between managing your time and managing your energy. Without realizing it, Carey had set me on a course to rethink the way that I approached my day. You can check out what he has to say about it here or learn more about it in his book, At Your Best.
An author that I am inspired by, Robin Jones Gunn, has talked about how in the days of being a young mother she would wake in the wee hours of the morning to write before the rest of her family was awake.
That would not work for me. I am not an early morning person. I am more of a “hit the snooze button three times and start bargaining with myself about how fast I can get ready” type of person. Sure, I can get up early when I need to, but I do not enjoy it and I am in a fog for at least an hour.
However, I am able to stay awake late into the night regardless of how tired I am. Looking at my energy map and my time audit I was able to determine that my most productive window of time would be after my children went to sleep.
Knowing my energy peaks so that I could maximize them became vitally important.
- Prioritizing Personal Goals
When I finally decided that I was ready to kickstart my writing journey, the goal was to write and (hopefully) publish a fictional novel. As I dug into the project, my ambitions snowballed as I also decided to join a writing community, launch a blog, redesign my social media, and try to build my email list. Very quickly, it became clear that on any given day I could either hit my daily word count for my book or work on a draft of a blog post or design a graphic and write up for social media, but I could not do all of those things. Heck, a lot of days I could hardly do one.
I needed to figure out what was the most important task for me to accomplish on any given day and be okay with letting the rest slide.
- Joy in the Small Steps
The old saying that “comparison is the thief of joy” could not be more true. My writing journey was not like that of some of my writing colleagues. There were milestones and markers that I simply could not meet given the nature of my world; I needed to be okay with baby steps over leaps and strides.
Because the truth is that baby steps are still steps in the right direction. I was able to find joy in the fact that I was moving toward my dream, even if I was moving slowly. My goal was to end the day further ahead than when I started, whether it was five hundred words or fifty words.
- Heapings of Grace
There were days—many, many days—when my children would wake up sick or I would spend the night soothing nightmares or the wheels would fall off of our bus entirely. On those days I would bumble through until bedtime feeling like a zombie. When that happened, I needed to extend myself a lot of grace.
It was important to understand my limits and that meant not accepting guilt for the times I was unable to do much more than be. Pushing hard is good, but not pushing can be good, too.
If you have a dream that you cannot shake, I pray that you will find creative ways to make space for that. If you feel comfortable sharing, drop a comment below. I would love to hear about it.
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