Writing Vs. Living

Tammy taking over my computer.

(Or how a mom with small kids was able to finish a manuscript in under two months)

When 2015 began, I knew I wanted to write more—not more articles (because I’ve been doing loads of that) or more blog posts (though I think I should be doing more of that) but more stories.

Stories are what make my heart sing, what make my soul breathe, what make me happy. Maybe the only thing comparable to writing would be teaching in a classroom, but since I have chosen not to do that right now, I write. I write to feel that there’s more to me than being a mom, I write to escape my fatigue and the monotony of caring for small kids, and I write to satisfy the yearnings of my creative spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I may whine and moan about my existence, but my daughters are my life. They are my universe. BUT we moms know that cannot be the case all the time. We need something for ourselves, something to keep us alive, something to allow us to give (because as moms, our wells cannot run dry)—and that for me is writing.

So this year, I told myself I will write more. I set goals for myself, I joined two workshops (BuqoYA, where we wrote a young adult short story and published on buqo.ph; and SparkNA, where we wrote a manuscript and pitched to a Philippine publisher) because I knew I needed an extra push – more than what I have been giving myself lately. And so far, half the year is done and I have written two short stories, around five short fiction posts, and a 33,000+ word novella. I can’t believe it either. I can’t believe I was able to do this while caring for a tornado of a one-year-old and a six going on seventeen-year-old.

The price of words

This did not come easy. It came at a very big cost. One is financial. I had to give up quite a few projects, so this year, I haven’t gone shopping for myself and I stay away from Mothercare and Fully Booked! Another is my friends. I have begged off lunches, brunches, dinners, you name it. I tell them – “after my book is due.” But I’ve heard people complaining already – from other people. Yikes! Another is my social skills. What? Is that even possible? Yes. Because I am so tired and my mind is full of my characters and their lives, I have nothing to talk about—unless it’s about my book and I’ve noticed that when I do, some people’s eyes glaze over or longingly flicker to their phones. It’s a good thing everyone else has something to talk about and that I am a good listener. Because I’d much rather listen to what’s going on in their lives – and then write it into a scene! Just kidding! There are so many other things I’ve sacrificed but those are the biggest ones—the ones that actually hurt.

Writing while waiting my turn at the dentist.
Writing while waiting my turn at the dentist.

The plan of attack

Now I’m back in the land of the living and I have no idea what to do with myself. I’m tired, my throat is raw, and I’m not sleeping well. But I have words, I have stories, and above all, I have accomplished a goal I didn’t think I could do.
Here’s what helped me do it – besides what I had to give up.

  1. I computed how many words I needed to write, divided that by how many days I could realistically work (no weekends!), and made that my daily writing goal. This worked because when I hit my word count for the day, I could rest instead of pressuring myself to finish the entire book in a day! Which, believe me, I tried to do in the beginning. Insane, I know.
  2. If Tammy had fallen asleep on me and I couldn’t move, I would write on my phone. I didn’t think I could do it – I could write articles and blog posts on my phone but not fiction. It was very hard to do and I had to edit a lot when I got to my computer, but it helped me accomplish my daily word count and more.
  3. I did not wait for inspiration to come. I just wrote. When Tammy and Addie were asleep, I wrote. When Tammy was busy with my parents, I wrote (even a hundred words were good enough!), when I found myself alone for a few minutes, I wrote. I just kept writing!
  4. I was obedient but I also followed my instincts. I don’t write with an outline. I’m what people call a pantser—I write on the fly, by the seat of my pants. Meaning I have no idea (fine, maybe a vague one) where the story is going. But because one of the requirements was to know your ending before finishing, I was forced to think of one. And this really helped me with Plain Vanilla, my short story for Buqo.ph. It gave me direction, it took away some of the anxiety, and when I had no inspiration, it didn’t matter because I knew where to take my characters.

I thought it would be the same with an outline. I made one and tried my darndest to follow it. What happened? I couldn’t seem to put anything down. I felt so constrained, so unimaginative, so limited. When Marc and Treena told me “Your outline is hampering you,” I didn’t want to believe them. I kept telling them – “No! It’s going to help! It’s how it SHOULD be done. It’s how all the writing books tell you to write, for crying out loud!” But lo and behold, when I closed the looming outline and put it away in its neat little folder never to be opened again, my words flowed. My story changed but I still had the direction because I knew where my tale was generally headed. I had my freedom again and I wasn’t choked or suffocated by a list of events I needed to follow.

When I had a clearer idea how I wanted my story to end, I grabbed whatever paper I could find, and scribbled my thoughts down per chapter. But I still didn't follow it!
When I had a clearer idea how I wanted my story to end, I grabbed whatever paper I could find, and scribbled my thoughts down per chapter. But I still didn’t follow it!

I’m just so proud of myself because I didn’t think finishing a 20,000 word manuscript (let alone a 33,000 one!) was something I could do. I went in afraid, not believing I could finish but determined to try. And I was able to do it. I learned a few things about myself along the way as well.

But right now, it’s time to rest. And see my friends again. And learn how to join the living (and not just the imagined) once more.

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  1. Kudos to your commitment. When my children were tweens I was serious about writing but their interruptions frustrated me to the point I quit.