My burning question to guide the first three months of the new year–for myself as a writer–is this: What if I write my own story–what if I intentionally shape my life to engage my best work? In response to this question, I’ve come up with #oneproject: to sculpt my time more effectively by envisioning my Best Day.
How will you respond to challenges differently this year? No risk, no challenge, no quest. It’s that simple. What one to three challenges and messiness could you inevitably face this quarter while executing your one project? Define those challenges. Write about them. Then ask yourself, How can you respond to them differently than you did last year? Write, draw, doodle, paint, flow chart, or compose your way into imagining how you can respond to challenges differently in order to execute your one project.
My challenges are not unique to this #oneproject, this Best Day endeavor. They’re old frenemies of mine: sleep, distraction, and discouragement.
Sleep. I don’t know that I need to explain this one. Creative mind=insomniac mind. And yet sleep nourishes our minds, fertilizes our creativity.
Distraction. Everything is SO SHINY. Even vampires are shiny now, people. And for someone who’s fascinated by everything, this is a tough one. I am a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad mother because when my children tell me they’re bored, I have absolutely no sympathy. The world is fascinating and beautiful and I want to read ALL THE THINGS and go ALL THE PLACES and meet ALL THE PEOPLE, and barring the possibility of those things, I will attempt to experience them vicariously online. Some “distractions” are worthy ones, ones that fuel my creativity–long walks, stargazing, reading. The online stuff is the tricksy stuff. I have a very vexed relationship with social media in particular.
Discouragement. I recall a college professor talking about how the worst sin in the Christian past of the particular work we were reading was despair, because it implied disbelief in God. For creative types, perhaps discouragement is the greatest vice, because it implies disbelief in ourselves and our creations. It’s so, so easy to become discouraged on this long, twisty road toward making a living as an author. It’s patently absurd, really, to even consider the possibility of a career in this field–how many writers “make it,” after all?
I’m still percolating how to tackle these three challenges, but I’ll give it a shot:
Sleep. Um, I need to just sleep. Easier said than done when you live with an overactive imagination and an insomniac seven-year-old. But I need to find ways to work on this. Part of my problem is that at the end of the day, I have this compulsion not to go to bed unless I feel I’ve accomplished something worthwhile. So (GULP) maybe I need to get up earlier. (I really need a drippy green slime-font for those words). I’m a night owl by nature, but I think I’m going to have to undergo a very painful metamorphosis. I’m working on this now, and feeling a new and keen empathy for caterpillars. It looks like nothing is happening in that chrysalis, but I bet it hurts.
Distraction. Main problem: shiny internet. Shiny Facebook, shiny email, shiny Twitter, shiny rabbit-holes down which EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT AND SPARKLY!! My friend and fellow-Quester A. K. Anderson has helped me out with this one via her post on Five Social Media Tips for Authors. She succinctly addresses the pros and cons of various platforms and offers suggestions for how to maximize their effectiveness without letting them overrun your time. It’s all about concentrated bursts of connection, and for a technophobic writer like me, this is required reading. I need to set aside time specifically for doing the networking stuff I need to do as a writer, but I need to be intentional about using the internet as a tool and not as entertainment. That’s what books and walks and good conversation are for.
Discouragement. This is the most abstract, and perhaps that’s why it’s the toughest. I’m a roller-coaster kind of kid–I’m either climbing, plummeting, or upside-down and totally disoriented somewhere in between. It’s so easy to give in to discouragement, so easy to observe from the outside the success of others and be consumed by envy. It’s so easy to devalue what I do, to treat it as a hobby instead of a career. I am fortunate to have a supportive family, to have a husband who values what I do and encourages it. I know that not every struggling writer has this support, and so I am obligated to take what I have and do the best I can with it. I’ve recently made the huge step of pushing household responsibilities to the weekends–cleaning, meal-planning, etc.–and reserving weekdays from the time my guys leave for school until they return for writing. This feels amazing. And weird. I’m acting like a writer. For me, this has been a huge step in tackling the inevitable discouragement. I’m putting my time where my mouth is. I know the discouragement will continue to crop up like wire grass–it never really dies. And I’m going to have to wrestle with it, to try to stay positive and push my own creative boundaries.
One thing I’m extremely, ridiculously excited about this year is a new collaboration with my friend Cara of Cara Walton Photography. She invited me to write text to accompany one of her pieces, and submitted the result to a local art show. Our piece was accepted, and will be on display in February. I’ve been hopping around the house like a woman who just won the lottery, which probably sounds doofy, but I realized last night that this is the first official recognition as a writer that I’ve experienced in my adult life. My words were good enough. And Cara’s images are amazing. We’re embarking on more projects together, and I’m getting a little giddy thinking about what we’ll create.
See how fellow Quester Lauren Iuppa Ayer tackles this prompt here.