Thursday, March 5, 2009

STRESS: Everybody's World Class Juggling Act

DELLE JACOBS

CURRENTLY WRITING:
Polishing, polishing, polishing SIDHE and SIREN for submission and already dreaming of the next book. Will it be Davy's story, STRANGER IN THE NIGHT? There's GILDING LILLY that's half done... And a pirate short story, CAPTAIN JACK IS BACK...

MOOD:
Ambitious

But back to juggling. I thought I would be through with that, once I left the day job. But here, almost five years later, I have more to do than ever. That, of course, is one of the problems in finding time to write. Making sure you don't have priorities you don't need.

Back when I started writing, I did have too much to do, legitimately. I had a 40 hour a week job as a social worker that never took less than 55 hours a week to perform, and sometimes those extra hours came in the middle of the night. Or lunch hours- big time suck there. Breaks? We didn't know what those were, sometimes, but we tried to take them because we needed them.

I didn't have a laptop back then, so I kept a notebook handy, and when I'd get any kind of break, I'd make notes on what I wanted to write next. I'd also take my previous day's writing with me and edit it, then the first thing I'd do when I started writing at night was to enter the edits on the previous day. That invariably led me right in to what I wanted to do currently. I had one book I swore had been written in doctor's offices and break rooms. And since I walked a lot on my lunch hours, I found this a really good time to brainstorm my own plot ideas.

I don't do most of that anymore. Computers have changed, and I've changed. Laptops are just too handy, maybe. But I think that was probably the most efficient way I've ever written. I do keep a notebook in my purse, but I'm surprised at how little I use it now, or how few times I go back and read what I wrote in it. The best thing was, by reviewing the previous day's work, I was right on top of where I needed to be for what came next. No dithering, trying to remember my mood, or what little plot details had to be worked in. Because I had to be efficient, I had it all planned, and it just blossomed.

I've also decided there's something habitual in the made-up stress in our lives that may be important to us. True, we can and do use false priorities to escape our real priorities. It's very easy to blame our lack of forward movement on our manuscript on too many things to do, because there are always too many things to do. Even when we start weeding out the things we really don't need to do, there's still too much. So if we somehow don't want to tackle that blank page, it's no problem. Easy. We can clean toilets. We live in a wet climate, and even in winter we can find weeds to pull.

But I think it's good for us to have some of that too-much-to-do stress in our lives. Most of us just don't function well without some of it, and we actually thrive on it. If we don't have it, we feel like we've lost our place in the universe. We aren't needed. If we went off to the desert to become hermits, nobody would notice us because nobody needs us. And we need to feel needed.

So I don't think I'd get more writing done if I didn't have other obligations. I think I'd just get lazier and fatter, and that's bad enough already. What I need in order to write more is not less to do, but better use of the time I have.

I'm working on a different structure for my day now. A specific part of my day is scheduled for writing. Not only that, every time some wild notion pops into my head that those toilets are getting really grungy and must be scrubbed RIGHT NOW, I notice that happens only during scheduled writing time. So I schedule said task for the next day, at a very specific time. I might not schedule anything else, but I give it the time it needs. So I can't say to myself I'm neglecting that all-important task. Instead, I'm honoring its importance. Just not right now.

Part of the secret, I think, is that I'm still learning myself, after all these years. I'm learning what I do to fool myself. And I'm learning how to look more deeply into my own motivations and discover what I really want and why.

If selling a book is my goal, then why don't I want to do the work? That's what it boils down to. It's work. It's hard. Sure, it's fun, but it's mostly hard work. It's so hard, I actually tell myself I'm not capable of doing it. Never in any other job have I found myself so lacking. And that's because it really is hard.

When stories don't flow smoothly, is that a sign we're losing our abilities as writers? Why should it be? It's a sign we've reached a point where if we don't reach deeply into ourselves and work hard, we may end up with a story that gets to The End, but it won't be worthy of us. If we just write whatever, and don't really work hard at that point, we will miss the story's true depth. When the going gets rough and hard, and we can't get past our tangle, we can do a lot of things, like write a part we do understand, or stop and play a "What if?" game with ourselves. But that's a point where we're being challenged as a writer to find whatever it is that makes this story unique and significant, not just a story anybody could sit down and dash out.

So now whenever I'm stuck, I try to remind myself this isn't proof that I'm a failure as a writer. This is my opportunity to write something wonderful, to go beyond what the average writer would write.

Much better than scrubbing toilets, don't you think?

7 comments:

Susan Lute said...

Delle, I love your book covers. And, like your idea of setting a scheduled time for the distractions that pop into our heads. Sweeping the floor...March 2010...cool :)

therese said...

Well said, Delle. There were so many cool points you made, that should be told, to those that have the day job, and use it as an excuse.

One point I'd like to make, as one of those who doesn't have the "day job" - other than grandma 3x a week - is PLACE. My office is great, and I love it, but I do best with the laptop on the kitchen table. LOL!

All those RIGHT NOW tasks, know they have to wait, for when I'm in a pause (plot, brainstorm, etc) and will be given attention, only as long as I need a pause - or the day before a party.

What's the point of cleaning toilets unless someone else might notice? And on that note, most are more interested in my books than my toilets. This is a good thing.

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Delle!

So much of your post resonated with me! I also "retired" about five years ago after 30+ years working for the state--much of that time in a social services agency, though not on the front lines.

You're definitely right that being "too busy" can be a cover for other emotional needs.

I appreciate the thoughtful and thought-provoking blog!

Delle Jacobs said...

Thx on the cover stuff, Su. I like to have a cover picture to make the manuscript seem more real, I think. It is a drawback though, if I sell it and I've become too attached to it, because I have to give it up then. My publisher doesn't allow author to do their own covers. But hey, I'll sacrifice!

And I see you have plans for your floors a little sooner than I do...

Delle Jacobs said...

Yeah, Therese, I'll agree. I do try to be honest with myself when I'm stalling, but I don't think, even though I've figured that out, I'm much better than most authors.

But it really concern me that I hear so many authors say they love to write, yet they aren't doing it. Do they? What's going on? Do they love the way it used to be, but now it's not the same? What's different? There is something, and I'm trying to get a handle on what that is. Where did the magic go?

Delle Jacobs said...

You know, Genene, I do truly believe that writing actually saved my life, keeping me both sane and physically alive at a time when the social work was so hellish- at least the bureaucratic part- became unbearable. I know I could not have made it through that period if I had not been able to go home and write, pouring so much energy and concentration into the story in what little time I had that the process literally forced me to break my mind from the horrors of the day job. I had work situation that was laced with pointed maliciousness, and it continued for six years. But because I could completely immerse into my story, I could go to sleep at night with my mind on my story instead of the day job. Then going back the next day was bearable.

Interestingly enough, now that I no longer have the day job, I don't feel like I need to be saved from anything. So maybe I need more hell in my life...

Jessa Slade said...

Brilliant stuff, Delle. Why do we seek drama in our lives when we should save it for the page? Why do we need to be needed? Who really cares about clean toilets?

Well, I'll concede on that last one, but the rest... You give me hope that someday I will know myself.