Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Balancing Work (and Play) and Writing

I knew it was a bad sign when I started filling my pocket notebook with more work notes than story notes.

I was recently given a temporary promotion as assistant manager at my store while my boss is gone for training. For the next eight weeks I'll have more hours, more pay, and more responsibility, and after that I return to serfdom. So far I quite enjoy not being chained to the register for 4-6 hours, but there are other aspects of the job that leave me just as drained by the end of the day.

Instead of standing in one spot while wearing my peppy cashier mask all day, I'm lifting heavy things, organizing shelves, making displays looks pretty, and doings lots of paperwork all day. I think ultimately I prefer physical and mental exhaustion to social exhaustion, but my writing has nevertheless suffered while I cram my head with all the Retail Stuff I have to remember.

It sounds like I'm blaming the job, but the truth is the biggest obstacle to my writing is still me. Although training for my new position started two weeks ago, it's been almost four since I accomplished anything substantial with my novel. Too much free time gives me a lack of focus, and I end up wasting my time with things I merely like that require little brainpower instead of things I love that command my full attention.

Last night after closing the store solo for the first time, I slumped into my computer chair. I wasn't feeling very motivated at all. My husband said, "You want to play League or write?" I said I would write, because that seemed like the right thing to do, so he queued for a match without me. For about half an hour, I clicked around my writer's forums instead. It wasn't until I read about a mom of three with multiple published books under her belt that I finally kicked myself into actually writing.

Many writing moms say they write more post-pregnancy, not less. Getting pregnant seemed like an expensive fix to my productivity issues, but then I realized the secret isn't the kids themselves, it's the ticking clock.

When your only free time is when your kids are either at school or unconscious (via sleep, one would hope), you have to prioritize. You could wait until they're grown up and out of the house to pursue writing, but 20 years or so is a long time to wait when you've got a story you want to tell right now. 

Those moms didn't want to be the people that put off their goals until conditions were perfect, only to discover that conditions would never be perfect, and they never did what they dreamed of doing.

I'm far from a midlife crisis, and hopefully I'm even farther from croaking my regrets from my deathbed, but I'm slowly starting to learn the warning signs of an unfulfilled life, and I'm trying to be proactive about it.

Some people need to be told to take a break. Others need to be told to get to work. I am among the latter. It's nothing to be ashamed of, so long as I do what I must to manage my inherent condition. Writing is a muscle, and I have to take care of it like I do for the rest of my body. I don't, I'll end up miserable.

Finding the best routine for my health requires a bit of trial and error. After years of experience, I now avoid certain foods depending on the time of day, I use more moisturizer in the winter, I try my best to get 9 hours of sleep, and I use a cleansing shampoo once a week.

So, what do I need to do to make my writing muscle as strong as it can be? Set a timer? A word count goal? A plot progression goal? Keep my butt in the chair for X amount of time on workdays, Y on days off?

Who knows? But I plan to find out.