When I was in middle school, I wrote at night. I could crank out a 10 page chapter of fanfic in under a week and format the html and have it up for my small following of three by Saturday, every Saturday. Editing wasn’t really something I understood, let alone did. All drafts were final drafts, but it was so much fun. Nevermind that I could never finish anything. Nevermind that I couldn’t stop going back and rewriting from the beginning.
When I was in high school, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote my first story all the way to the end. It was the hottest of messes, but I was proud of finally writing The End.
Then I put it in a drawer and never touched it again.
When I was in college, I kept doing NaNoWriMo every year. One year, I wrote 10k words in a day. And then my thesis year hit and I failed to reach 50k for the first time. I wrote 50,000 words every November, wrote The End three more times, but between classes and a part-time job, I let writing slide to a maybe, sometime hobby more often than not.
When I graduated, the stock market crashed and jobs were… hard to come by. I did NaNoWriMo again, but my writing stagnated as the long hours of a job that was emotionally draining bled me dry.
When we moved to Arizona, I decided I needed to make a decision. Either commit to writing as a career path or pick something else. I couldn’t keep trying to thread the needle between and feeling guilt about not going anywhere with either. I chose writing, and I began setting myself deadlines and researching the publishing industry. I took to heart the advice of write every day and I… well, I didn’t write every day, but enough that I wrote The End for the first time outside of NaNoWriMo.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I learned how to edit. I learned my process. I read and I wrote and I read and I wrote. I realized that going out with friends one night meant forfeiting any words I might have written instead. I began consciously choosing to stay home and write or edit when I needed to. I was diligent about going to the library during lunch breaks and writing. I wrote on my 15min morning break, too. I learned that 100 words here and there adds up.
I set deadlines and missed them. I re-adjusted my deadlines and hit them. I learned to add time for edits. I taught my friends how to beta read.
When I was 28, I signed with an agent. I kept setting deadlines while we went on submission. I tried to focus on that next book instead of endlessly checking my email.
When I was 29, I got pregnant. My anxiety turned off, but so did my imagination. I tried to keep writing regularly, to a deadline, until I realized I was trying to gouge a hole in a wall with a spoon. Eventually, I let myself stop trying.
When I was 30, I gave birth and my anxiety came back with a vengeance, but so too did my ability and desire to write. But sleep deprivation and the broken attention of a new mom meant that I failed NaNoWriMo for a second time. I tripled my usual estimate for how long it would take me to write a first draft and still barely squeaked in at the last second. I blindly fell back on what I knew of my own process and trusted it would see me through.
When I was 31, I had to relearn my writing process. I could no longer write a solid 2k in a day. I could no longer write every day. But I ignored these new facts and tried to write like I was still in high school, still in college, still not a mom. I watched friends and colleagues write twice, three times as much as me and I wondered how I’d failed.
Now 32, I’m relearning again. I’m giving myself more time, more space, more forgiveness. A little bit, every day, except for those days where I can’t. Because life happens. Toddler happens. My attention is fractured into tiny pieces, each of them worrying about the child, the household, the job, the bills, the food, the climate, the emails, the –
Space. Forgiveness. Time.
I may not be able to crank out 10k in a day like I could in college. I might not be able to write until 1am without feeling it the next day like I did in high school. I might not be able to write 50k in a month like I could 2, 3 years ago. I might not be able to hit the goals I used to, or even write the books I used to.
But I can still write. It is still true that a little, every day, adds up. And the books I write now will be better for it, for the person I am now.
And in another year or two – who knows? – the process will change all over again.