I’ve recently taken up running (your protagonists can inspire you that way). Last week, as I was making my way around Prospect Park, I started to think that writing a novel was a lot like training for a race. My next thought was that that analogy has been made often enough. But having just started on my next project, the process of creating a first draft—of filling in blank pages with words I know will be recast, cut, and moved around—was at the fore of my mind. And that’s when it came to me:
Writing a novel is also a whole lot like convincing a toddler to take a nap.
Sometimes, everything goes according to plan: you have a schedule, and you stick to it. The child sleeps as long as you expect, you have some quiet in your day, and life goes on swimmingly for the rest of the day. In other words, you increase your word count, you’re happy with where the story is going, and you know what you need to accomplish in your next session.
When you deviate from the schedule, it’s hit or miss. Sometimes the child gets so sleepy, he sleeps twice as long as you expect. Translation: You find a different time or space to write in and you are struck with a bolt of inspiration that adds layers, texture, and empathy to your piece.
Schedule or not, a child is human, and sometimes a nap just doesn’t happen at all. You look and look for just a few minutes to put pen to paper, but you don’t know where you left off and can’t concentrate long enough to figure it out. On either side of the analogy, you may find yourself wondering if you will accomplish anything more than a quick email check in the next five years.
What I’ve learned from both novel writing and caring for a toddler is that you make the best of the day you have. Control over one’s life is an illusion; there are too many other factors in the world to make any kind of guarantee.
Your kid could get sick. You could have another deadline to meet.
He might not want to eat lunch, so he’s too hungry to sleep. You might have exhausted your current creative streak and may need something else to occupy your mind until it’s rejuvenated.
A busy weekend could result in a super-long Monday nap. You could find that the story is just flowing out of you, as if of its own volition.
Whatever your writing situation is today, make the most of it. And remember that tomorrow is another shot at something extraordinary.