Monday, July 30, 2012

Small Expectations

About ten days ago, I made grand writing plans.  I’ve had two projects running this summer: the first was my novel, House of Mirrors; the second was editing another novel – specifically cutting it down from a monumental 290 pages to something a bit more manageable.  Both have been going successfully, but ten days ago, I saw clearly that House of Mirrors was about to end, so I decided to put editing on hold. 

I told myself, ‘Once I’m done, starting the day after I’ll devote all my time to editing.  Hopefully I’ll get through the remaining 80 pages by the first weekend in August.’ 
Sometimes my friends feel like a clamoring gaggle of birds...

What’s that line about the plans of mice and men ganging aft agley?  (More importantly, is ‘agley’ even a word?)

I did finish the novel, but editing hasn’t been progressing terribly well since then.  The reason is that I suddenly had a half-dozen invitations from friends and family, all of which I felt obliged to fulfill.

First there was a student of mine who recently graduated.  She'll spend a year in France, starting in September, so she emailed asking if I’d like to go biking, since she was off work and wanted to see me before leaving.  I’ve always liked this particular student, so I agreed.  We spent three hours on the bike trails in our town, an hour at her house afterwards, and then to top it off, I had an appointment at the optometrist that afternoon.  No editing could really be squeezed in. 

Then I emailed one of my best friends, The Fashionista, to ask her if she’d like to go out for her birthday.  She replied by calling me and asking me to come over that very night.  I hadn’t seen her in six weeks, so I sprang t the chance.  However, that meant still more editing went out the window. 

I won’t bore you with further accounts of my social life, but you begin to get the idea.  My plan to edit in every spare moment didn’t exactly materialize.

Now the reason this is hard for me is that I’m very schedule-oriented.  It’s partly natural and partly a habit I developed two years ago when I was 11th grade home-room teacher at my school, with 22 hours in class per week.  In order to survive, I started keeping a rigid work plan for each day.  It worked well, but I’ve kept doing it to a certain extent, and have even become a bit too ruled by it, I’d say. 

As a writer, I want to be like this tree: calm and peaceful!
On the plus side, this ability of mine really helps me stay on top of writing.  I’m sure any of you who are writers or artists know the necessity of creating some sort of schedule, even a general one, in order to make sure that writing gets done in spite of distractions.  Sometimes, that schedule demands that we become a bit less social.  You can’t be the life of a party and an effective artist, I don’t think.  A certain amount of solitude and order and peace is needed. 

People are important too, though.  I believe, in fact, that they are more important than writing (I realize I may be revealing I’m not a true writer by saying this, but so be it!).  Even if they can be pesky and demanding, interactions with other human beings help me become better and more human.  Ultimately, I think that good relationships also enrich my writing and my imagination. They affect me on every level.

That’s why I don’t refuse my friends’ invitations, even when suddenly they conflict with my writing plans.  The difficulty, however, is that all the while the strict scheduler in the back of my head is shrieking in a high-pitched, desperate voice, ‘But you were going to edit!’  I could assure you it’s very annoying, but I probably don’t have to, since most of us have a little voice like that.

The result of this interior conflict is low spirits.  I feel tired and overwhelmed, because I peck at editing but don’t advance very far, I go out with friends and family but feel slightly distracted.  Obligations to two things pull me in different directions, plus I have the nagging sensation that perhaps I’m just being too much of a stickler for my schedule.  On the other hand, I know from experience that I become grumpier the longer I go without writing.  Writing and strong relationships are both so necessary to me that I can’t quite chose between them.

The way to balance during this dilemma came to me during a recent story my father told.  He is a retired naval officer, and he mentioned that during plebe summer (for the uninitiated, that’s the summer before entering the Naval Acadamy, when the midshipmen get initiated – rather forcefully, I gather) he was so miserable that he had to shorten his view of the future to the next meal.  ‘If I can just make it to lunch, I’ll be okay,’ he would tell himself. 

With too much scheduling, my life becomes about this boring!
My dad and I are a lot alike.  We are scheduled people who can look far into the future and plan everything carefully; my ability to plot complex stories only contributes to that.  Often when I feel depressed or worried, it has to do with the fact that I feel my schedule falling apart.  Silly, I know – but true! 

So I’ve decided to try to adopt my father’s navy strategy.  Not that I’m going to use meals as my markers, but overall I want to try to think about the short-term a little more and the long-term a little less.  Instead of planning a whole week of editing, it’s safer to think, ‘Well, when I’m pretty sure to have a two hour stretch, I’ll get through four or five pages.’  Then, rather than worrying about editing while with a friend, I can enjoy the conversation much more.  Granted, I may not plough through 70 pages of editing in 10 days, but I think I’ll keep my sanity better. 

Does anyone else have a good strategy for keeping sane during times with scheduling conflicts?  I think reducing plans to shorter intervals can help a lot, but I’d love to read any other advice you might have. 


  1. Hi! Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I agree that scheduling and balancing are the toughest parts of writing. It's like we can too easily push it aside for another time and if we aren't careful that time never comes.

    New follower :)


    1. Thank you so much for commenting and following! I'm glad you agree with my observations. I'm struggling right now with balance between too much schedule and too little, but I always keep in mind that if I put off writing too long, I'll never get to it.

  2. I am a great procrastinator. Being a newly unemployed empty-nester doesn't help. I'm sort of on call for the grandchild when needed. And that isn't scheduled at the moment. My first summer off in a long time. However I've been trying to get up earlier to at least post my pebble - my single stone of daily observation. I haven't gotten to the part of great organization to promote my own humble self for publishing. If you find any good tricks - do let me know. One thing I've read is to take large tasks and break them down into manageable increments... like if you are organizing your house (like that ever ends) into 15 minute slots, so you can actually see small accomplishments.

    Cheers and thanks for writing about a time, place and space that we all have to deal with.