I’m reposting something I wrote almost exactly 4 years ago today. It’s interesting to me because I’ve experienced some of these same issues recently, and while somethings have improved from then, some things are the same, and there is a valuable lesson in this. I’ve added a few comments at the end to bring things up to date. Enjoy!
It’s been a grueling month, one which I hope not to repeat any time in the near future. Unfortunately, the remaining two months of the year are looking mighty similar to what I’ve just been through. It’s frustrating. I’m not writing enough.
I can always tell when I haven’t spent enough time working on stories. I feel off-balance, as if part of me is weighted down and unable to move with the fluidity and speed I need to have. Sluggish, that’s the term for it. Like I’m dragging, or grinding gears.
It’s not that I lack the desire, or the discipline. I lack the time. In a recent heated discussion with my significant other, he suggested what I needed was better time management. I retaliated that what I needed was a little more understanding from him about what I value in my life. Then I sat down and produced for him a schedule of exactly how well-managed my time is. I calculated the number of hours I spend in the classroom teaching (33 hours per week), the amount of time I spend preparing, grading, and reviewing for class (15 – 20 hours, except at finals when it doubles), the time I drive kids to and from activities (5 hours), the time I give to my writing (10 hours a week on a good week, far less than I need) and the time I take to spend time with him (5 hours a week – again, not enough).
Fully 1/3 of my week is devoted to work. Before I continue, I want to clarify that my teaching is just a job. My writing is my passion, it just – unfortunately – doesn’t yet pay the bills. Thus my dilemma, and my recent complaints leading to the heated discussion. Trying to remember that it is “just a job” is often difficult because I approach everything I do with commitment and dedication. Even my first marriage, despite what my ex-husband might say, I went into with whole-hearted belief and dedication. But that’s another story for another time.
The problem is that, once again, I find my life in conflict between what I do and what I love. Now, lest my students read this and somehow think I don’t like them anymore – let me state for the record: I like teaching, I love my students, and I enjoy what I do. For a job, it’s not a bad way to go. I appreciate that I am paid well for what I do, and I have always liked being in an academic environment.
But I am a writer, not a teacher. Writing nourishes me in a way that nothing else can. I don’t want to say that “I live for writing,” because I don’t. I live for all the varied, interesting things I have in my life. But writing is a vital organ. It is a necessary part of who I am.
I did get a bit of encouragement and understanding from, of all places, my mother-in-law. Save the jokes – I absolutely adore this woman. We just celebrated her 83rd birthday a few weeks ago, and this lady hasn’t missed a step.
I was helping her with a mouse problem. I was setting traps and cleaning cupboards, bemoaning my situation when she put some things into perspective for me.
“It doesn’t matter what you choose to do,” she said. “There will never be enough time for everything and if you start worrying about, you’ll spend more time worrying than actually doing.”
She went on to tell me about when she switched careers at age 48, “just as a temporary situation.” My father in law was struggling to earn enough to support the family (he was 50, mind you) and she went from a part-time accounting job to a full-time accounting and human resources job for a local property development company. It was just supposed to tie them over for a little while. She stayed almost 30 years. She retired at 73.
Her point to me was that life will never give you exactly what you want, and if you spend all your time worrying about it, you’ll waste what precious time you have. “Do what you need first, do what you want second, and don’t waste time on the rest of it.”
She’s a sharp cookie, that one. And I hope she lives to be 120. At the rate she’s going, she might do just that. And I hope I live to be old enough to be there with her.
I applied her advice, stopped worrying about how much time I didn’t have and focused on the time I did have. I got 2 hours of quality writing on a new novel done. It’s still not as much time as I would like ideally, but it’s better than thinking I didn’t have enough time at all. I wrote faster, too, because I wasn’t worried about the other things I should be doing. For too long, now, I’ve treated my writing time as though it were an intrusion into other things. I kept fussing about how it was important to me, but I hadn’t really given that time the priority it needed. Attitude adjustment. Long overdue.
I look forward to greater productivity from hence forth.
We celebrated my mother-in-law’s 87th birthday last week. She is still as supportive, as loving, and as feisty as ever! She has written “her story” as she calls it – not a book, but a record of her life, her family members, significant events in her life. She inspires me on a regular basis.
I finished the novel I was working on, The Deepest Blue, but it sadly has yet to find a home. It’s waiting for the publishing market to turn around just a little. But I have finished two other books since then. The Afterward is out circulating and collecting rejections. It is a young adult novel of speculative fiction. Gallery of Dolls is an adult horror/suspense that my best friend Jared and I coauthored. I’m currently working on another YA novel with the working title Death Kiss.
I still struggle to make writing a priority, but I’ve made significant progress with that. And my significant other and I have reached a peaceful understanding of the role of writing in my life. He is very supportive of me, and more importantly, he believes in me because he’s seen me achieve success before with My Brother the Dog and the Hey, Ranger books and he wants me to have it again.
It is interesting how these issues circulate in our lives, but it is also important to notice that, despite their recurring presence, we keep coming at them with conviction and dedication. We don’t give up or give in. That’s ultimately, to me, what success is – staying strong and not giving up the fight for what we believe in and what we want.