Knowing Myself Better: 9 Lessons Learned

My last day of teaching for the school year was this past Friday. I’m currently 39 weeks pregnant, and waiting for baby girl to arrive. I hope she gives me a few days to rest before she decides to enter the world! This transition has been more challenging than I’d anticipated. After all these months of preparation, I expected to be mentally ready to stop teaching. But I’m sad to be leaving my students, and it’s hard to say goodbye to my teaching self for awhile. I like my teaching self, and I’ll miss her this year.

But I do still have writing to focus on. I’m almost finished with my WAIST re-write, and I’m also working on some personal essays and short stories. I’m even thinking about doing NaNoWriMo for the month of November. (I know, it’s a little insane, trying to do that with a days-old baby at home… but it’s such an appealing idea for getting a draft of my next YA novel down quickly!)

I took an extended maternity leave with my son, too, and it was invaluable for learning more about how I work best as a writer as well as a mother. I can’t help making comparisons to four years ago and seeing how far I’ve come in terms of productivity. These are the lessons I’ve learned about myself as a writer:

Morning is my best time. I write best and most reliably when I get up at least 45 minutes before my family. I can make solid progress on a manuscript even if that’s all I get in one day, because my mind is so fresh and there aren’t any distractions. (It usually leads to more and better writing later in the day, because I’ve set myself up so well.) That’s not going to happen for awhile, because I’ll be on the baby’s sleep schedule, but as soon as I can get back to it, it’ll be a priority to schedule morning writing.

Self-care, especially sleep, comes first. If I’m not feeling healthy and well-rested, my brainpower and creativity take a serious dive. I need at least 7 hours of night sleep and often rely on a quick power nap before an afternoon writing session. It’s better to devote 20 minutes to a nap than have the extra 20 minutes to write badly. Sleep will be hit-or-miss for awhile, but knowing it’s a priority will help me not waste the baby’s sleep time on something else.

Pomodoros help me focus. I love knowing that I just have to concentrate really hard for 20, 40 or 60 minutes, and then I can take a break.

Ignoring word count helps me write more words. I used to watch the counter as I worked, and stop when I hit a certain goal. Now I have a goal in mind, but I almost always exceed it when I just ignore the counter and keep working until the end of my writing time. The counter itself was just a distraction. I’d love to test this again with NaNoWriMo; it would be interesting to see if I could get my daily and weekly word count higher than ever with the added pressure of needing to hit 50,000 words at the end of the month.

I need time to process a piece of writing. I can’t start editing right away. I need to step away from it. If it’s a short piece, I may only need a few days’ break; a longer piece may require weeks. When I come back to it with a fresh mind, I’m always able to see much more to fix. Therefore, I need to be on a constant rotation where I’m editing one thing and writing a draft of something else so I don’t lose momentum.

I like to submit in batches. I learned this more recently, but it was a great lesson! It makes me feel good to submit a bunch of work at once, and it also becomes more efficient. Rejections sting less when you still have possibilities elsewhere. If I were still querying agents, I think I would do it this way as well. (Grateful that I’m not!)

I work better in a clean house, but I can work in a house that I know will be clean soon. This is true for other chores, too. I am definitely a person who is affected by clutter, but if I know that I’ve planned a time to deal with that clutter, I can see past it temporarily. It has helped enormously that we re-instituted the family tradition of “cleaning time” on Friday afternoons with the help of my parents (who began the tradition when I was 9 or 10). Edwin goes off with his grandparents for about an hour and a half, and we clean house. Then we all get back together for takeout dinner. I love having a clean house for the weekend, and we get family time out of it as well.

If I want to read more, I have to visit the library more often. I’m picky; I discard a lot of books. I don’t mind paying for books, but if I am, I want to know that I’m going to like it. I need to pre-browse in libraries and try books out to make sure I’m happy with them first. I’m definitely a “supply-side” reader. I always carve out more reading time when I’m excited about what I’m reading- usually multiple books at the same time.

I have intrinsic motivation when it comes to my passions. I always knew this about myself, but the challenge and time commitment of writing has tested it much further than practicing my flute or studying for tests. I am so very grateful that I can rely on myself to keep going without needing outside factors to push me. I know this isn’t true for a lot of writers, and that makes me feel blessed. Anyone can be a productive writer, even if they’re not an Upholder type, but it’s very reassuring to me that I can trust “future Leanne” to carry on with the projects I love right now.

In what ways has “knowing yourself better” helped you with your writing? What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your own productivity and work ethic? 

3 Responses to “Knowing Myself Better: 9 Lessons Learned”

  1. Sara L. says:

    This is amazing timing, Leanne. I decided my 100% Chronicle for Draft #3 is going to be some of the things I’ve learned about myself or writing while working on TKC. So, reading your post and considering your questions is giving me the perfect opportunity to brainstorm for it. 🙂

    Your self-care and intrinsic motivation lessons definitely resonated with me strongest. Draft #3 in particular has taught me to put stricter limits with myself, or else I’ll risk ruining my well-being for the sake of my craft. The best thing I’ve done for that is re-enabling my laptop’s scheduled shutdown at night. I’ve gotten more sleep as a result! As for accountability, I’m a lot like you – I hold myself accountable for my writing goals, so I never have trouble getting started or staying focused. (Stopping is a whole other story, though – hence the stricter limits!)

    Also, just curious, but do you have any plans to take some time off from here once Baby Girl arrives?

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      I can’t wait to hear your insights into what you’ve learned, Sara! I think “how we work” is one of the most interesting parts of the writing process. I love hearing other writers’ tips and secrets.

      I think I’m going to take a couple of weeks off just for hospital/home adjustment time, but that’s it. I’ve only been doing one blog post a week anyway, and I’m sure I can maintain that schedule. I’m even thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, as I mentioned. Most people would probably think that’s a little insane with a newborn at home, but I like pushing the limits 🙂

  2. Great things to know about yourself, Leanne.

    The most important lesson I’ve learned is that when I schedule specific and regular times to write, the words will come. One of my base fears is that I really have nothing to say, so the practice of writing every day consistently and working on multiple projects at once has reassured me that the well won’t run dry…or if it does, it’s only a temporary thing.

    I’ve been out of town and I’m just now catching up on your posts…

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