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Incubating for Two

Novel writer Olivia Kenney was thrilled to learn that in addition to bringing a novel into the world, she would also bring a baby. But when life got messy, Olivia realized she would need to constantly tweak her perfectly planned writing routine to make it happen.

By Olivia Kenney

February 29, 2024

In the fall of 2022, I decided to get serious about a long-held dream: writing a novel. I learned about book inc’s Novel Incubator and joined an information session where alumni shared that one of the Incubator’s biggest benefits was accountability. I heard that, as a participant, having a peer cohort and an ambitious timeline would push me to develop a writing routine, to claim a little time for myself and my writing every day.

I was all in. For years, I had wanted to write a novel, and while I am a huge fan of routines, I am also painfully distractible from tasks that demand deep thought. The minute I sit down to write, I think: Does the laundry need to be folded? Was that an email notification I heard? Or maybe the doorbell? I knew I needed to try something new to create a routine for myself. I was hopeful that joining the Novel Incubator and writing alongside a dozen dedicated peers would do the trick.

I envisioned myself waking up at 5:00 a.m. every day before work, piping hot coffee in hand, the morning sun peeking through the blinds as I crafted startlingly beautiful prose. If I was just committed enough, I knew it would all work out perfectly as planned.

Then, a few weeks later, while following the prompts in The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt and starting some world-building for my novel-in-progress, I learned that I was pregnant with my first child.

My husband and I were overjoyed. Even though I was a little nervous about how to fit it all in, I was thrilled at the idea that I might ring in 2024 with a new novel AND a new, beautiful baby. Life felt incredibly, wonderfully full.

But then, that spring, my husband was laid off from his job. My writing schedule wavered as our household navigated uncertainty on several levels. I also wrestled with morning sickness, temporary bed rest, and the piercing grouchiness of a hormonal human growing another human. My dear husband and my work colleagues felt the brunt of it. So did my perfectly planned writing sessions. Then, one day in May, our wonderful Peer Artist Leader, Jen Gaites, asked us: “What does your writing routine look like these days?”  

What writing routine? I thought, exasperated at myself. I am just grabbing ten minutes wherever I can! 

I was aware of how whiney this sounded. I was also irritated with myself. What happened to the disciplined, capable person who dreamed about carving out an hour for herself every day, cementing her writing routine, and neatly completing her manuscript?

Then, I recalled that book inc information session I attended in the fall of 2022 and the day I enrolled in the Novel Incubator. For me, writing this novel had been both a dream and a decision. The question was never, “Will I make this work?” but rather, “How will I make this work?”

And so, as early summer arrived and I entered my second trimester, just as our cohort reached the halfway mark in our word count timeline and my manuscript plodded along at 15,000 words (of a targeted 50,000), I decided something: When it came to the writing process, I needed to release my dream of a “perfect” writing routine. Because this novel was either going to be written on a messy schedule—crammed into late nights, lunch breaks, and weekend marathons—or not at all. 

So, while I still drafted weekly writing goals—500 words per day, 2,500 per week—I can count on one hand the number of weeks that I successfully followed that schedule. Still, each week, I would evaluate, diligently tweaking the schedule to fit whatever I anticipated in the coming days, be it a busy day at work, doctor’s appointments, or waning energy levels. I still squeezed in some morning sessions, temporarily “snoozing” my phone notifications as my social and professional networks woke up. I also brought my laptop on car rides to doctor appointments and weekend outings, foregoing some of my favorite car activities—having conversation, radio listening, or just thinking quietly—in order to catch up on my word count. One weekend in June, I treated myself to a mini writing retreat, sequestering myself in a rented room by the beach and producing nearly six thousand words.

This weekly process of evaluating what worked was an ongoing practice in patience. Patience with myself, with those around me, and with the many interruptions that are both crazy-making and that also make my life feel full. 

In September, I completed my manuscript, all 67,000 words of it!

Who could have guessed that this patience would serve me well after the Novel Incubator, too? My son is now four months old, and we are teaching him how to roll over. Belly to back, back to belly. It is a slow process. Most days, he stares at us while propped on his elbows, his big head swiveling in our general direction. Just like my “perfect” writing weeks, I can count on one hand the number of times he has rolled over on his own. And yet I would never say, “You know, this doesn’t seem to be working out. I think you’re just more of a live-life-on-your-belly kind of guy.” No! We try again. And again and again, with little adjustments each time. Some days, he laughs wildly. Others, he screams in our faces, and we call it a day. But there is no question of whether he will roll over one day when he’s ready. Then, sit, crawl, stand, and walk. 

For me, this feels like writing. I show up each day with my intention and then prepare for unpredictability and changes, tweaking the process as I go. Because with patience and flexibility, incubating can have the sweetest rewards.

Olivia Kenney

Olivia Kenney is a book inc writer working on her first novel. As a public health researcher who has lived in five states and overseas, Olivia writes speculative fiction that explores themes of travel, climate change, and systems that create the most good for the most people.

Olivia Kenney is a book inc writer working on her first novel. As a public health researcher who has lived in five states and overseas, Olivia writes speculative fiction that explores themes of travel, climate change, and systems that create the most good for the most people.