Years ago when both my young adult children were very small, I would write for an hour each morning during half an hour of Sesame Street and the half hour Playschool programme. These kept them happily occupied and as I didn’t have anything as glamorous as an office back then, I wrote in the same room as them. This habit was so firmly ingrained after a couple of years that I only need to hear the Playschool music even now and I think, oh there’s something I should be doing!
When they went to kindergarten and then to school, my habits had to change. Primary school was easy – walk the kids to the bus stop, continue around the river with the dog, home and then write for the morning. How I miss those days!
Over the years everything has changed. I teach online so it’s a huge temptation to just check out what’s happening on Moodle. Have any of my students posted urgent questions I need to answer? I’m also a partner in an editing service business – are there emails to answer? Writing as a priority slipped down the To Do list. And no wonder – when you look at the average income of an Australian writer these days it’s a commitment to working for almost no financial return.
Late last year, though, something gave. I yearned for more writing time. For writing time that didn’t confine me to the one writing chore but allowed me time to play. On my New Year resolution list, I promised to take writing seriously. That sounds as though it contradicts my saying I wanted time to play – but playful, joyful writing is important work. Without it you can keep going over the same ground and never broaden your horizons.
One of the reasons I look forward to NaNoWriMo is the opportunity to test a new idea – writing hard, quickly with the knowledge that if something doesn’t work out, only a month’s been lost. It’s very liberating.
So, I joined a small writer’s group. Small, but strict. There’s a financial incentive for completing your target word count each week. If you don’t complete the tasks you set yourself, you pay $5.00 into the kitty. When I started, my employment for the year looked dodgy and I couldn’t afford to waste coffee money – so I wrote. It’s habit-forming. My word count is modest – at the moment it’s 6000 words a week. Absolutely do-able. I need to fit in my other work as well and I’ll slowly build up to a more ambitious word count but, at the moment, I’m happy with 6,000 words as I’m playing around with some short story ideas. Some take off, others stutter and falter. It’s fun, though, setting out to write something shorter than a novel, even a novel for younger readers. It’s fun to set myself the kind of warm up exercises I’ve often set for a class just to see where they take me – what underlying preoccupations bubble through the sub-conscious.