How does a busy, mini-van driving mom of four kids find time to write a novel? Recently, this question is a frequent topic of conversation. With the piles of dishes, dirty laundry, bills, and homework constantly demanding attention, mothers often put their goals and dreams on the back-burner while they kill the alligator closest to the boat. I was no exception, until last year when I discovered that the lessons I learned when I started running applied to my goal of writing a novel.
It began with the purchase of a jogging stroller on eBay while my husband was in law school after a long winter in Minnesota. Our first son was five months old and fussy. The stroller killed two birds with one stone. Our son enjoyed being outside while I got in a daily workout. Although my first spin around the neighborhood bouncing up and down behind the jogging stroller probably made onlookers want to wash their eyes out with soap, I was happy. I was making time to accomplish a goal. Soon, jogging became easier and more natural and I slowly increased my speed and distance until I was able to run continuously for 30 minutes. I was so excited. I felt like a runner. I registered for a 10K.
Race day. A number pinned to my shirt. Runners stretching, jumping up and down, pumping themselves up. Tangible energy. The sound of thousands of running shoes striking the pavement in rhythm after the gun signaled the start of the race. A sea of bodies pushing in front of me as I kept my slow steady pace. I didn’t care. This was my rite of passage. I was a runner.
I was on fire after that. I felt like I could do anything. I decided to train for the mother of all races: the marathon. I only made it 20 miles on my first attempt, walking away from the Sedona Marathon without finishing. But a few years later, I trained again and successfully completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix.
The truth is that most busy moms really don’t have time. They don’t have time to keep the house and keep in shape. They don’t have time to finish an education while taking the kids to all of their afterschool activities. They don’t have time. They find time. They make time.
Double tasking. Just as the jogging stroller allowed me to enjoy time outside with my son while accomplishing my running goals, technology helps me to accomplishing my writing goals. Laptops and smart phones make working on a manuscript while waiting in the carpool line, at sports practices and other activities feasible.
Just like with running, I set a goal to write every day and then slowly increased my speed and quantity as writing became more natural. While writing Eruption, the goal was to write 2,000 words per day, five days per week. Similar to my marathon attempts, I had some failures before finishing the manuscript. A few years ago, I started a novel and wrote more than half of it before fizzling out. I became discouraged because instead of constantly moving forward, I kept looking back critically at what I had already written. Re-writing the beginning over and over killed the creative juices and my desire to finish.
This time around, I approached the writing process differently, thinking of writing like running a race. Just as I would never analyze and criticize how I ran the first few miles of a marathon while still in the middle of it, I decided not to look back until I finished the entire manuscript. Finish the race first. After writing the first draft, I started again at the beginning and edited with the confidence of knowing that I had completed the race already. Each edit became like a new race where I could refine and improve my form.
Whether the goal is to become a runner, a writer, an artist, or a knife-juggling unicyclist, the process is the same. First, get the tools that will help you succeed. Set a daily goal. Slowly increase your speed, quantity, and quality as you improve. When you are ready, register for a race. Submit your manuscript. Approach a gallery with your work. Join the circus.
Finally, finish the race first and then start a new one. Don’t let self-criticism kill your creativity.