Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hanging on when life gets in the way

May starts the busy social time of the year. From now until August, there are graduations, first communions, confirmations, end of school banquets, anniversaries, weddings, retirement parties, birthdays, picnics, barbecues the list goes on and on. Not to mention conferences and conventions, marathons, concerts, I think I made my point.
Sometimes you have a situation like someone who recently said to me, "I volunteered to do X but my life suddenly fell apart." Life happens. Divorce, job loss, family illnesses, selling a house, moving, are we supposed to keep writing through that? Really? How does a writer stay on track when the world suddenly takes over?
"It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer." ~ Gerald Brenan, "Writing," Thoughts in a Dry Season: A Miscellany, 1978
While this is true, oh, my goodness the freaking pressure of that thought when life takes over or falls apart. Perhaps this is more true for female writers as we feel the social pressure to volunteer and contribute more. Guys, am I correct? The question for today is how do you do it? How do you stay out on the writing ledge when the whole world seems to be pushing you off?
There are tricks. No, really, there are, but they take work and commitment. So the first question to ask yourself is: How important is writing in my life right now? Is it a source of income? Am I a closet or hobby writer, working on stuff no one is allowed to see? Is writing what I cling to when everything else goes south?
If writing is not bringing you money or keeping you sane then it's lower on your list. Give yourself permission to take a sabbatical. Seriously no one is judging you here. So what if your best friend just sold and you "feel" farther behind on your goals. Trust me no one is keeping score. They are not going to put on your headstone, "here lies what could have been a famous best-selling writer if they only tried."
If writing is your business, treat it like any other job. No matter what. Give it 20 to 40 hours a week. If illness or moving or divorce take over, how would you handle them with a different job? Take a sick day. Take a vacation. But, you say, I am not as creative when I'm filled with worry. If you have a deadline, do your best. Plow through. You might surprise yourself. Some people work better under pressure. Even if it's not your best work you have editors and agents to help you. Use them.
If you aren't making money on your writing, yet, but writing keeps you sane the last thing you need in a high-pressure busy time is to give up the one thing keeping you alive. Find the time to write even if it is in the car on the way to an event, write or speak into a recorder. Squeeze out five minutes here, five minutes there. Write on envelopes, scraps of paper, your hand. Give yourself permission to daydream-that counts as writing. Take notes, create scene outlines, have conversations with your characters, allow your creativity to live in the small spaces of your life. Think of it as a life preserver in rough seas. Cling to it. Give yourself permission to not have super big goals, like hitting the NY Times List or selling to your dream agent/publisher. Instead create small goals, a scene, a sentence, a critique or contest. Be proud of what you are doing. Do it for yourself. Don't worry about what others are doing. The fastest way to madness is to compare your life to others.
Most importantly don't beat yourself up over not winning the brass ring someone you know just grabbed. They have their own obstacles to face. Life is not a race. Writing is not a contest. Trust that when things settle down you will be able to have larger goals and meet them. Or at least have fun trying.
Writing is like running a marathon with no finish line. It is a mental game with yourself based on your talent and your willingness to learn, to fall and to get back up. Give yourself permission to walk when you need to, and run when you can. Be proud of what you do no matter how you do it. Because you did it your way. The very truth of the matter is no two people's journeys are the same. So, figure out how to enjoy the journey you are living and forget the rest. It is the only true way to live the life you want.


Marilyn Brant said...

"So, figure out how to enjoy the journey you are living and forget the rest. It is the only true way to live the life you want."

Nancy, your post comes at exactly the right time for me. THANK YOU!! There's a lot going on right now, but I'm starting to wonder if there's ever a time when there isn't chaos in some part of my life or other ;). You mentioned friends and that no one's keeping score if what you're not in the same place professionally. This is REALLY true when the friendships are genuine!! For me, it's been SO important to figure out who is actually a friend vs. who is trying to make everything a competition. I can't handle the stress of the latter. Letting go of those toxic relationships helps me enjoy the journey I'm on--whether it's an up or a down on that day ;).

Good luck with all of the busy social events coming up!! xo

Pamala Knight said...

What Marilyn said. Although I will add, "Wow! You're so smart!" Thanks for posting this timely and useful post.


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn, I completely agree about getting rid of toxic relationships. They take too much joy from your life and make you question your own gifts. Who needs that? :)

Hi Pamala,I can't tell you enough how awesome you are and what a great job you did with Spring Fling. Happy writing.


Jessica Nelson said...

Excellent post Nancy!
Good for me to remember this. :-)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica, thanks for stopping by. Hope your Spring is filled with fun things. Cheers~

Arnold said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Alena,
Thanks for commenting and for stopping by. Great to hear from you. Cheers~

India Drummond said...

Great post! I had to take off a few months last year, and when I came back, a few more of my friends had agents or publishing contracts, and I did feel "behind". On the upside, those friends were all more than happy to help me get back on track and welcomed me back to blogging and tweeting life as if no time had elapsed.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi India, sometimes taking time off actually helps-no matter how far behind you "feel". So glad you were able to do it. It's great to have you back. Cheers~

~Sia McKye~ said...

"It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer." Good quote.

I do write every day, just not as much on my own work as I'd like to and life has sure derailed me a bit. Funny you should write this, because I was just thinking about it. Realized I need to get my goal of writing on my wip for two hours every day, regardless of what comes into my life.

this was just the kick I needed to fllow through.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Good to see you here. I know you work hard- your blog is living proof. Cheers~

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

What excellent advice, Nancy. During my recent stint in the hospital I had plenty of time to think about my priorities. Spending more time with family and friends ranked highly; writing was up there but not as high as I imagined. As a result, I’ve been able to keep things in perspective and have less guilt when I miss a self-imposed deadline or writing goal.

Joanne Elliott said...

Thanks for posting this Nancy. This is something I've had to deal with myself. Somehow, even when my life was on the edge last year, I did manage to keep writing. No where near as much as I wanted to, but I did keep plugging along. It is not easy, though. I got behind...way behind and I'm disappointed, but I did what I could for the most part. I just need to forgive myself and move forward.

Meg M said...

SO totally true! It's how I made it through the MA program - thanks for a great reminder, Nancy.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane, Thanks for stopping by. I certainly hope you are feeling better!
Hi Joanne, Please remember that even bestselling authors take vacations and sabbaticals and sometimes two years to finish a book. Sometimes as writers we are too hard on ourselves.
Hi Meg, plugging along does work with the MA. You are my role model.
Cheers, everyone~

prashant said...

Good luck with all of the busy social events coming up!!
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