Last week I jotted down some notes about what I wanted to write about today. I had a long litany of all the things I do: half-marathon training, running a ghost-hunting group with my husband, mommying two mini dachshunds, working full-time, the recent development of an actual social life… It was a long litany of why it’s so hard to find time to write. But I realized as I spent a couple of hours in my home office/gym yesterday trying to get words to come that the issue isn’t finding writing time. I can and I do find time to write. No, the issue is something else. I have a copy of a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon by my desk at work which says “There’s never time to do all the nothing you want.” I thought of that quote as I pulled out my notes for this blog and it hit me: THAT is the issue.
I love running. It gives me a sense of accomplishment like nothing else when I complete a tough workout, run a new distance, or set a personal best. I love the ghost-hunting team my husband and I have put together. They are just the right mix of serious and goofy, and they manage to make even the tedious parts of the hobby a lot of fun. They’re also the reason why I have a social life now. Whether we’re playing Cards Against Humanity till the wee hours or hanging out in a bar watching one of our team sing, we’re enjoying one another’s company. My job is, on bad days, a necessary evil, but there are also good days when I get to enjoy my co-workers, talk with some of our students, and feel like I did something worthwhile. None of this is the problem.
The problem is I am missing my nothing time. As a writer, nothing time is important. Our brains need that down time to wander, to discover the solution to plot problems, hear a new character’s voice, or find a new idea. My challenge is to figure out how to balance all these excellent somethings in my life with nothing time. I don’t think I’m alone in that challenge. We’re all juggling work, hobbies, spouses, kids, pets, friends… We wouldn’t trade any of it away (well, maybe the jobs, at least on bad days). But are we giving ourselves our much-needed nothing time? If not, how can we work some of it in? I believe if I can ease off the schedule a bit, give myself some more nothing time, I’ll have more productive writing times. I’m going to try it, and we’ll see how it works.
Registration for Midwest Writers Workshop opened last week (register here). I knew I wanted to do the Intensive session on Thursday and that those fill fast, so I wasted no time heading over to register. After debating with myself about which session to take, I made my choice and click-click-click, I was signing up. It was exciting. It was thrilling. It was… a bit disappointing.
You see, at last year’s MWW I talked to so many people who were making pitches to agents, getting asked for pages, who had completed manuscripts which they were ready to send out into the world. I wasn’t there but I wanted to be. I was going to be. This year was going to be the year that I pitched. I was all fired up!
Alas, I’m not there. I don’t have a manuscript that’s ready yet. I’m disappointed by that. I was beating myself up about it pretty thoroughly too. Fortunately, I had an epiphany. I’m just not at the same place that those other writers were, and that’s ok. This is not a race. Even if it was, I’d still need to go at my own pace. This is about me doing my best, not me comparing myself with someone else. In that sense, it is just like my running – my goal has to be to do my personal best and not worry about where I place. This year isn’t my year for pitching. Maybe, if I can put in the work this year, next year will be. And that will be awesome.
I am training for my first half-marathon (the official training plan start is today). I am a bit nervous about the race, but only a bit. After all, I have trained for races before and I have a training plan to guide me. After years of competitive swimming (ages 8-17) and a few years of running behind me, I know I can do this.
Thinking about my running has me wondering what’s different about my running? Because while I’m confident I will conquer my first half-marathon (and the one I signed up for later in the year as well), I am NOT confident about my ability to write at the moment. I hoped to have something to pitch at Midwest Writers this summer but I don’t think that’s going to happen after all. I’ve been feeling blocked for some time now. I’ve finally got an idea for something to work on but my inner-editor is trying hard to shut me down. She wants to find plot holes, character flaws, and other reasons why this idea won’t work. I think it boils down to fear, pure and simple. I had another idea I was working on shot down by other people and it’s been hard going to bounce back from that.
What I need to do right now is pick a “training plan” for my writing and let it guide me. I have a few to choose from. There’s the NaNoWriMo method of no plot, no problem; there’s the inverted pyramid method Jess Lourey shared with us at last year’s MWW; there’s a weekend novelist idea. I need to pick one and run with it, see where it takes me. But most of all, I have to trust that, like the running, I can do this. I can get past the block and start creating again.
The other day I got a notice that someone liked one of my reviews on Goodreads. I went to see what it was for and realized that I had no memory of reading that book. Last year. I’d given it a good review, so clearly I’d enjoyed it, and yet I couldn’t remember any details about it. I had to dig on the site and in my head until I got a vague recollection of what the book had been about.
That really gave me pause. I’m a competitive person. I like to “win.” Now, because I’m not particularly gifted athletically, I’ve always competed against myself. The goal back when I was a kid swimming was to swim a best time. Now that I run, it’s to run a personal best. And apparently that’s carried over to my reading. Goodreads has yearly reading goals, and I’ve been trying to up my number of books read per year each year. I had set myself a goal last year of 100 books. I dropped it to 85 as we hit December and it was clear I was never going to get to 100. I made 85, just, but I was disappointed. I decided I’d be more realistic this year and stretch myself with a goal of 90. After the whole what-did-I-read debacle with the review though, I’ve dropped that to 75. What is the point of plowing through books to hit some self-imposed goal if I can’t remember what I’ve read six months later? I enjoy reading for it’s own sake – I don’t need to get caught up in numbers and lose that. 75 seems like enough of a challenge to make a good goal, but not so large a number that I won’t be able to slow down and savor a good book as I go. I’m going to give it a shot and try to stay flexible so that, at the end of the year I’ll have had x number of quality reads.