Or, some thoughts on time management.
I am thinking about times in my life when I’ve worked my ass off. Times when I’ve been pulling ridiculously long days and (mostly) enjoying it. Most of those times involved one or more of the following: 1. college, 2. a theater production, and/or 3. a writing project with an immanent deadline. The last time I’ve worked really hard and gotten a lot done was probably last November, during NaNoWriMo. Before that, it was working to get the dang novel edited and out the door in 2009. In both cases, I had an outside force working to motivate me. Even though they were both my projects, having an outside agency (other WriMos and the NaNoMeter of how many words I’d written, a self-publishing company) was vital to my success.
It rankles me that I work so much harder for other people than for myself. I think of all the times in college when fearing the wrath of a scary professor or the shame of late assignments was all that kept me going. I wasn’t always motivated out of Maslow’s Highest Tier in the Hierarchy of Needs…nah, much of the time I was motivated by fear or guilt…I worked out of “safety” needs rather than “self-actualization.”
Why is that? Why do we need to be motivated by fear to get really important personal stuff done? Why do we give our time so freely to others but struggle in giving it to ourselves? I’m not even talking about a ubiquitous “We”, I’m talking about me as a female in American society. I am programmed to respond to others before myself, which is a noble quality that will not get my novels written. I am programmed to deal quickly with things that are urgent, which is a useful quality that will not get my novels written.
I had a time-management class with the brilliant Wendy Call, who talked about to-do lists. To-do lists, she argued, are more or less crap. If you have a list of items, you will first do what is urgent, not necessarily what’s important. Better to have goals, she said. Better to think about concrete goals that you can do, like upping a word count or sending out a given number of manuscripts. What this said to me was, Best not to make my writing life an option. Make it a requirement. Get it done. And if it takes Write or Die to do it sometimes, well, I’m not sure that matters.
Some people hate this mindset. Some people I’ve talked to can’t stand the thought of forcing writing ever. Writing must be spontaneous to be any good, they say. Writing comes from a higher source, and you are a channel. You must wait to be in the mood, Inspired. Think about the word inspiration. It means breathing. Breathing is something that you do all the time, but becomes a powerful tool when made conscious. Likewise, I think that writing is something that is most powerful when made conscious, but really should be done ALL THE TIME. That spiritual source of writing is a radio station; it’s always on, you’ve just gotta tune in. So it’s not that I am a soulless unspiritual writing-forcer, it’s that I don’t think I want to wait around for inspiration to strike me. I want to keep the pump primed so that on the days when it does come, when I am writing out of a place of self-actualization, I can have a greater outpouring. If I write every day, then the blank page isn’t so scary, and sometimes I go to the mountain of Inspiration instead of waiting for it to come to me.