Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Writing Go-Round: Getting On, Getting Off, Getting Dizzy

Sometimes one needs a break. Even from something pleasurable. And sometimes a break is forced upon one. I knew I needed a break -- from chasing work, from the blog, from networking, networking groups, project proposals, the submissions carousel (and tracking & inventory management), conferences, all of it; all the external interactions and machinations which, while necessary and vital and even enjoyable in order to sustain a writing life, were also, it seemed, sucking me into a vortex where productivity was paramount, but without passion.

I needed the time-out for what I might call a mental writing realignment, a time to tie up loose ends and then reposition myself at a psychic level. I needed to figure out how to allot my time and creative energy over the next six months-to-a-year. Among tangible tasks, I wanted to finish a stalled book proposal, revisit the sputtering college teaching job search, plan out what private writing workshops and classes to offer in the fall, and bring a bit of order to my office. At the more conceptual level, I hoped to think about which essays-in-progress were worth revising or rewriting, to plan new creative nonfiction work, and to take a long look at the memoir-in-progress to see where it's going (ahem, if anywhere).

I wanted to ask myself where am I as a writer and where do I need to go?

Yet while I was procrastinating about whether or not to take this break, as often happens, life intervened – or should I say asserted itself. First, more paid work came in the door – an editing assignment, an editorial research project, a new author client for book publicity coaching. Absolutely no complaints, of course. I'm thrilled to have the work, happy that people trust me with their words, their editorial space, their marketing needs.

So, I'd get through this batch of work, I told myself, and then take that centering break. Instead, family "events" pulled me even further out of my head and nearly all at once wiped every appointment from both my work and personal calendar. Among other things, one of my kids had an accident (think blood, stitches, cast, crutches, me in Mom-on-call mode).

Put it all together and, well, I got a break. But it certainly has not been the break I wanted or needed. I've been doing client work at the dining room table -- when not been bandaging, following a teetering kid around, supervising said child's backed-up schoolwork, cooking for extended family, or getting a teenager through finals and settled into his first summer job. (There's more, but you get the picture.)

That mental re-alignment? It's still on the schedule, absolutely. I'm not sure how I'll fit it in. Can I say no to paid work in order to take it? Absolutely not. Hire someone to take over some home front duties so I can concentrate on the memoir, the essays, revamping the CV? I could. But I won't. I have this weird quirk about hands-on mothering (I know, I know, but I can't help it). I'm going to have to, I suppose, take that break, not in one gulp as I want to, but instead in sips, and I'm setting aside an hour or so each day for the rest of the month. I have my doubts about how that's going to work out: I'm the sort who likes to do things all at once, with a concentrated narrow, forget-everything-else focus.

Funny that I still think this way, when most of my career has been about successfully and simultaneously juggling -- multiple freelance writing assignments, assorted client expectations and media demands when I worked in PR, the progress and goals of several writing students, the varying requests and deadlines of editorial clients and private writing students. And, of course a few things in my life have been trying for years to disabuse me of this notion of sprints versus marathons, namely: navigating motherhood, a long marriage, mortgages, and midlife.

Not long ago, I helped edit a first novel and its agent letter and synopsis, for a local writer, who complained about the almost impossible dilemma of finding the time to research agents and submit, all while caring for two young children, working part time, pinch-hitting for a husband who works killer hours, and volunteering. I said something at the time, rather too blithely I now recall, "Just say no to some of it. Figure out a way to slice up the pie. And by the way, welcome to the writer's life."

Welcome to the writer's life.

A life in which that which intervenes – kids, aging parents, household disasters, health concerns, logistics – is often absorbed and accommodated at the expense of writing. The page counts dwindle, contacts made but not followed up on begin to yellow with age, enthusiasm wanes and resentment sometimes creeps in. A life in which what we get paid to write/edit is not always what we envision spending our best writing time on: the not-sure-where-it's-going project, the let's-take-a-chance book proposal, the never-wrote-this-genre-but-why-not-take-a-plunge draft, the book-in-progress-that's-not-under-contract.

For me, over the last six months or so, it's not been a question of finding time to write, but of finding the time and mental space to write with freedom -- to write something new, something daring, something that's not expected to land on someone's desk by X deadline.

I'm still working on finding the best way to slice the pie myself. And I'm not whining. At one time, someone must have said to me, "welcome to the writer's life," and I stayed. I’m not going anywhere. But maybe I can see about getting a bigger pie.


Susan Bearman said...

I empathize with your pie-slicing dilemmas, but am glad you have returned to writing your blog. Welcome back.

Michelle O'Neil said...

I hope your son is on the mend! It is a never ending balancing act isn't it? One of my kids missed over 20 days of school this year due to illnesses.

To write with freedom. May you be granted the time to do it soon.