The Writing Life – Whatever it Takes

330am

Happy New Year!

Early October had me leaving Atlanta with the clothes on my back to reach Jacksonville in time to evacuate my parents from what was supposed to be a Cat 4 hurricane grinding up the coast. Two hours south of Atlanta I received a call asking me to be a Team Lead for a different company – a gig that would put working me in Jacksonville for a while at least. So, I said yes. After a crazy evacuation, I began that assignment, only to have it finish two weeks later. However, by then, I’d had another offer for a long-term opportunity that would allow me to sleep in my own bed for the foreseeable future. I took it.

Then we launched into the endless holidays. All the three and four-day weekends filled with either a backlog of chores not done while I was constantly away or holiday preparations at my house and my parents’. This was the first holiday season for them in their “new” house and the first for me at mine for several years.

All good stuff but meant none of my “free time” got me any further on my writing projects.

I was so long-term exhausted after months of running full-tilt and then the 12 hour/7 day Team Lead phase that I was falling asleep at 7 p.m. – which meant I was waking up around 3 a.m. Once mind and body had recovered, I realized that, with my new job and new life at home, getting up to write at 3:30 a.m was really my only option AND completely DOABLE!

And so, that’s exactly what I have been doing. It’s still nothing like enough time. And my weekends continue to fill up and not provide the larger chunks of time that I need to make this all happen. However, it’s a lot better than nothing and I keep thinking if we can get beyond the extras (backlog of tasks and holiday stuff) I might finally GET an additional 3-4 hour session on Saturdays, and/or Sundays.

So, for me, 3:30 a.m. it is.

Time Management and the Disordered Life – Update #1

Must Keep Writing!

10,000 new words in six days! Whew. Mostly rubbish but something to work with. I’m trying to set short-term goals based on what looks possible within the next chunk of time. Those six days were spent away from home, helping my parents with their move. While I am with them, we have a standing agreement that I spend my mornings working on my writing. I am often able to squeeze additional time (mostly reading, research and social media) into the evenings.

I’d set myself a minimum of 1500 words/day while there – see here – enough pressure to keep me focused but not so much to make failure inevitable. I’m not sure of the exact final count because I often delete chunks of in-line notes along the way. But I definitely averaged above my 1500 word/day goal.

Now I am home again – for about a week. This time must include unloading and finding room for the belongings I always cart south by truck and small trailer on these trips; quarterly and 2014 tax paperwork, phone calls regarding all of the preparation needed to establish Mom and Dad in their new home: new doctors, Invisible Fence estimates, lawyers; buying paint for their “new” house, the usual personal catching up (laundry), and, if the weather will allow, some exterior painting on my own house.

So, my next short-term goal is: a minimum of 500 words/day on the manuscript (blog posts don’t count!) and putting together some reference lists that I feel I need to finally tackle. I’m at the point in my scribbles where placeholders for the names of minor characters, major articles of clothing, architectural terms, etc, are slowing me down. One can only have so many Whosywhatsits, So&Sos and thingamajigs in a manuscript before going nutso.

Time Management and the Disordered Life

Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole

Day job, family, (laundry, errands, bills, stray cats and trying to move aging parents to new home), news headlines, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, real life relationships – everything conspires against our creative arts. This past week, with 20x more discretionary hours available than usual, I lost focus. I meandered down every possible rabbit hole. A lot of it was good – I’ve learned about marketing, how to use Twitter, found new resources and finished some research – but I didn’t add one word to my manuscript. I floundered.

Today I’m packing to head north again and wishing I’d used this week at home more effectively.

My life goes from 95% externally structured (when on an adjusting gig) to negligible external structure (between gigs). I have been self-employed most of my life so I am adept at self-structure and motivation. But from time to time even I fizzle out.

So, in an effort at self-help, I’ve added a special page to this blog to track my challenges in focus and productivity. I’ll keep it separate from this main feed in order to not clutter it up. Since technically it won’t scroll like a blog, I will continually update the page text and see if that works. It will include periodic reviews of how I am doing, plus observations, tips and resources to combat this struggle. I can’t promise there will be no pity parties.

I’m calling it Creative Accountability. We’ll see if it works.

Hooked on History II

Roman Main Street

The rest of the story. Originally posted on my Long Ago & Far Away blog in August of 2013:

It happened in an instant. I’d read the last page of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, closed the book and saw this kid running through ancient streets. Who was he?

The fact of real people living their lives through cataclysmic events overwhelmed me. How do they do it? How did they do it? Who were they?

It has long baffled me that, in the midst of upheaval, famine, war, and illness, people go on. They cope. They live their lives. Somehow. Whether the British during the Blitz or a nameless dancing boy escaped from a sinking ship, people adjust and do what life requires.

I was compelled to examine this resilience; to imagine their stories. My thoughts flashed to the times and places that fascinate me most – Late Antique Syria and points further east – and I knew I had tales to tell.

That was in 1993.

My life moved on. From time to time I thought about that kid who wouldn’t completely go away. I now knew who he was and what he was doing but I was busy. I left London for the US, got married, then left the US for Indonesia. While on a much needed vacation in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, the plot spun out before me over the course of three days. But I still thought I’d never really write it. I was, though, compiling reference materials as I could. All that time the resources were few and expensive. I had to request an out-of-print Amazon search for the book The Early Islamic Conquests by Fred Donner. It was nearly 2 years before I received a notice that they had found it. I paid $80.00 for it in 2001. (It looks like it’s playing hard to get again.)

Life carried on. I returned to the US in 2002, ran a decorative painting/murals business for eight years and designed scenery and lighting for several professional theatre companies. In 2010, we moved to Florida and I started yet another career – this time in a cubical!

About eighteen months ago my work schedule became so crazy that my only possible creative time was the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t going to make it to my downtown art studio at 5am, so I decided it was time to write. The story is finally under way.

What strikes me now is how difficult it would have been to write any of my planned stories back in the early 1990s. There was no WWW. And, few of my primary reference books were published in 1993, most were written much later. If I could have learned to read Arabic, Greek, Latin and Aramaic while camping out at SOAS, I might have had a chance. So, although I’ve taken the long way to it, it’s just as well.

I would love to hear the research methods of others writing about obscure times and places. Do you think you could have tackled your current projects in the pre-Internet world?

Running Battles

Copying a post from my catch-all blog:

Running Battles

As I mentioned here, I was tossed a great independent adjuster gig and so I’ve been at that for 25 days running. I leave the house at 8:15am and return around 8:30pm – seven days a week. It doesn’t leave much time for painting or writing. My hair is becoming an over-grown mop and the dust bunnies are staging a coup.

I am, however, working towards a plan in which I spend a few minutes in the wee hours of the morning painting some pieces for display and, hopefully, sale, at my booth in the Avonlea Antiques mall. So far the plan has been thwarted by electrical failures and dirty litter boxes but I am zeroing in on the target.

Last fall I spent an afternoon wandering around downtown Jacksonville taking pictures of architectural details. I have culled some decorative motifs that I will paint as trompe l’oeil panels and canvases. I can’t wait to get started. I will post the results once I am finally under way. I just have to convince the dust bunnies to let me down into the basement where I have set up a work table. Then I will paint from 5:30-6:30am while enjoying my tea and ignoring the siren call of the neglected laundry.

New Year’s Revolutions – 2014

Yes. Revolutions. Time to bust through the status quo and it’s inertia. Time to start something, change something.

I’ll begin with this blog that has been sitting for 6 months with nary a post.

2013 – my writing goal was to finish my novel’s rough draft. Didn’t happen. Got bogged down in life. But the first third of the book is a solid draft, so the 2014 goal is to get the rest of the book to a similar state. It will be a challenge.

For the first half of 2013, I still had a normal day job as a staff, in-office, catastrophe adjuster for a major insurance company. I worked long hours with lots of overtime but at least I knew my general schedule. I was able to get up at 5am and know I could get a good 90 minutes of writing time.

In mid-June I quit that staff job to go independent. I had a gig lined up. It fell apart. I enjoyed the summer catching up on everything else and making strides on my novel. Then, in September, a prior manifestation of my life came rushing back at me. I was suddenly a decorative painter again. The novel was set aside so I could be 150% self-employed.

You can read about all of that on my other blogs: Lausanne’s Golden Road and Marsh Hawk Studio.

To be painting again is a wonder, but the novel has been on the shelf – so to speak (hah, couldn’t resist).

In just a few more days, I will complete the large painting project that started it all. And return to the novel. Knowing that, with Spring approaching, I could be called up for adjusting duty and be working 12 hours/7 days week for a while. Or, another mural client could come calling.

There’s much to be said for an ordered life. Mine will never be. So I must figure out how to write without a set schedule.