Here is a partial list of things I have done since January instead of finishing my novel:
- Returned to knitting. (I've finished 2 small lace shawls and have a third shawl in progress.)
- Taken up letter writing. (I've mailed out over 50 cards and letters since the middle of February.)
- Painted my nails. (A lot.)
- Obsessively washed every item of clothing I own. (We got a new washer and dryer -- it's heaven.)
- Rewatched the entire collection of "How It's Made" seasons on Netflix. (While compulsively refreshing on Twitter.)
A long time ago, at a craft night, a friend asked me to make her a crocheted iPod cover -- and so I did, right then and there. When she finished admiring it (there were button eyes, it was very cute), she said that she was impressed by the way I followed through on my ideas.
This caught me a little off-guard even then. Because I've always had way more ideas than I could implement. I just figure that's part of being a person, maybe part of being a creative person. After all, ideas are infinite but time is not -- our time in which we get to do stuff is almost tragically finite. (Especially since, you know, we spend a huge chunk of our time working in some capacity -- and, yes, taking care of the living space and/or kids is working.)
There's never enough time (as so many songs have lamented). And that's why some sense of balance is so important. I hesitate to say a priority list is important when it comes to ideas but, yeah. It's important to know which ideas are worth following through on.
I have a hard time saying no (and I know I'm not the only one) when other people need things. I like HELPING and being useful. Feeling useless is basically the worst thing ever for me. Also, being asked to help is a tremendous compliment -- after all, asking for help is always difficult and it matters a lot when people are willing to approach me.
But when I look at my list up there, I can't honestly say any of that is about helping other folks. In fact -- and I hear this in my head in Ed's slightly incredulous lecturing tone -- that stuff kind of looks like "relaxing." Except for the laundry. But having every item of clothing clean is one of my favorite things in the entire world.
When I think about what's keeping me from following through on this novel thing, I can't discount the stressors of my job or my extracurricular activities. Writing is mental work and when your brain is already tired, it's hard to do that work. My big realization during November's NaNoWriMo effort, after all, was that I will turn to paying work before I will sit down with something more "indulgent" like a personal project. That's not altogether a bad thing, but it means y'all get articles here while my agent gets a big fat nothing.
Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I have unreasonable expectations for myself and my output. I mean, my day job isn't super hardcore, but it's pretty involved. But maybe all of that is just an excuse when I have a thing I'd really like to do and that I am, for some reason, not doing. How do we know where those lines get drawn?
My own personal rule on that has been getting more flexible -- as long as my obligations are fulfilled, I'm not slacking. Maybe the problem is that long-term personal stuff, like the novel, feels like work without any of the obligation of actual work.
Fear of failure, fear of success, whatever. I can talk about that stuff with Harriet the Therapist until the cows come home. The work we've done to chillax my anxiety has been super useful (because talk therapy works for me), but that's just the psychological end of things. The behavioral end of things is where I still wind up overscheduling myself until I throw up my hands and knit to block out all of my obligations. (Including social obligations because "I'm too tired." Or whatever.)
Sometimes I go do social things, rationalizing that at least I'm seeing people I might not otherwise be seeing! Because aren't people more important than fictional worlds? Nevermind that I just really like socializing. (Textbook extrovert in many ways, right here.)
None of that gets my novel done.
I figure what I need to do involves a couple of different solutions. One, I need to get my shit organized and far more together than it is. For instance, much like Emily, I am pants at replying to emails. I need an email system that will work to manage the couple hundred email messages I get every day and not leave me feeling overwhelmed or like I'm failing someone by not writing them back.
(One facet of this: I have no real idea how to respond to someone who has written a wonderful and heartfelt letter praising me. I want to say more than thank you, so I set it aside to address later -- and then later never comes.)
Two, I need better time management in my personal life. I'm pretty decent at estimating workload and scheduling at really for real work so I ought to be able to apply that to the work I do outside of the 8-5 grind. Maybe part of my reluctance here is in applying official work stuff to personal time. Right now, it still mostly feels like a fun thing I do to earn shoe money. But if I'm going to keep doing it, I need to not be overwhelmed by it.
Three, I think I need to stop feeling a vague embarrassment that I want to finish this novel as a serious project. I don't really take myself seriously, as a person, much less as a writer. Yes, I AM a writer. But still. This is probably one for Harriet the Therapist. Unless you guys have some tried and trusted methods for getting over ye olde Imposter Syndrome.
Here's where I really ask you for help: Tell me, wonderful xoJane commentariat, how you keep your shit organized. Do you just make lots of lists? Do you organize your email? Carry around a paper planner?
I still have my old paper planner! But it's covered in grody stickers for punk and goth bands so I suspect I would need to find a new one. I've tried various apps for my phone but since I can just not look at an app, they lack that sense of urgency a really good paper list has.
I also need to figure out how to judge when something has to give -- where's the point where I just can't do everything I want to do? I feel dangerously close to that point some days, and those are the ones where it's hard to get out of bed. Those are also the days where I choose a short-term project -- so I can finish it and feel that sense of satisfied accomplishment -- over working on a long-term project that has no real payoff.
Following through -- on personal and public commitments both -- is a really big deal. I don't want to be a flake. Even to myself.