Thursday, February 23, 2012

Juggling





Our lives are, by nature, a juggling act, and writers have to juggle more than most, because it’s so hard to explain what we do. So much of what we do doesn’t look like work. Yes, we sit and put words on paper. Hopefully, they are coherent. Hopefully, they make readers look at the world in a new way. But staring out the window or walking through the park muttering to ourselves is also work. Reading a book that has nothing to do with what we’re writing is work -- it cleanses our creative palette so that we can return to our own work with fresh vigor.

Right now, I’m trying to finish the next book for this publisher; I’m in edits and pre-release publicity for a re-release of an urban fantasy series for another publisher; I’m in first draft for the second book of a trilogy; I’ve got a half a dozen short stories circulating, and two long short stories currently obsessing me, to which I scribble a few pages here and there in longhand whenever I’m standing in line somewhere. I’m juggling multiple classes as a teacher -- which means reading more than 50K of student work per week and (hopefully) giving coherent, useful commentary. I’m working with private students, editing clients, my pro bono client has a big project coming up for which I’m hustling magazine coverage, I’ve got a series of articles to write, and another publisher is dangling a fantastic opportunity in front of me -- but if I decide to bite, I need 60K submission-ready by June 1. Not to mention running the house, getting ready for garden prep, and a family member’s upcoming surgery. And a milestone birthday for me in March.

So when someone tells me they “don’t have time” to write -- I want to say a string of Very Bad Words in a Row to them. As we talked about in meditation the other day, it’s a choice: Write. Don’t write. There are consequences for either one. But it’s your CHOICE. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame other people when you CHOOSE not to write.

So, how to do it?

First of all, you have to want it. Far too many people like the IDEA of writing better than the ACTUAL writing. They want to HAVE WRITTEN (passive) and HAVE PUBLISHED (passive). To get there, they need to WRITE (active).

The time spent making excuses is far better spent writing.

when do you do your best work? When do you feel more creative? Early mornings? Late at night, when everyone’s in bed? In a cafe at lunch hour, finding the hustle and bustle of life around you soothing?

When CAN you write? Are there certain things scheduled in your day? Kids to school? A day job? Medical appointments? Catching fifteen minutes here and there is better than putting it off until you “have time.” You won’t.

You don’t have to write on a computer. Keep a notebook or pad in your purse or briefcase or car. Catch a few minutes here and there. Learn to drop into your work in an instant and pick of exactly where you left off. That ability is a muscle that can be honed, the same way you’d hone other muscles for working out.

Look at your calendar. What is due when? How much time do you need to spend on each project? Do you prefer to focus on one thing at a time (nearly impossible in the modern publishing model), or does it serve you better to do small bites of different projects throughout the day? Chart your progress and watch it add up -- this helps you psychologically as well as physically.

Remember that the deadlines you set for yourself are as sacred as a contracted deadline. If you don’t respect your own work, no one else has a reason to respect it, either.

I like to write in the mornings. If I hit my desk by 6 AM, and I can get more done between 6-10AM creatively than at any other time of the day. If I have a yoga or meditation class at 8, than means I get up at 4:30, hit my desk early, and have my first 1K done before I leave, and whatever else I can knock out. Once that 1K is under my belt, I can face the day. Otherwise, I fret.

I try to run errands and schedule appointments for late morning/early afternoon so I can slide in lunch with friends. I edit and work with students in the afternoons. If I can get everything done, my evenings are free for me to do whatever, or write some more. If I don’t -- I put in extra hours. This isn’t a nine-to-five career. While I am not a clients’ beck and call (my phone is off nearly all the time and I check for message twice a day), when I have a feast of assignments, I’m grateful -- and I put in the extra hours. That’s the gig.

You work until it’s done. You learn where you fritter away time -- not the wonderful daydreaming we need so badly to create, but all the time wasting we all do. You learn to be flexible. Keep a writing bag packed with pen, paper, book (sometimes the best way to get your own creative juices flowing is to read what someone else is doing). Don’t be afraid to set aside time to just BE, either. You don’t have to work every second of every day.

You DO have to disconnect, for at least a period of time, to find out what you’re really thinking and feeling. No phone, no internet, no TV, no iPod. Just you and your thoughts. It can be during your commute, it can be an early morning run or a late afternoon walk. You ebb and flow, refilling your creative well with putting words on paper.

You keep it integrated. The more you separate writing from your life, the harder it is to “find time.” The more you integrate -- make it a daily practice, like brushing your teeth or working out or meditating -- the more life opens up and gives you room to write.

If you’ve ever tried to juggle rubber balls in the air, you know at first it seems overwhelming. But you start slowly. You build strength, skill, and concentration. Eventually, it gets easier and easier, and even soothing. And when you drop a ball, you don’t quit. You pick it back up and integrate it back in. Without excuses. With a shrug and a smile. You keep juggling.

--Annabel Aidan publishes under a half a dozen names in fiction and non-fiction. Her plays are produced all over the world. Visit her at: www.devonellingtonwork.com/annabelaidan.html.

3 comments:

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Got it.

And the ones who like the idea of writing, those party animals who are sooooo interesting, are called dilettantes.

January Bain said...

I'm a juggling fool! I have such a love of creating. And, I too, never accept excuses. We are what we do.

Big Mike said...

I find the more stories under my belt the harder it gets to finish them. I'm been struggling with the sequel to FINAL SOLUTION for 9 months and am only half way there. Grrrrr.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)