Monday, May 17, 2010

Juggling Doesn't Get Easier; An Earlier Post Revised

I've noticed a recurring theme that echoes in my thoughts about writing, and it pops up often when other writers talk about allocating time for writing, too. I have posted about this previously, so I hesitate to recycle old ideas, but the same issues keep coming back to bite me -- how do I keep all the balls in the air?

Janet's recent post on what she called My New Reality illustrated how often we have to revisit our intentions and renew our vows to The Muse. After all, so many resources stand at the ready for us to deploy, if only we are determined, committed, and positive in our attitude. But those goals do need constant tweaking as we adapt to new circumstances, and we need to remind ourselves that what we set out to do months ago is still important.

Retirement, once a far-off dream, is now my official status. I never worried about what I would do when I retired. All the projects, postponed pleasures, reading and travel that I wanted to do made a long list. And, yes, somehow I would fit in the writing that I never found time to do before. What I didn’t think about was that the length of the days wouldn’t change. So, here I am still juggling all the things I have committed to do and having just as much trouble fitting them into the limited time available as I ever did when I had a full-time day job.

In the nine years since I retired, I have been energised and inspired by the commitment of other writers. And I have become acutely aware that if writing has become my most important objective, then I have to give it top priority over all other activities. To paraphrase Janet's more eloquent declaration: Writing must come first because it is now my job.

So, what prevents me from giving writing top spot? Firstly, I don't make it obvious to others that when I am writing I am busy doing something that is important to me. I have the same amount of time as anyone else on this planet, but it only stretches so far, even if efficiently used. I am often my own worst enemy. For the first time in my life, I thought I had unlimited time, so I began volunteering for activities in my community -- I sit on various boards, deliver meals on wheels, belong to a book club, and am involved in constituency politics. My extended family is very important to me. I like to visit all of them as often as I can. Every once in a while an opportunity to travel somewhere new pops up. So what is a retired gal to do? Juggle!

I have a serious problem with self-indulgence in time-wasting activities that include watching TV and movies (which I sometimes try to fool myself into thinking is "research"), but thank goodness, the season finales are upon us, and a team will soon claim the Stanley Cup. I have a deadline coming up for using all the points I accumulated in the movie rental program that ended abruptly a short time ago. I do consider reading an important activity for a writer, but finding enough time ... More juggling!

The more I know about what it takes to actively write, revise, submit, revise, market, enter contests, revise, and attend useful conferences, the more I know that something has to go. This year I have made some strategic decisions about what I will be dropping out of as I complete some of the commitments I've made. However, writing activities must increase, not decrease, and I will not neglect my family.

In the meantime, my furniture has a perpetual layer of dust that I do not notice when I am writing. I have a garden to plant and the grass needs frequent mowing as growing season shifts into high gear. So not having a full-time job doesn’t make it easier. I always laugh a little when someone says, “Oh, but you’re retired. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.” Are you kidding? I’ll consider doing nothing when I CAN’T do the things I want to do. Please don’t encourage me to waste my precious time.

My task right now is to review my goals and schedules. That seems to have become a monthly exercise which could turn into a daily habit if only I would get serious about making that list of six items and checking them off as they get done the next day. My lifelong tendency to procrastinate is still with me, so it didn't take long to fall off the wagon on that one. (Janet and I were going to be buddies for that resolution, but I didn't have any successes to report, so I guess she knows.)

Over the years I have drafted countless schedules which tell me to sit in front of my computer every day as routinely as I take my morning walk. Hopefully, my renewed commitment to a regular regime will gain momentum, and the juggling will become effortless. If I can make my life simpler, maybe fewer balls will hit the floor due to conflicting commitments.

Well, folks, how do you manage to juggle all your commitments as you try to make time to write? What have you given up in order to focus on writing? Do you have any effective methods to share with us?


Janet said...

Funny - I was just thinking of you over the weekend and wondering how your committed writing time was coming along! And here you are - you may have also noticed a lack of e-mails coming into your inbox.

I'm so glad to hear that I am not the only one who seems to have a ton of time, yet the hours, days, weeks pass and nothing gets accomplished (or seems to). But, with my new reality, I'm making time for my writing.

Your comment about your habitual morning walk is the key, I believe. Sitting down to the computer to write should be a routine - one that if missed would cause your day to be incomplete. But habits are hard to form (I think they say 3 months of consistancy will create a habit) and it's so easy to fall off that wagon.

I'm still here, Helena, if you need someone to 'walk' with, just let me know. Good luck with those ongoing goals and making writing a habit (and that 6 item 'To Do' list, too).

BTW - great post!!

Helena said...

Thank you for your comments, Janet. And for thinking about me on the weekend!

Just so you know, by the time I got this post polished and ready to go last night, I didn't even give a second thought about the "list of six" and went to bed without doing it. Not that I don't have stuff planned for today, but I don't have a written list which apparently is the key to actually following through with one's plans.

Three months, eh? I've always wondered why I couldn't keep up the momentum of a BIAW, or NaNoWriMo -- they aren't long enough to really develop the habit.

Of course, another underlying problem is that I can too easily get caught up in distractions. Like today, which will become evident in a few minutes.

I do have to express my gratitude for the support I get from you and others who do understand "the writing life." Couldn't do it without you!

Helena said...

It is ironic, given the topic of my post, that I must give notice that I will be away from my computer for the better part of the day. Something unexpected has come up, and I have told a friend that I will help her with a project. I will be back later to pick up the threads of the discussion, so please carry on and share your thoughts.

It is so good to hear Janet confirm that her new reality is working out for her.

In the meantime, everybody, try not to let anything get in the way of your plan to write today!

Molli said...

Oh, I hear you Helena. And I'm not the greatest role model myself.

Something I found in a time management article (and to give credit, I believe the author was a Mr. ?? Lakewood), anyway, I found a recommendation that works for me when I make myself do it:

List your priorities for the day, assign them a rating of A, B or C depending on importance, and START WITH THE As. We have a tendency to look at such a list and recognize the quick and easy things to do which, of course, gives us a feeling of accomplishment. Unless those quick ones are As, we should be starting elsewhere. When we do that, somehow the Cs fit in along the line somewhere, and -- quel surpris -- the As get done too.

The key, as Janet noted, is to make this list-making habitual. And if the writing is your priority then it begins to take priority regularly.

Ta for now...

Karyn Good said...

Great post, Helena. I make a very poor juggler. I'm equally bad at making lists and setting priorities. I do try to make time for writing every day, be it 30 minutes or four hours. It's getting harder as the weather gets warmer.

Sadly today my priority is laundry!

Silver James said...

Balls, chain saws, dinner plates, oh my! Juggling like the Flying Karamazov Brothers here. Great post, Helena. I thought life was going to be easy and full of writing time when I retired, too. LOLOL!

The thing I found that works for me is accepting that writing is a job. Just like I got up every day and went to my paying job, I now get up and go to my "heart" job--which I hope will start paying this next quarter! Other priorities are fitted in, just like they were when I worked.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'm a very poor juggler, Helena, but luckily that usually means the house doesn't get cleaned often, and I get behind in critiques owed and such. The writing sits high in the list, so I do get to it regularly (designating it a full time job does help, and I work when Hubby works... oh, except I'm commenting on a blog right now.... um....)

The problem I find are the little things that aren't needed at all. I don't write first thing in the morning, and I usually touch base on correspondence when I get up, until the brain gets out of rusty gears mode. Sometimes it can be so simple to just keep doing that (aka what I'm doing right now) instead of saying "No, I'm done. Now to work," because the things I'm doing are so small that they feel like they're not even neglecting one obligation for another obligation. Just flat-out neglecting.

As for routines, I found the biggest help in setting my writing routine is the pre-writing warm-up... which has no writing involved. I have my desk where I work. I put the kettle on, get my things organized, move my laptop over to the side of the desk. I make a cup of tea, and maybe something to nibble at with it, and the whole time I'm thinking about the day's work, sorting out problems so I can just do them when I sit down. Then I put my tea down, get my pen, plug my headphones into the laptop and get some music going (laptop has a DJ program that chooses random songs based on 'moods', very handy). I've kept up the whole process over a year now, and it gets my brain in writing mode. The music blocks out distractions and keeps me from harping (I blogged about this just the other day, actually) and when it's all done I just have to write, instead of sitting there thinking about what to write.

Good luck with setting your habits!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Helena. I've gotten into a routine which I'm not crazy about but it works. The plan is to check my email first thing in the morning, answer what's needed, then check the Chicks, Inky and my blog. Usually by the time I finish that, it's already afternoon and I finally get to writing.

I'll write until the kids get home and then I'll write again after 10 when the last one's gone to bed.

I used to write until 2 or 3 am but nowadays find myself falling asleep around midnight.

What doesn't get done: housework, gardening, etc. I rarely go shopping just because. And my reading is relegated to bathroom breaks or before I fall asleep. :(

Helena said...

Thanks, Hayley. Obviously you have found a routine that sets you up for writing, AND it has become habitual. I know all about the things that seem insignificant, but add up to the frittering time away factor.

Sorry, I haven't been to your blog for a while, missed your post on music and such, but will check it out soon. Thanks for lingering here long enough to add your tips on how things work for you.

Helena said...

Molli, I have enough trouble making a list in the first place, but to add a layer of priority symbols, whether they be letters, numbers, or colours ... well, I doubt I would stick with it for long. I've heard of the system, tho, and I'm sure it would suit some people. Guess the operative phrase is "when I make myself do it."

Thanks for dropping by.

Helena said...

Hey, Karyn -- I can see that you would be the type to just get to it. Never mind the lists, you've got your head around what's needed. And so be it if it's laundry!

I'm so glad you are able to stick with a reasonably consistent writing schedule. I have a friend who gets up early and writes for an hour before she goes to work -- without fail. Wish I had her discipline. Or yours!

Thanks for stopping by, sorry I was out of the house longer than expected.

Helena said...

Silver, you have such a commonsense approach. I think I will try for an attitude adjustment that will put me right back into the workforce -- the writing workforce. Maybe I can even convince myself that there will be paycheque, at least every once in a while.

Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to give me your useful tips. Come to think of it, I also squeezed a lot of different elements into my day back when I "worked."

Helena said...

Anita Mae, your routine sounds simple, but must be effective since you always have something on the go. Again, it boils down to how regular it is, and therefore consistent.

I'm trying to soak up all these good ideas, and I'm thinking I should be able to settle into something regular, too.

Thank you for sharing your daily routine with us. I'm like you, finding it hard to do much reading, because bedtime is my traditional reading time, but I'm usually too tired these days :(

Helena said...

Should mention how much I have enjoyed all the wonderful little jabs and puns about juggling that you sent back at me today. Way to go, my writer friends!

Becky said...

Can I just say that I too can get extremely carried away in self-indulgent time wasters. I have been trying so hard to change this though by using the techniques that I have learned in Julie Cohen's latest book, "Your Work, Your Life…Your Way." What has been most beneficial about the book is that it really helps me prioritize my work/life balancing by helping me balance what is important to me. I am learning to say "no" to the things that don't matter as much. By keeping to a plan, I am less likely to partake in those things that waste my time.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I can certainly understand where you're coming from because I face some of the same struggles (juggles?). I believe Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) advises to put first things first. If writing is important, do it first thing in the morning, fulfill your writing goal for the day. Margie Lawson, writing teacher extraordinaire, also recommends this approach. It's very much what Silver is doing. Writing has to be treated as a job and a priority.

Do I practice what I preach? Not lately. But I know a consistent routine is the best approach.