Many Directions at Once

Life = Chaos

This equation is an obvious one, but it has been smacking me upside the head a lot recently.  My computer died a slow and tragic death, so for several weeks I was checking email on my iPod, or running over to the campus where I teach to use the computers there.  Now I have a shiny, new computer on my desk and, though I’m relieved to have it, I’m realizing how far behind I’ve fallen on a wide variety of projects.  Now each of them is begging for immediate and undivided attention.  Of course, my daily life continues on unabated as well.  There are days I envy the octopus. 

I’m looking for a new job, something that requires less of me emotionally and mentally while still providing benefits and a reasonable level of pay.  Ideally, I’d love a job that paid me to write; however, having spent 12 years in public relations and advertising at an earlier point in my life, I know how resentful I would become of having to write what everyone else wants instead of what I want to be writing.  I’m keeping my options open and still hoping that things will work out at the present job, but the economy and a campus president from hell are conspiring to make that more of a challenge.

I’ve been diligently working on a new novel, the one I anticipate sending to the agent by the end of March.  Of course, as usual, I’ve hit some road blocks with the story, and now there is a surge of new ideas all vying to get their time in the spotlight.  This happens to me regularly, so I’m not freaked out by it.  It just gets to be a nuisance when characters who want to talk to you won’t let you sleep at night.  Last night one of them pestered me until 3:00 in the morning.  I wrote some notes, put them aside, and finally fell asleep around 4:00.  I hate nights like that.

And I’m having to practice that important skill that all writers must learn – saying “no” to all the requests for our time that don’t move us forward in what we want.  My daughters are both involved in a youth organization called Job’s Daughters.  I spent many years involved as a young woman myself, and later as an adult adviser.  I’ve put on dinners, coordinated fund raising events, taken girls to conventions in other states, and I no longer feel a compelling need to hold that level of involvement.  But that doesn’t prevent other parents from asking me to step in again.

“No,” I tell them.  “I really don’t have the time to do the job properly, but thank you for thinking of me.”

Still they persist.  Still, I say “no.”

The more I feel I’m being pulled in too many directions at once, the more I realize I need to be greedy and selfish with my time.  My priorities are, and have always been: my own well-being first; my family (husband, kids, parents, in-laws, etc.) second; my writing third; my job fourth; my chosen activities next.  Everything else comes after that, and these are the things that I quite frequently have to say “no” to.  Helping with the book fair at school means that many fewer hours I have to devote to my writing, or to marketing myself.  I’ll gladly support them by buying some books for a classroom, but I’m not willing to give up the “just a few hours” required to be there in person.  And it is never “just a few hours” like they promise.

Being pulled in many directions is usually a warning to me that it’s time to simplify and prioritize again.  It means renewing my commitment (mentally, verbally, in writing) to the novels that are first on the list for attention, and telling those other voices that they’ll just have to wait.  It means offering to help with the projects that have meaning and value to me, and telling the others that I can’t take on anything new at this time.  It means ignoring the fact that my office is a mess and choosing to focus on working on my really speedy, fun, new computer to get things done instead.

Viewing chaos as opportunity is a helpful way for me to avoid the anxiety of feeling like being pulled in all those directions is going to tear me to shreds.  Instead, I can lay all the options out in front of me and decide which ones matter most, and then telling the other ones “no.”


One thought on “Many Directions at Once

  1. Kerry says:

    Okay, ONLY because I just wrote an essay about it, I feel the need to add that “chaos” is (roughly) Greek for “stuff.” It is usually considered in opposition to “cosmos” which means, “that which is organized.” To turn chaos into cosmos is considered by some an act of divinity. (and the job of the artist.)

    [end random lecture.]

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