word processing program with the words once upon a time

How I Wrote 50,000 Words in Less Than Six Months (As a Parent Without Childcare!)

I write a lot—so how do I make time while also caring for my young children?

In the past 6 months, I've written 50,000 words on one of my writing projects. I've also finished 12 blog posts (and drafted several more), spent a month writing three longhand pages every morning, and written or revised a couple academic papers.

I'm also the primary caretaker of my three kids, who are all four years and under. I also get enough sleep, the occasional night excepted.

How do I get that much writing done? The secret: I write incrementally.

Daily words: an Incremental approach to writing

I write 200 words a day, minimum. Do the math: 200 words a day for a 30-day month is 6000 words. In a little over 8 months, you hit 50,000. Do it for a year, and you've got 73,000 words.

But that's minimum! If all the kids are happy, once I get in a writing groove, I can double, triple, quadruple that count. Which means I can hit 50k in half a year—or less.

This incremental approach to writing works for a couple reasons. First, because it has to. When I was balancing grad school and motherhood with our first son, I switched from working when I felt like it (e.g., when I felt well rested, or in a mood to write a conference paper, or what have you) to working when I could squeeze it in.

Naptimes, for example, were the most predictable, uninterrupted 1-3 hour chunks I got. So, during naptimes, I made a habit of putting away all distractions, all social media, all unnecessary less important work in order to focus on the most important task that needed uninterrupted time—usually writing or coding. There was no other way to get my work done and get enough sleep. (I've never been one for working at night after the kids are asleep. I'd rather sleep, too, and then work in the morning when well rested, if I happen to wake before the kids.)

Incremental first drafts

Second, the incremental writing approach works because it's my approach for first drafts, and first drafts only. This means I don't have to worry as much about polished sentences, continuity of ideas, or fluidity of paragraphs. I just need to get a first draft down.

The job of the first draft is to exist. I want to attribute this quote to author Kameron Hurley (here she is writing about first drafts), but I can't find the exact quote. The point is, once you have a first draft, you have something you can work with. Revision is part of the writing process for a reason. You can't revise what's not written.

Writing anywhere, anytime

Third, incremental writing works because I do my daily words on my phone. Sometimes I use voice typing, which can vastly speed up the process, though I do get the occasional weird typo that makes no sense, or accidentally dictate sentences aimed at my kids ("That's really enough water; let's turn the hose back off now and play with the water you already have in your bucket...")

Because I'm writing on my phone, I can write anywhere: At the table while everyone is eating breakfast. In the backyard while the kids are playing. In bed waiting for the baby to fall asleep. It's flexible.

The fact that I'm writing on my phone is another reason I use my daily words for first drafts only. It's not a great medium for revision for me. When revising, I need to see more of the text at once to see the connecting threads and ensure everything flows, and be able to add and move text around more easily. But for first drafts? It works great.

Inching toward word count goals

I like word count goals for first drafts in part because of my history as a nanowrimo novelist back in high school. Hitting a word count goals for the day feels productive—consistent progress, every day, toward something I can revise.

I track my daily words in a spreadsheet, alongside a few other daily activities. I use the spreadsheet as a reminder of important "me" activities I ought to accomplish each day. For some people, seeing the column of X's showing writing done each day helps motivate them to not break the streak. My streak is now at four months and counting!

Incremental daily writing is one way I keep on track with my writing goals. What tricks and habits do you use to get your writing done?

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We're Jacqueline and Randy, a blogging duo with backgrounds in tech, robots, art, and writing, now raising our family in northern Idaho.

Our goal is to encourage deliberate choices, individual responsibility, and lifelong curiosity by sharing stories about our adventures in living, loving, and learning.

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