When you dreamed of being an author, what did you think it would look like? What were the author rules?
I never dreamed of being an author—I just wrote. Books seemed like something for people a lot smarter and more famous than me. The actually author part of my writing journey is a newish one.
What I’ve learned, though, is that a lot of us set inappropriate expectations for ourselves, and then we self-flagellate when we don’t meet them. If you were already a mom when your author dreams started to take shape, you likely had a somewhat realistic vision of author life. It probably included figuring out how to survive while you build your writing career or how to squeeze more hours into your already too-full days.
When I started looking at writing books as a career option, I started reading and listening to people who were already doing what I wanted to do. I quickly started to note the common habits people discussed: 5am writers clubs, daily word counts, strict daily time “in the chair,” and self-imposed deadlines—it all felt like too much.
I panicked. Author rules were unattainable for me.
To clarify, I see the value in this for people who are not me. Since I am, in fact, me, these practices make me want to die. How would I ever be serious enough? The rigidity of what I saw was antithetical to everything I understood about my own creative process. I tried to keep up with word counts and I tried waking up earlier and staying up later and it always fell apart. Ultimately, I always felt like I was failing.
It sounds silly when I write it out now, but the truth is that I thought there were rules for the writing process. I thought I had to meet arbitrary word counts and write for a certain number of hours every day to be “successful.”
Over the past year, I’ve been working on understanding myself and how I work most effectively. I took an inventory of the responsibilities I have and the resources available to me. I’ve gotten to know myself and my own limitations. I also have learned how to trust my strengths (most of the time).
Ultimately, I got more accomplished than I thought was possible last year.
Here are my takeaways:
The author rules are made up.
Stop trying to stuff yourself into boxes you don’t fit in to. If 5am wake-ups don’t work for you, then don’t wake up at 5am. If writing 1k words a day doesn’t work for you, you literally don’t have to write that way. Embrace your own creative ebbs and flows. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with a 5,000 word word-dump followed by a week of stop and start writing if that’s how you work.
Focus on what you did accomplish.
I call it my “Done” list. I have a habit of laying in bed obsessing over all the things that I didn’t do. Of all the things I “should have done.” What does that even mean? How is it helpful? Even on off days, as a mom, I accomplish a lot. Even if I did nothing but feed my kids and make sure they got to school and bed, I did something and that’s worth acknowledging.
Give yourself wins.
What works for you? For me, my wins are three-fold:
- Lightening my mental load. Ultimately, my anxieties and frustrations and fears seem less serious when I put them on paper. I can usually find answers and navigate things when they are in black and white.
- Finish something. Short form work can be an incredible morale booster. There is nothing like finishing a project, and sometimes 80k+ words feels entirely insurmountable. So, write 500 words. Write a poem. Submit a flash fiction piece. Whatever it is, it’s done and you did it.
- Share. You’re never the only person who has felt a feeling or been in a rut, and if community and support is a motivator for you, put it out there. Share your poem. Pitch your story to a larger website. Share in a group. Share with your writing circle. Wherever you feel supported, put something out there. Normalize the ups and downs of the creative process. We all have them.
Don’t set yourself up for failure.
If something isn’t working for you, you can stop doing that thing. There is no rule that is non-negotiable for your writing process; just do what makes your work better. You don’t have to follow any other rules. Identifying what success is for you is important. It could be word counts and chair time. Success could also be simply completing something. It can be whatever you want it to be. Equally important to the writing process, though, is confidence, so make sure that your definition of success allows you to succeed as frequently as possible.
It’s not easy, but it’s simple. Make your own rules and ignore author rules.
I won’t offer platitudes like “just write,” because it’s never as easy as just writing. However, giving yourself permission to create a different set of rules coupled with a new definition of success can be a game changer. If you were looking for an escape from the rigidity of certain author conventions, consider this permission.
About the Writer: Allie Gravitt is a mom of 3 and lives in metro Atlanta with a house full of animals and plants. Her debut poetry collection, prisonbreaks, and second collection Killing Ghosts are available now on Amazon. Follow Allie’s writing journey on TikTok and Instagram.