My son’s birth was an amazing event — the delivery was easy and there was plenty of love shared. However, his birth also coincided with several calamities that fell on our family all at once. These events affected my emotions, finances, and relationships. Our family did everything we needed to get by. A true love for my family and the children, youth, and college students I worked with got me out of bed. However, I lacked any interest in myself.
Going into emergency mode pretty much left me with just enough energy to go to work during the day and take care of my son at night. After my son’s first birthday, when I still felt as though I was just going through the motions, I decided it was time to figure out what was going on.
I realized that there were a lot of things that I wanted to be doing that had just kind of stalled out. I wanted to physically be healthy after a couple months of bed-rest while pregnant and a year after delivery of not really caring about me. I also wanted to return to school to get my PhD so that I could one day teach full-time. However, my life slump and general dissatisfied attitude had the possibility to take that dream away. Multi-step deadlines for doctoral programs were coming up faster than I realized. I had to come up with a quick solution if I was going to make this year’s round of applications.
Quickly I realized exactly what activity I needed to do: NaNoWriMo. The month of November is National Novel Writing Month. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) book in 30 days. This comes out to 1667 words a day. The novel can be on anything you want. No one needs to read it. It’s a writing exercise.
It may sound crazy. I was a new mom with too much on my plate and no motivation. How could adding another arbitrary goal to the mix possibly help? It helped me in several ways:
- NaNoWriMo has forums where everyone is working towards the same goal at the same time. This is something that being a mother and working at two relatively isolated jobs couldn’t give me. Community is awesome.
- It is structured by clearly set, understandable rules. Instead of having lofty goals and unclear paths, I just had to sit down and pound out 1667 words every day and I had done my job. The goal was also concrete (something that is often vague as a teacher and mentor). This was an easily obtainable success I could build other success on.
- The daily discipline of it was absolutely necessary after 12 months of pretty much living on some small person’s schedule.
I started writing my novel in November 2010. Every night I’d put my son to bed and sit down at the laptop and write. I chose a thriller, which is strange because I’m not a big reader of the genre. In those 30 days I killed a lot of people (17 to be exact), because describing their horribly graphic murders beefed up my word count. I dragged my main character through all kinds of torture and abuse. I bet she hates me. Parts didn’t make sense and side plots were abandoned with no explanation as to why. I think my character’s last name changed twice because I plum forgot what it was and didn’t have the time to go back and look. I drank a lot of coffee, ignored a lot of dirty dishes, and may have missed a few showers. No matter, because on November 30th I had a beginning, end, and 50,000 words for the win.
A year ago I never would have imagined I’d have the energy, but to be honest, we always have energy for the things we love.
Writing 1667 words a day is not as time consuming as one might think and I used that to my advantage. Once I hit my goal, time seemed to open up in front of me. In between grading exercises and writing lesson plans for my students I was able to start writing proposals to academic conferences. To put off editing my book, I edited papers to submit with applications. This required research that I all of a sudden had time for as well. By November 30th, I had a paper accepted to a conference, a novel done, and my first two applications out to schools.
Six months later, that spark of motivation has snowballed into a real transformation. I start a PhD program in the fall. I’ve also started to do things I love again, things I did before I had my son. I’ve even added running to the mix. This week I picked up a video game controller for the first time in 18 months. A year ago I never would have imagined I’d have the energy, but to be honest, we always have energy for the things we love. Participating in NaNoWriMo forced me to teach myself how to be both a mom and an individual. It’s a difficult balance, but well worth the time and effort. I’m happier, my family’s happier, and I get more done.