Early last week , I was super cranky and frustrated. I’ve been feeling stuck this month after a productive October. The baby got sick for the first time ever, Andrew went away for a week so I was solo parenting for the first time ever, and then the baby got sick again. It’s been weeks of sleeplessness and exhaustion and only meeting basic needs like grocery shopping and making food, doing laundry, and bathing. I’ve barely been able to read, let alone write or work on any other projects. When I have been writing, I’ve been sacrificing sleep. The resulting writing and writer’s personality have not been pretty.

After having a bit of a whinge on Twitter and feeling immensely sorry for myself, I reminded myself that no one was going to magically make things better. It was up to me. So I got offline and quickly prioritized what I wanted to happen that day: 1) earlier bedtime, 2) quality writing time, 3) reconnection, 4) anything else on my to do list no matter how small.

By the end of Tuesday, I was feeling a LOT better. I realized that the sleeplessness and exhaustion and crankiness had derailed everything, not just writing. I didn’t make it to bed as early as I’d have liked that night, but I made it to coffee with my local mums’ group, which cheered me up immensely, and made some actual writing progress and crossed one or two small items off of the to do list.

A few things helped turn last week around, so I’m jotting them down here for future reference and in case they help you during a similarly rough patch:

Drink Water

Seriously. Dehydration gives me massive headaches. I’d also gotten into a habit of “Oh my goodness the baby is finally asleep, I survived another day, let’s have a glass of wine to unwind,” which used to be a small, daily celebration, and now just makes me even more tired. I cut that out last week and realized my evenings were magically more productive, no extra hours needed.

Schedule Activities

We all learned about inertia in school. It takes a big jolt of energy to move an object at rest, but once that object is moving, it’s pretty easy to keep it going. Same for people.

I get the most done on days when I have a few things going on. But there’s a sweet spot. Too much, and it’s all just frenetic. Now I’m trying to schedule something that gets me out of the house every day so that I interact with other people, get out of my head, get moving, and get into “go” mode without getting into complex logistics.

My French class meets two afternoons/week. I have a weekly mums’ group meeting. We just started Kindermusik classes. Between those and errands and chores like grocery shopping and laundry, we have something almost every day.

Accomplish Something

There’s nothing like getting something done to serve as motivation for accomplishing something else. With my revision, I was feeling discouraged because I was trying to complete a chapter a day and had gotten stuck on one chapter. I was staring at it every single day, which meant I wasn’t crossing that chapter off of my list, and I was wasting hours feeling frustrated. This, in turn, meant I couldn’t figure out what the chapter needed — I was too stuck on what I needed.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t do well with daily word count goals. If I don’t hit the count, I feel like I have to make it up the next day, and more often than not, I drive myself into a bad writing week for not hitting goals even if I’ve made progress overall. In revision, progress often means cutting/reshaping, and increased word count isn’t even an accurate measure of productivity.

Instead, I’ve set my daily “to do” to “write for 15 minutes.” More often than not, if I can sit down for those 15 minutes, I’ll get absorbed and work for 2 hours. I don’t feel a need to make up a missed 15 minutes, so I don’t get sucked into a vicious cycle of never catching up.

I recently read this piece via Lifehacker that summarizes this change — it’s an interview with the Dilbert comic author Scott Adams on having systems, not goals.


The final reminder is as obvious as it is true. Regularly getting an extra hour of sleep will make the 15 minutes of writing much more productive than staring at the screen for 3 hours. This isn’t to say that the occasional long push instead of sleep isn’t worth it — it absolutely is — just not long term.


Back in July, I posted a few nonfiction recommendations and was super excited about Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk. Well, on Tuesday, Helen won the Samuel Johnson Prize, which is the UK’s top prize for nonfiction! It’s basically like winning a Booker for NF. Huge deal.

I am beyond thrilled — Helen is awesome, as is her book. It’s a memoir about her grief upon the sudden death of her father, her experience training a goshawk, and a biography of T.H. White (author of The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King), who was also a falconer who wrote about his attempt to train a goshawk.

In addition to being a writer and falconer, Helen’s a poet, so her writing is simply gorgeous. I’ve been chatting up the book to everyone, but don’t just take my word for it — she won the freaking SJ Prize!

Here’s a short BBC interview** with Helen from right after the awards announcement:

* Title grabbed from Mary:

** via another falconer friend, John/Dr. Hypercube


One of my morning rituals used to be opening Google Reader and scrolling through blog posts and other various feeds. Google Reader is now long gone, and even though I promptly switched to another service, these days I’m lucky if I check it once a week. Usually I’m so backlogged that I read a day’s worth of recent posts and then “Mark As Read” the rest.

This may have something to do with my own current lack of blogging practice. I started blogging in 2001 on my page at the MIT Media Lab. It’s been so long that I want to keep going, but I’m considering calling this one closed. At least for now. See — still having a hard time letting go!

Part of my lack of blogging is a matter of time. With a now 6-month old, I have to ruthlessly prioritize what I’m doing and be efficient about all of it. Thus far, blogging hasn’t made the cut. I think about potential posts — for example, we recently went to Greece for the first time! — but the experience ends up divided across other forms of social media.

Here I feel like I mostly write for myself, and I’ve lost a sense of what interests readers. If I do continue to post here, what would you like to read about?

— Life abroad/Travel?
— Link round ups to articles?
— Parenting/Education? (My husband was trying to convince me to write about this.)
— Personal?
— Reading?
— Writing/craft?

When time permits, I’m on Twitter. I find blog posts and articles that sound interesting through what my community there posts, and my reading has expanded because of that. I check Facebook. Despite my misgivings about the company, it’s my main way of staying in touch with extended family and friends from all walks of life.

On Facebook, I’m in several closed communities. We have discussions there that have helped me in real life so many times, from private parenting advice to practical tips for navigating life as an expat.

I write a newsletter that goes to family and friends. I read newsletters that friends send. I’m on a couple of private email lists that I can dip in and out of depending on time and availability. These communities don’t need my constant, active participation in order to exist and continue but accept the ebb and flow.

I’ve tried G+ and wanted to love it. The same goes for Tumblr, but I’m more of a retweeter than a reblogger. Pinterest was fun for the first several weeks, but it became irrelevant when I moved to Switzerland. I mostly used it for recipes, and I can’t find half of the ingredients here!

Recently, I joined Ello, which may end up filling my blogging void. Thus far, my community there is writing longer posts and tossing out ideas and questions for discussion. The people whom I’m following are making a conscious effort not to simply repost what’s already on Facebook or Twitter but to use the space in a new way. I appreciate that.

Now that I’ve posted my doubts about continuing to post here, I’ll probably end up doing it just to be contrary, but I would love feedback on which posts are the most interesting. And in case I don’t write for a while, please find me on other networks, and keep in touch!

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