These days I don’t entertain many thoughts about ‘giving up the day job’. Life changes, shit happens and circumstances change and compromises have to be made. I know that it’s highly unlikely I am ever going to have the luxury of not having to think about paying the bills by myself and keeping a roof over mine and Plottdog’s head.
So I’m stuck with what I will henceforth refer to as CSDJ (creativity sapping day job) – I’ve had stretches of unemployment on both sides of the Atlantic, so I know all too well how fortunate I am to have a full time job and a steady monthly pay cheque so this isn’t a complaint, just a simple statement of fact. CSDJ however, is so full-on that I sometimes entertain the idea that I can actually feel it sucking the creative spirit right out of me minute by minute. I am not alone, I’m sure and I’m pretty certain that many full time, stay at home parents have days when they feel exactly the same way.
So, consigned to leading a double life, by day I do something in management – actually I am an Operations Director for a technology company and by night I try to write stuff. Or do I…? Where does writing fit? Where can it fit?
This is pretty much how a standard day goes for me from 5am to 12 midnight
- People say get up early – dash off a few morning pages – for me it’s never going to happen, my morning pages time is spent embracing horizontal sleet and pounding pavements with Plottdog – but it’s thinking time and thinking time is good.
- Thaw out, breakfast, shower, check the plan for the day and make sure Omnifocus is synched across all devices.
- I pick up a neighbour from across the road and give her a lift to town – in the short 10 minute trip I get all the neighbourhood news and gossip which at least maintains a sense of connection to my community.
- Drive to work – listening time podcasts or audiobooks – sometimes music, very loud music (and yes, sometimes I rant at other drivers).
- Work – stress time, frustration time – getting the job done time.
- Drive home – total silence, concentrating only on where I’m going. Too many times I have arrived home unable to remember the actual drive. That’s more scary than I want to really think about.
- Walking time with Plotty, a good hour, whatever the weather – unwinding time – unwinding time is good.
- Home – cook (hahahahahaha – domestic diva I am not) – while dinner is in oven/microwave (sadly more often the latter )or before I eat – treadmill if I haven’t made my 5 mile quota for the day.
- By this time it is somewhere just south of 9pm – I settle down with large flagon of tea
- This is the point at which I am either so completely knackered all I want to do is veg in front of the TV, zone out with Blank & Jones or stare blankly into space. Do I feel like writing? Not one bit. Could I even string a coherent sentence together–very doubtful.
At the time of writing this post I have done all the above bar treadmill because we are at 5.10 miles for the day already. No B & J tonight instead Foy Vance is playing in the background, I have indigestion and Plotty is attacking a postprandial rawhide bone as if it was all that stood between him and starvation, it’s making a very off-putting squeaking noise against his teeth which sounds exactly like what it is – huge incisors scraping against a hard unyielding surface. It sets my own teeth on edge. I do have my tea but I really want a gin and tonic – a very BIG gin and tonic – the size that comes in a bucket.
It has been a long and testing week at CSDJ. I have clocked up 57 hours of office and home working time, plus 4 hours on a very slow train during a mid-week business trip to London – that’s about a standard week for me.
How much time have I allocated to my WIP? A big fat resounding zero, in fact the only non-CSDJ related output this week is what you’re reading. In my defence I have managed quite a bit of reading and a bit of podcast catch-up.
But tonight I am writing, even if it it is not on my WIP. I have a heavy week ahead of stuff to do and know I will get little time on my designated writing day (Sunday) so I’m trying to get ahead of myself – the reality is that I am already behind because my plan is always to be three pieces ahead of myself on my blog. The best laid plans and all that….but this can’t carry on. I need to get a grip, find some balance and make room for writing instead of getting so caught up in the not-writing-failure-guilt-worthlessness spiral that serves only to make me feel resentful towards the writing I’m not even getting done.
The theory of work-life balance isn’t hard for any of us, the hard part is actually achieving it– making time for what is supposedly a driving ambition. For me this often ends up an excruciating pull-push when I have to force myself back to the keyboard or notebook, when I stare with all the resentment in my heart at the infinity of the blankness presented by the empty page and screen, and sit there wondering simply, WTF?
But there are things I can do about this, things we can all do to help ourselves when we feel like we have hit rock bottom on motivation because life has become a challenge simply to function– things we can achieve while in spite of the best efforts of life et al to get in the way of our creative dreams.
- LET IT GO –The first step to getting out from under the debilitating guilt burden – be it missed morning pages, missed writing opportunities, deadlines, competition entries that never got sent – is to stop the self-flagellation. We can’t change what is past, we can’t change what we did or didn’t do, so we must let it go, draw the line under it however irritated we are by our perceived shortcomings and start a new page. Literally.
- PUT DOWN THE WORRY BEADS – Stop worrying about what can’t be controlled – what is, is. Worrying about something that can’t be changed narrows the available bandwidth where creativity takes place. Don’t worry about getting it perfect to start with, just get it done, get the words down, get the paint on canvass, get the rhythm in notation–just get it done.
- GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SET FLEXIBLE GOALS – Writing a to-do list that would take a small army to achieve is the ultimate in setting yourself up to fail. Accept that there will be times and days, weeks and months where getting number 1 done on your list will be a major achievement. If you achieve it, YAY! Go you! If you don’t, re-calibrate your goals and try again the next day. One missed day or session shouldn’t mean you miss the whole week. Be kind to yourself but firm, when things don’t go as well as you planned, learn from it but don’t beat yourself up.
- BITE-SIZED CHUNKS – Break everything down to its smallest component, this will make even the most overwhelming task do-able. If you get stuck, try writing it down as though you were creating instructions for someone else to follow (someone really slow on the uptake). I find this an invaluable tool in my CSDJ world because it really helps identify all the things I didn’t think about. You may end up with a lot of steps even for a simple task, but that should of itself produce those bite-sized pieces. Sometimes it is even easier to try working it out backwards. Start with the completion of the task and work backwards, step by step from there until you get to where you are right now. It’s a bit of a paradigm shift in terms of how you think but try it, it may just be the solution you need when faced with what seems a really overwhelming task.
- YOUR STARTER FOR 15 – what can you do in the next 15 minutes that advances you towards the goal? There are 96 opportunities to do this every day – take just one of them and use it to get one step closer to where you want to be. You will be astonished what you can achieve in 15 minutes. I did this with my extremely derelict and over-grown garden when I moved into this house. Initially I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea where to start but by giving myself 15 minutes every night and a little longer at weekends, got the task done and the results were edible (as you can see above) – how great is that?
- DON’T PUT YOUR CREATIVITY IN A BOX – Nobody said you had to work in a linear or chronological way. Pick a scene in the middle of a chapter, work on that. Figure out what a character had for breakfast before you even know what he looks like or does for a living.
- GET IT DONE – Joyce Carol Oates has published more than 50 novels, 36 collections of short stories and many, many other works and yet she is quoted as saying that the secret of her productivity is that ‘…I write and write and write and rewrite, and even if I only retain a single page…it is a single page and these pages add up.’ [Daily Rituals – Mason Currey]. A standard page of text in a B-Format paperback (130×198mm) contains approximately 250 words – could you manage 250 words every day? Want to know what that really looks like? Check out the bottom of this post. What if you could hit that kind of word count every day? Where would that take you? How close would it take you to completing your project by this time next year? Among the myriad books I am reading at the moment is F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned – my copy is 365 pages long – interesting thought, no?
- SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF – Turn off the TV, forget Facebook, pull the plug on Pinterest – hey I love social media as much as anybody but with so few hours at my disposal, something has to give and I would rather it wasn’t my writing (it cuts out so much angst!). Just over a year ago, with little expectation of success I rolled back the covers of my comfort cocoon and submitted an application for consideration to a writers’ development programme on the grounds that if I didn’t at least give myself the opportunity I would never know. To my absolute delight (and not a little shock) I was accepted. Throughout the last year I have made contacts, new friends, attended some fabulous events and workshops and ultimately changed my thinking and trajectory in ways I would never have imagined. I showed up for myself and seized the opportunity and I am so very glad I did.
- FIND WHAT TRULY FLOATS YOUR BOAT – There’s no getting away from it, it is hard work which will eat great pieces out of your life and if it doesn’t make your heart sing, if it doesn’t drive you forward in a way that compels you that it absolutely has to be done, you will fail, because sooner or later it will turn into a grind; a long slog that won’t be enjoyable and will likely only produce mediocre work that will feel like it wasn’t worth the sacrifices you made. It should be hard work, but it should ultimately fulfil and delight you. Find what floats your boat and don’t settle for anything that doesn’t.
- LIFE IS SHORT – LIVE LIKE IT – Don’t get into the frame of mind that says you have all the time in the world because that’s the best possible route to never getting anything done and let’s face it, who knows how long any of us have? So be bold and keep one question in the forefront of your mind. What would you do right now, today, not someday – if you knew you couldn’t fail?
And so, I’m off to take a massive dose of my own medicine. I hope wherever you are, whatever floats your own particular boat, you will find yourself making progress, one step after another and you never know, the results may even be edible!
“Done is better than perfect.”
― Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
“Do not you want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure!…”
[250 word excerpt from The Complete Project Gutenberg Works of Jane Austen]