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.

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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.

My 500 Words Challenge

Reblogging this post as it is a great example of what I just posted here.

Lightning Droplets

It’s amazing sometimes how the universe seems to be sending very distinct messages, as if it’s conspiring for goodness.  Pronoia.  After writing a post about forming writing habits and a post about writing word by word, my reading of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life presents me with this food for thought, which she refers to as “comfort for friends discouraged by their writing pace:”

“It takes years to write a book, between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant… Thomas Mann was a prodigy of production. Working full time, he wrote a page a day. That is 365 pages a year… At a page a day, he was one of the most prolific writers who ever lived.  Flaubert wrote steadily…For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five to seven years.  If a full-time writer averages a book every five years, that…

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Getting Your Work Done

I am fascinated by the methods other people use to get their creative work done in the midst of life’s demands. I am especially amazed at people who can produce art while enduring the worst of this life’s burdens – their own or loved one’s illness, broken relationships, war and death. Not trying to be morbid, I’m just amazed at how some people manage to carry on.

Even the daily routine of better days fills life to the edges with activity – all urgent and consuming.

Most artists/writers advocate getting up in the wee morning hours to get the writing/painting done and I have found it to be true for myself. Once the regular day begins there seems no way to disengage.

So, up early. And what else? Creatives establish little rituals. For me, it’s a humongous mug of PG Tips (that’s English tea) with half & half.

And goals. Many writers have daily word count goals. I have been participating in an online group of writers whose only connection is a commitment to write 250 words per day, every day. When you’ve done your words, you enter your daily total into an online Google document. People with the longest unbroken stretches and highest word counts get to be in the leader board. That’s it. No prizes. But, we cheer and spur each other on. It works wonders.

Last Spring I managed 53 days in a row. Then I went into research mode and then was consumed by my resurrected painting business.

That’s 250.

Whew. Made it for the day.

How do you do it? How do you make the time, energy and emotional space to do the creative work only you can do?

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.