At least five mornings a week, I finish breakfast and then carry my coffee into our sunroom for what I enthusiastically tell my toddler is “Writing Time!” We’ve been doing this for several weeks now, and I can’t believe the difference this type of journaling has made in my life.
Journaling and I have a long history that started before I could really write. Mom would copy what I told her about my day into a little diary with a picture of a bear on the front. I journaled consistently for a good portion of my childhood and turned my journals into prayer journals during my teenage years. But during college, I did so much writing for my classes that I stopped writing for myself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these years were also the hardest for me emotionally.
I’ve written since my son was born, in the form of blog posts or our family memory books. But the kind of writing I do during our daily writing time is different. It’s freewriting, something I believed in strongly as a teacher. There are no rules. Sometimes I write about the day before or how the week is going. Sometimes I launch into something I’ve been thinking about. I almost always sort through my mental clutter during this time. Sometimes I draft a blog post and am always amazed at how much easier (though slower) it is to first draft on paper. Whatever I write about, the goal is to keep the pen moving across the page.
But making it happen while my toddler is awake can be a challenge. Here are four things I’ve found that make it easier:
- Make it a routine. This is important for me as well as for Liam. I try to have writing time every day (even when I don’t want to). It’s not about the exact time but rather about the rhythm. After coffee and breakfast, I take my remaining coffee and sit down to write. I don’t let myself start on housework. I remind Liam ahead of time that it’s almost time for us to do our writing time, and I have found that as he has grown used to it, he’s better able to play by himself.
- Give the toddler something to do, but be firm about the purpose of the time. I really don’t want to start a morning TV ritual (as tempting as it is some days). So I mostly encourage Liam to play around me. I don’t totally ignore him, but I do encourage him that, “This is writing time. Mommy will help you when she is done.” Usually he points to himself and wants to write some too, so I have a little notebook and pen he can write with (I learned the hard way to forbid him from walking around with the ink pen). I’m surprised by how much he is able to play by himself for just a little longer when I ask him to.
- Be flexible. It seems like I’m contradicting myself in #2, but I find that it’s a balance. My goals is to write until I get to a stopping point. I would assume this is usually about fifteen minutes. But if Liam is having a really rough time, I might just get a page or finish a paragraph. And that’s okay! Keeping it low-key while still making it happen is really important to me. I usually won’t stop before I write a full page, but there have been rough days when I’ve given up sooner.
- Use paper, not electronics. For some reason, computers and screens seem to draw kids like flies. When I write on paper, Liam will often play around me. If he does want to write, I can give him paper. I wish I had learned this secret much earlier in motherhood instead of struggling to keep his fingers off the keyboard while I was typing.
Paper also allows my thoughts to flow and break. When I type on the computer, I can type fast enough to stay almost too far ahead of myself. I don’t feel like I actually get at the important issues when I journal on my laptop. The process of writing on paper forces me to slow down just enough to think–to find the right word or realize the right word isn’t important. Instead of flying through my thoughts and jumping to new ideas, I have to work with the thought in the moment.
Freewriting is life-changing.
As I said before, it helps me sort through mental clutter. It helps me remain present during the day because I’ve given my thoughts a place to stay. It helps me think through hard things (and makes me a better listener because I don’t depend as much on others to hear all my thoughts being dumped out). It also gives me a set time to be practicing my lines of writing. I’m not trying to make it good writing; I’m just writing.
Putting my thoughts on the page also gives me accountability. It’s part of my year of abundance, forcing myself to see that I have options and choices so I don’t remain stuck. Just recently, I used my freewriting to think through all the obstacles that keep me from blogging and came up with a plan that has actually made a difference. Paper can often be the best sounding board (and it keeps other people from knowing how truly crazy I am!).
Some mornings I have to make myself walk in there, but it is always rewarding. In the process of putting words on the page, I sort through emotions and the flurry of thoughts always going on. It makes me feel centered and gives me peace. In any phase of life when I’ve been too busy to write, I’ve regretted it. It is something of a spiritual discipline, and when I make it happen, I’m always glad. I hope that maybe this daily practice will show my son the value of writing too!