Ten Lifehacks to Balance Life, Depression, and Writing

My creative journey has been really taking off lately. I’m about to reach a milestone in my draft. A ten-minute version of a play I wrote, Sisters Fight, is about to get staged in New York City! (more details forthcoming. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter @TRPatmore for the most up to date info). I’m really feeling connected to my craft in a way I haven’t felt in years.

What’s the change? So many things! The biggest one, however, is going to sound oh-so-familiar, but here it is–I’m making time to write, and developing a habit. I’m setting goals. More importantly– I’m achieving them!

None of it is easy. Balancing domestic responsibilities, with the needs of my kids, the support role we wives play in our husband’s careers, along with writing is a tricky thing. You know what kind of thing it isn’t? An impossible one.  Here are a few hacks  I’ve discovered that are really helping me succeed. Hopefully, you might find a couple that help you too!bukowski

  1. Be desperate to write. Charles Bukowski said, “writers are desperate people and when they stop being desperate they stop being writers.”  I saw this while mindless scrolling through Instagram, and it hit me like a punch in the chest. I admit, I lost my desperation at some point along the way. I approached becoming a writer with too much skepticism in the past. I’m not sure I was convinced that I could actually do this thing. It was when I stopped to consider what would happen if I had to stop writing that I discovered how desperate I really was. What if all I could do was wait until my children went to bed and squeeze whatever words I had in? What would I do if I only had one hour to write? This one idea changed everything.
  2. Acknowledge weaknesses. There is this group of people in my life whose biggest criticism of me is that I’m “too perfect”. It’s probably one of the most ridiculous statements that I’d ever heard, but they’ve never seen the laundry area of my basement. The fact of the matter is that I am nowhere near perfect. I stink at repetitious tasks; I hate having to make creative decisions on the spot (like what to make for dinner); and I’m also dealing with depression–which makes having the energy to begin tasks damn near impossible. These are the things that make me who I am. Ignoring them doesn’t help me. Acknowledging my weaknesses, however, allows me to work with and around them.
  3. Find a writing partner, group, or creative tribe. I understand if this sounds insurmountable. It can sometimes be tricky to discover like minds. Just try to be open, and take a chance. NaNoWriMo is coming up, and they have great groups which meet-up both virtually, and locally. Reach out to your artist friend. I am extremely lucky to have a writing soulmate,  fellow writer, Erica Deel. We do our best to see each other whenever life allows, but we make sure to take advantage of phone calls, and even have our very own personal writing support group page on Facebook just for the two of us. It helps to have someone to be accountable to, but even more than that, it helps to have a person understand your plight. My creative tribe also includes my cousin, an actress (just one of a million other talents she has) and fellow creative. Together we have been able to create a support structure for our creative passions that is almost spiritual. It’s hard to describe. The point is that when my creative energy is lagging, or when I’m feeling stuck, the women in my tribe help to lift me up and get me back on track, as well as motivate me to succeed so I can return the favor in my own way.
  4. Take control of time. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s true. There’s nothing you can change about that. Find a way to make a visual representation of the time you spend on various tasks throughout the day. All it takes is a two day commitment to catalogue your activities to see that there is a lot of time wasted (I’m looking at you social media) that could be used to write. Trying to decide what to make for dinner each night, was a huge struggle. Trips to the grocery store were horrendous time sucks. I tried making lists, but even that took forever, because I wasn’t really sure what I needed to buy. The same held true for tedious repetitive tasks, which I have serious issues accomplishing. I wasted all kinds of time just trying to get up the energy to clean something, fold something, dust or vacuum something. Laundry is the absolute worst for me. Usually it takes one of the kids running out of socks to get it going, and I’m not going to pretend that hbujoas really been solved totally. I’m getting there.
  5. Find and commit to a method. There’s all kinds of organization methods out there just a Pinterest away. Pick one you like. Commit to it for two months. I chose Bullet Journeling (check out the post I wrote about it here), and I find that it is a really effective way to help me focus all of my thoughts, tasks, and to-dos in one place.
  6. Plan Ahead. The BuJo method is great for helping you to plan your time. The biggest change I made was weekly meal planning, and marathon meal prepping.  Because deciding what to cook for dinner often lead to take-out, I decided that the only way to ensure I was providing a healthier lifestyle for my kids was to decide what to cook ahead of time. This is where BuJo comes in handy. I have a few different notebooks with different functions that I’ve put into regular use in my life. My daily BuJo is the size of a pocket-sized Moleskine (it actually is one, right now), and is where I put both monthly and weekly calendars. I have a creative journal where more permanent things go, like my master meal list, and recipe cards, along with notes about my novel, and other creative expressions about my life. BuJo’s indexing makes it easy to find what I need, pretty quickly.    I use them both every Sunday to plan the meals I’ll cook for the week, and create a grocery list. I also tend to prepare double batches of things like lasagna, or meatloaf, that I freeze for use in upcoming weeks. This Fall I decided to stop letting my kids buy lunch at school, which was made so much easier since I’d already developed the meal planning habit. It just gets added onto prep day.
  7. Play to strengths. Since I’m much better at getting tasks I hate completing done in bursts I’ll buy all the groceries I need from the list I’ve made in one day, and then I meal prep all at once. What that means is that I do all the chopping, dicing, and spicing done at once. I separate things into ziplocks, and plastic containers (I’ve amassed quite the collection from the take-out days), and store according to when I’ll need them. Having everything pre-portioned, and prepped makes it super easy to throw dinner together, and cuts actual cooking time. By the time I’m finished I’ve got ready-to-eat breakfasts for my son (he gets up earlier in the morning than the rest of us), four days worth of lunches for both kids, and snacks for the little one too. Every dinner I’ll make that week will be broken down into easy to cook parts. This leaves me with more time in the school day to complete other difficult domestic tasks that would get pushed aside in favor of grocery store trips, and figuring out what to make for dinner.
  8. Set goals. This is another thing BuJo is great for. Creating trackers to help you meet your goals is an easy thing to do, and something you can get pretty creative with (yet another Pinterest away). My life can be unpredictable, between religious holidays, and whether or not my hubby is working from home, so instead of scheduling the bathroom to be cleaned on Wednesday, I’ll write it on a to-do list: bathroom, and floors; or dusting, and de-cluttering. I haven’t really found a way to make laundry work this way, but I’ll keep you posted when I do. This is where your writing life can get a chance to make your to-do list. With the domestic stuff scheduled, you’re free to put the writing time back into your life. Set goals. Some writers like to set word count goals, others prefer to track the time they spend. I like to set two scenes per week: one that I’ll definitely finish, the other that I will start if I finish the first one quickly. This gives me a way to structure my thinking ahead of time, the same way I make a grocery list for the meals I’m prepping for the week.  To keep myself focused I use this adorable iOS app called Forest, which lets me time 20 minute bursts of writing, and lets me earn adorable plants and trees for my daily focus forests. Don’t forget to set time to read! This is just as important as your writing habit.
  9. Reward yourself. In every other job you get rewarded for your work on a regular basis, in the form of a paycheck. Mom doesn’t come with that kind of validation, nor does domestic engineer, and guess what, writing doesn’t do it with any kind of regularity either. BuJo makes it easy to see the accomplishments you’re achieving from week to week, and crossing things off a list feels great! It’s important to acknowledge this success too. Reward yourself for your wins. Didn’t order take-out the entire week? Sweet, order a pizza on Saturday!  Met your writing goals for the week? Get some ice cream, take a bath, paint your nails. You know what your weaknesses are, indulge them when you’ve had a good run.
  10. Don’t give up. There’s going to be bad days. You’re going to catch colds. For me there is an acceptance that some days I’ll beat my depression back, and some days when I’m too paralyzed to move. I have accepted this, and know that the pile of laundry in my living room doesn’t make me a bad person, or a bad mom. Life obstacles are going to occur. You’ve got to roll with them, get through them, and get back to what is important. The habit that has been developed is going to be there when you’re ready for it. And when all else fails, remember number 1.

Write on…through the pain

“2016 is going to be a good year.” I said it in the last hours of last year. So many awful things happened in 2015, that I just knew this coming year would be amazing. I imagined all the good that would happen. I wold finish my novel, we would save tons of money, and maybe we’d take another awesome family vacation–this time somewhere more relaxing.

keepwritingI couldn’t have been more wrong. Almost immediately 2016 issued forth a wave of worse case scenarios, and the hits just keep on coming. This has been the year of endurance. Like a marathon runner I simply try to keep my pace steady, breathe, and have faith that I’m going to feel that sense of relief when the finish line crosses under my feet.

It isn’t all bad though. I have an amazing family whose first instinct is to pull in close like a crochet stitch when the string of urgency is tugged. Some of the worst moments, have yielded some of the most beautiful too, reminding me, like a Pixar movie, that not all darkness is sad.

My pen, too, has been on a roll. Thankfully writing is a helpful tool to manage anxiety, which seems to rear its ugly head more often lately. Just putting words on paper, even if its to make a list of all the ways I feel awful, is the only thing to relieve the stress. Other times, magic happens.

Last week, in a moment of desperation I resolved to finish a scene I’ve been struggling with. I fought the resolution for most of the day, finding all kinds of distractions. The house got cleaner. The laundry got folded. Social media sunk tentacles into me. Finally I stared down the clock, and offered myself twenty minutes of writing, as an alternative compromise to quitting for the day. Twenty minutes turned into two hours, and at the end of it, my scene was complete. It was a tortured victory, but it worked.

Being a writer means having to fight your demons, and embrace them all at the same time. We have no one but ourselves to overcome, and only a finite amount of time in which to accomplish it. While it might seem like we should give ourselves time to deal with the obstacles life deals us; the truth is that we are writers. The way we deal with things is to write.dory

So the next time the mountain seems too high, or your world seems to be collapsing all around you, instead of pushing it away. Pick up your pen, and write on through the pain. The worst that could happen is that you write a bit of drivel. On the other hand, what you write could be exactly what you’d be missing.

No NaNoWriMo for me thanks, but don’t let that stop you.

keepcalmandwrite50kThe Fall is one of my favorite times of year. Although the weather is pretty gloomy as I write these words. Most days the air is crisp, and the trees are putting on their annual kaleidoscope show. This year seems to be brighter than most. I might think that every year. Most of all there is the excitement November brings with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those of you not in the know), the time of year when all would-be writers strive to write 50,000 words in 30 days–no small task. My social media feeds are alight with inspirational quotes about writing and persevering, #amwriting hashtags, and it seems like the world is existing in pure harmonic word count madness.

Last year I won NaNo. I was incredibly proud of myself, and even put my winning certificate up on my office wall to remind myself that I am a writer.

So why aren’t I doing it this year? Is my novel finished? Am I just a big fat NaNo-hater?
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It’s nothing like that. After last year’s NaNo victory I realized that my novel needed to begin much later than I’d written, and all the words I’d written were just backstory. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad I have them. They are priceless pieces of information that I needed to get out, but in the end, they aren’t manuscript words.

Truly, as much as I love the community of it, NaNoWriMo’s word count specific goal just doesn’t work for me. It’s too easy for me to fake myself out, throw down a bunch of words to meet a goal, and completely ignore the purpose of getting the novel out of my head. It’s even worse when I’ve gotten stuck on a scene, and can’t find a way through it. NaNo would tell you to move onto something else, where, in my crazy maddening universe, what I really need to do is figure out why I’m being held back. It’s usually something to do with an unresolved plot point that I’d procrastinated on dealing with.

There’s also the problem of restricting myself to just one project. Yes, I do want to be a novelist, and I am focusing specifically on writing my story, but that’s not the only writing I do. When the opportunity to have a play you’ve written chosen for a night of one acts, you can’t just blow it off, even if you don’t have anything written yet; even if you are in the middle of NaNoWriMo. I’m not writing for fame–although a best-seller would be amazing. I’m writing because I have so much to say. I’m writing because I want to add my own unique voice to the literary conversation. I’m writing because this is how I choose to define my career as a creative. I’m writing because I am a writer, and that doesn’t just mean novels.
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While I’m not actively counting words with all the NaNos out there plugging away at their brilliance, I am making daily writing a priority. I think that’s the real point of NaNoWriMo anyway. They say it takes thirty days to make a habit, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. So go get those words you amazing NaNos. I am rooting for you! I may not be counting them all, but I am your ally in writing, and am fiercely writing alongside you all month long!

This is my Fight Post. My Get up and Write Post!

awriteris     I never imagined the kind of struggle writing would be. Writing used to be for escape. It was a passion. It was sometimes for assignments in school, but my best writing happened in moments when I couldn’t help but empty my soul into a notebook. Marble composition notebooks were my favorite, but finding an interesting new home for my words has always been an exercise in sheer luxury. Pens are another addiction of mine. It has taken me years to find just the right one to fit my hand, with the perfect black, gel ink that glides effortlessly into any shape I will it to. Of course, they are only sold as promotional items, so I had to order hundreds of them.
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     When I decided that I was going to write as a career, the nature of writing changed altogether. Suddenly it was harder. I always had the ideas swimming about in my head, but getting that down on paper, and then getting that onto the screen was a whole different can of worms.  Unfortunately, even in 2015 technology has not caught up with the pen.  There is no device that accurately captures handwriting, translates it into its digital form, while being comfortable enough for me to write with. I’ve already told you how picky I am about pens. Transcription is a big issue.  Who has time to write things twice? Even Santa has elves.
     For most of my writing career I battled the blinking cursor, and the empty document on my screen. It always felt like each individual  word pulled from my creativity wanted nothing more than to remain in its original place. Writing was no longer fun. It became work. It was a chore. Even so, I’ve been determined to find a way to finally write my novel, but I have never stopped searching for the link between my notebooks, and my laptop.
writers-block
     I’VE DONE IT! No, I haven’t finished the novel. I have, however, found a way that I will be able to use to effectively download my ideas from  my brain into a digital format. I’m sure you’ve all heard of it before. Dragon Dictation has been around for a long time (no, I’m not getting paid, for writing this…yet). It’s been through several iterations, and updates, and they make it for every operating system. In the past I dabbled with dictation software before. It never seemed to work for me. Mostly because my ideas don’t spring to the tip of my tongue the way they spring to the tip of my pen. In fact, I had never owned an official copy of the software. I’d only ever used the lame knock-off versions–the kind without the comprehensive vocabulary, or commands built in. Over the weekend it went on sale. I’ve been in such a creative rut that I was desperate for something new to inspire some motivation. So I decided to pull the trigger, and bought a download license.
     After spending a little time configuring, and training the software, I decided to test it out on the scene that I’ve been struggling through for the last several days. At first it was halting. I couldn’t figure out how to pull the words from my brain in a way that allowed me to dictate it smoothly to the software, and having to speak the punctuation was hard to do on the fly. Then I had an idea. I sat down with my handy notebook, and trusty pen, and allowed the words to spring forth onto my notebook unbidden. Oh, and spring forth they did. For a straight hour I watched the scene unfold beneath my hand. I wrote until the antsy distracted feeling set in–which was a much longer stretch than I’d ever achieved before. Instead of allowing myself to be distracted, I plunked a headset in my ear, and began to read the scene aloud.
     I’ll admit it has always been part of my process to read what I’ve written out loud. So it shouldn’t have been so surprising to me how easy it was to read from my notebook into my dictation software. It can get a little wonky, and I had a few minor hiccups, but I understand the longer I use the software, the better adjusted it will be to my cadence, and pronunciation. The results  have been magical.  Through the use of a repeating cycle of writing first in my notebook, then reading it aloud to my computer, my word count has skyrocketed – and just in time for NaNoWriMo. (Not that I’m aiming for the traditional 50,000 words in 30 days goal, but I do like to join in the community in November.)
didntquit     It doesn’t hurt that one of my best friends just recently won a pitch contest, which came with the prize of an introduction to an agent.  You can read all about it on her blog, Penning the Wonderlife, by clicking this link. In fact, I think it is a major part of finding my groove. When you’re part of a writing community, and you aren’t moving at the same pace as your community, you can easily find yourself lost in the dust. You can either choose to move at your own pace, or ramp up your commitment. Discovering that this thing we’re doing is more than a blind shot in the dark, as is apparent by Erica’s amazing story, has given me the inspiration to prove to myself that I’m more than a wannabe writer. I’m a working writer, which means I AM WRITING.
     So the fire is lit. The tools are laid out. The only thing that can hold me back is time, and myself. I still believe, now more than ever, then I will finish my first draft by the end of the year. It’s an exciting time! I can’t wait to share my process, and my progress with all of you here.
     I do have some news, but I’m waiting until it’s in a more concrete form before I share it. I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that I am realizing my dream of being a writer. I’ve already proven myself capable of generating income with my craft, now I just have to prove that I can write a story worth reading.

My NaNoWriMo Update– a vent session

NaNoWriMo2014NaNoWriMo is more than halfway through folks, and I’m still plugging away. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and takes place during the month of November. To win you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s really hard.

Normally you’re supposed to start a new project for NaNoWriMo, but I’m veering from the rules this year. Instead, I’m using the motivation, idea: and community of NaNo Le to help motivate me to finish my novel. cheap nba jerseys I’m not sticking to any particular word count (usually it’s 1667 words per day), nor am I paying any attention to those people who seem to have won on the first day.

Last week I reached the 25% milestone I’d set for myself. This week New I’m focusing on getting the middle half plotted and written. It’s really hard.

Learning how to write a novel, while writing a novel isn’t an easy thing. I’ve made my career writing articles, blogs, and reviews which max out around a thousand words. wholesale jerseys I’m literally multiplying it by 50. Novel writing is truly the marathon of writing. More like a triathalon.

Most days I battle myself the way a runner battles his body. My willpower and motivation have to be overcome and focused. Trying to force my creativity into action is a feat in and of itself. graduée Each move towards the finish is simultaneously thrilling, and terrifying. I imagine a mountain wholesale nfl jerseys climber must feel the same way as she reaches the peak, knowing that when she reaches the apex she will stand victoriously close to the heavens. There’s also that underlying dread of the climb back down. it For a writer that’s the knowledge that writing it is only the beginning. Editing. Finding an agent, an editor, a publisher, and then holding your breath for reviews and sales. It’s all so daunting down here only 25% through a first draft.

I keep myself going by reminding myself Plopping that I don’t have a novel. That until I write it, all I have is a collection of words that have gone nowhere. My family helps. Each of them playing their own role in pushing me forward. My husband helps me work out kinks, and create new and interesting objects in the universe of the story. My son lets me read him my chapters, and encourages me to keep going because he just wants to “know what happens next.”

Today the weather sucked, but I pushed through it. Got things done. Words on record. I’m hoping I can keep the momentum going for the week. I’m hoping to keep it moving. Certificates Keep it growing.