Tag Archives: work life balance

The Power of Being (I’m not procrastinating…I’m preparing)

Hello Scribes friends,

PJ Sharon here. Some of you may not know this about me, but I can be a bit lazy. I know—you’re thinking, “No way, PJ. Not you! You’re so motivated and productive!” Um…not really. Looking at the big picture, I do seem to manage to keep a pretty steady schedule, meet my goals on a regular basis, and take care of my daily responsibilities while maintaining a fairly decent attitude, so I guess I’m not a total slacker. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that anything I do accomplish is because I know myself well enough to make my goals achievable and realistic, I accept my limitations as an imperfect human being, and I plan accordingly. Being a natural multi-tasker and somewhat disciplined helps too, but these days, I’m less rigid and a much nicer boss to work for.

With my writing, I try to push new limits, set appropriate deadlines,  and stay challenged–since I know these are what motivate me to stay on task–but it would be foolish and self-defeating to expect more from myself than I want to give. You have to want success…and you have to want it bad! And you need to ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to achieve it?”

Admittedly, I’ve given up a lot to get where I am. But certain things–like time with my granddaughter and at least one day off a week, are now higher on my priorities list. What I also won’t compromise on is exercise. I commit myself to doing 30 minutes a day, five days a week because I know the payoff is totally worth it! When I’m strong, fit, and happy, I feel like I can handle anything that comes my way. If my schedule gets crazy, I let myself off the hook for a day or two, but then I’m back at it. The same applies to diet and nutrition. I’m not as rigid as I once was, but I try to eat high quality, nutrient dense foods that properly fuel my body. I like chocolate and pie as much as the next girl, but I believe in the 80/20 approach to everything. If I’m doing the right thing 80% of the time, I can slack off 20% of the time and I’ll probably be okay. Yay…pie!

For me, first and foremost, my mental and physical well-being are my priorities, and stressing out about what I’m NOT accomplishing only serves to make me feel overwhelmed and down on myself. It has become clear to me that my to-do list will never be done and that if I want to keep my sanity, I have to focus on just a few daily tasks that keep me moving toward my overall goals. It might take me longer to get there, but it’s not a race for me anymore. I’m in it for the long haul, so pacing myself is key to staying the course.

If goal setting isn’t your strong suit, here’s a great article to help you get on track and stay there.

Could I accomplish way more if I didn’t watch twenty hours of television per week or spend time gazing out the window at the lilac buds sprouting? scent of spring Maybe I could shave ten or fifteen minutes off my overly-lengthy shower time, or possibly I could sleep less. It seems changing even a few of these “recreational” behaviors would lead to a tremendous increase in my productivity. Then, maybe I could write five books in a year or spend another twenty hours a week promoting my butt off. After all, I do understand that the success of my business depends on me and how hard I’m willing to work. But how hard I’m willing to work today may be different from what it was two years ago, and will likely be different again a month from now. We each have to decide what’s important to us.

It comes down to perspective and priorities. In my opinion, none of those “recreational” activities are a total waste of my time. One could even argue that I am more productive because I’m living a balanced lifestyle. A full night’s sleep–when I can get it–is an essential tool for weight management, stress reduction, and overall health. I need at least 6-8 hours a night to remain productive and happy. Staying up late to write that blog that’s due in the morning, or waking at the crack of dawn to sneak in some “quality” writing time may help me check off a few to-do’s, but it’s going to leave me cranky and tired, and increase my susceptibility to illness. That’s not worth the trade for me at this point in life. Maybe some of you can live on five hours of sleep, but I’m betting it catches up with you eventually.

As for the apparent television addiction, I do try to limit my viewing to “must see” shows that give me the most enjoyment. I’m not a total hedonist! I TiVo my favorites and dole them out throughout the week as reward for accomplishing my tasks for the day. Getting lost in my favorite shows not only helps me decompress after a full day of massage work or long hours at the computer, it activates my creative brain. I’m constantly analyzing and deconstructing what I watch. I’m looking at story structure, dialogue, characterization, metaphor, etc. My mind is being entertained, but I’m also in my writer’s brain and learning.

The long hot showers, which some may argue are a luxury and a waste of not only water and resources, but are a self-indulgence. I assure you, they are a necessity for me. There are many challenges in daily life, and few “inexpensive” luxuries for most of us. If spending a half hour in the shower (where I do a stretching routine to treat my arthritic neck and back) relaxes me and reduces my pain, then so be it. I’ll take every little bit of relief I can get. Besides, my shower time is the most creative and productive time of my day as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a cup of tea, a soothing massage, and an opportunity to let my thoughts flow freely without my internal editor alarms ringing, all rolled into one.  My best ideas and snappiest lines of dialogue come to me while standing under a piping hot shower. I’ve also been known to belt out a few tunes while I’m there. Singing elevates my mood, clears my lungs, and centers me. It helps me shift from my right sided “business” brain to my left sided “creative” brain so I can get those 1,000 words on the page. The long hot shower is staying!

So, what about the inordinate amount of time I spend staring out the window, walking around my yard to see what’s coming into bloom, or simply sitting on my front porch with a hot cup of tea, paying attention to my breathing for a few minutes and taking time to be grateful for the multitude of gifts I have in my life? Am I procrastinating?

Maybe, but these moments too, are priceless. When I’m not actually writing, I’m usually preparing to write. I’m processing my next scene or coming up with some brilliant twist to my plot. As a writer, my brain is always processing some bit of information that will ultimately lead me to where I need to be on the page.

What it comes down to for me is that I’m a human being first, and a writer second. I NEED to stay connected to my higher self–the part of me that knows how to live in the moment and appreciates the power of just being.teens prayers5 (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC) That’s the part of me that inspired me to write in the first place and continues to be the well from which I draw my best work. Whether it’s called prayer or meditation…or just plain daydreaming, we all need it on some level.

I know that nothing can substitute for diligence, consistency in getting those daily word counts on the page, or putting in the overtime, but these quiet moments of stillness and reflection are essential to my sanity and well-being. I know this to be true about myself. Perhaps it’s just an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but I prefer to think of it as “preparing” the soil. The fertile ground of productivity is only as good as what you feed into it. So next time you start to feel guilty for daydreaming instead of writing, or taking a day off to hit the beach, don’t look at it as “slacking”. Consider it part of the process. Tomorrow is another day and there is always more work to be done. Today, take a moment to reconnect to what nurtures and feeds your soul. You may be slightly less productive on paper, but you’ll be happier and more balanced in the long run.

Namaste!

PJ

What are your best “self-care” indulgences? What fuels your muse? What have you done for you lately?

Balance During NaNoWriMo by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho all!  J Monkeys here.  As you know I’m scribbling away this month with my 6th year of NaNoWrimo.  But as important as focus and forward movement are to me during the month of November, it’s equally important to remember that I have other responsibilities that I can’t ignore. 

Yes the dishes can pile up and I can order pizza for dinner again.  But the house has to be tidy for the dozen people arriving for Thanksgiving and I’m gonna have to feed them something.  A trip to Santasland on November 30 is more important than spending that last day banging out words.  And Parent/Teacher conferences are coming.  And I have a job that pays for important things like gas and groceries.

So, for all of you out there saying I can’t do it!  I can’t write a novel in November with all the other things I have to do – I’m here to say maybe that’s true.  Maybe you can’t write an entire novel.  But you can write a big chunk of one. 

I am absolutely shooting for 50,000 words this month.  But here’s a secret.  If I only hit 35,000 it’s still a success.  I’m 35,000 words further along than I would be if I hadn’t attempted to hit 50k.

Now I’m going back to writing…

 

Writer’s Cave or Fortress of Solitude?

Tuesday’s Scribe PJ Sharon here. I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday weekend, didn’t eat too much “bad” stuff, and remembered to take a moment to relax. For me, the weekend was about two things: Entertaining family and friends, and reaching my goal of 40,000 words on my work in progress. As I write this post on Monday evening, I’m tired, full, and happy to report relative success on both counts. Hi Mom!

That’s my mother-in-law on the left, my youngest son on the right and the happy crew in the back is my best friend and her family. Great food, Good times!Labor day Dinner pic

As for my word count goal, I began the month of August with about 12,000 words written on a book called PIECES OF LOVE. It’s a contemporary YA romance that I had shelved last year to work on the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Since I’m planning to write book three of the trilogy in the coming year, I knew that if I wanted to write Ali’s story, I would have to do it quickly and get back to work finishing the trilogy. I’m pleased to say, that although I didn’t quite reach my goal, I’m pretty darn close at 37,500 words. I suspect I’ll get to the 40k mark tomorrow. So how did I do it, you ask? And even if you didn’t, I’m going to let you in on some secrets—because that’s what we Scribes are all about.

For some writers, 30,000 words in a month is a doable goal. All you have to do is write a thousand words a day. About three pages daily, right? Easy? Um…not really. What happens to having a day off? What if i get stuck on a plot point, need to do some research, or can’t figure out where the story is going? What about when family barges in and expects food and clean clothes for school? Or if you’re like me, you have that thing called a day job that consumes hours a day that you could be writing and by the time you get home, you can barely manage an Amy’s frozen black bean burrito (delicious and nutritious by the way).

If you are a perfectly disciplined writer, then 30k in a month is just about the right pace to finish a first draft in two—maybe two and a half—months. But how many of us are perfectly disciplined writers? I almost want to say that those words are a bit of an oxymoron. Perfectly neurotic—maybe. Perfectly disciplined—not likely. So how does a writer on a deadline do it?

Word count goals are a must, but how rigid do we have to be? Do we really need to lock ourselves away to get the job done? Some people talk about the “writer’s cave.” The place where writers go to hole up, be left alone, and don’t come out until the work is finished. I knew that this would never work for me. Number one, I’m claustrophobic, so even the thought of being forced into a cave makes me want to run screaming into the night. Secondly, it sounds like punishment. I’m picturing Jamie Fraser (for Outlander fans) hiding out in a tiny cave in the hills of Scotland for a year, surviving on rats and roots, in fear for his life and that of his family if he is found out. And then there’s the bats…eeek! No caves for me, thank you.

I’m a big believer in perspective. There is real power in words and thoughts. I think people can say just about anything to anyone if they say it with kindness and positive intention. I also believe that a person can accomplish anything they set their minds to if they are given the right tools and have the right attitude. Call it “spin,” “attitude,” or “perspective.” With the right mindset, a person can accomplish great things. I’ve seen it too many times in my life to discount it as theory.

But when I think about the task of writing an entire book in two months, the magnitude of it seems overwhelming. I know myself well enough to know that if I try to force myself to do anything, it will immediately create resistance within me. Also, giving myself an impossible daily word count that doesn’t allow me flexibility or a day off would make me nuts and constantly reinforce a sense of failure—a sure recipe for burnout and not the way for me to be productive.

I find I do much better with a weekly word count of 7-8,000 words. I might be able to do that in a day if I have uninterrupted time and the story is flowing. Or I might not be able to get any writing done for a full week. I don’t beat myself up for that. Instead, I try to put it in perspective. I look at how far I’ve come, appreciate how hard I work in my everyday life, and cut myself some slack for not meeting a particular goal. I also remind myself how much I love my story. I WANT to write it, to see it completed and in print ASAP. Now that is motivating. It’s why I keep showing up at my computer every day.
One of the best tricks I’ve found for making my writing a happier experience and less of a demand is to re-frame how I think about it and my work space. It’s not my writer’s cave, it is my Fortress of Solitude. It’s not a deadline (which makes me think of a hangman’s noose), it’s a finish line (which for us competitive types invokes visions of ticker tape and a celebration).

I have come to love the Fortress of Solitude metaphor. You know, the place where Superman goes to re-energize, reflect on his journey, and find the courage to take the next step toward his ultimate goal. That feels much more inviting to me than a cave. It also allows me to include others in looking at my writing in a more positive way. My husband is awesomely supportive, but even he has his limits. If he thought I was “hiding” from him, I think he would be less inclined to be so helpful. But knowing that I am on an important mission—something that is meaningful and satisfying to me, and working at a job that has the potential to make us a nice retirement nest egg, he feels like he is part of the process—part of making my dreams come true.

So when your family is driving you crazy and interfering with your writing time or keeping you from meeting a “deadline,” instead of telling them you need to be in your “cave,” put up a sign on your desk that says “Fortress of Solitude”.
When you are there, they need to understand the importance of what it is that you are doing–like Superhero important. Also, let them in now and then to make them feel like they are part of your superhero’s journey. You might find they are much more supportive in helping you meet those word count goals.

So how are you all doing these days with your writing? Are you happy with your progress? Loving your story? Carving out time for family and friends as well as meeting those word count goals? Let’s chat fellow Scribers.

The Change in Circumstances

Hiddey-ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  I’m running a little late this morning – hopefully you haven’t all already visited today and I’ve missed you.  Why have I been writing my posts when I get up on Saturday morning instead of scheduling them in advance like I’ve done for the past nearly two years?  There’s been a change in my circumstances and I haven’t fully adjusted yet.  In addition to being a full-time mom and a part-time writer, I’m now someone’s part-time employee, too!  It’s awesome and I’m wicked excited about it – but I haven’t figured out how to balance my responsibilities with the hours in a day yet.  It’s a constant struggle for me.

So I’ve had one change in my circumstances and I’m anticipating another.  Earlier this week, I had one of my nearly 5-year old sons tested for Celiac.  I’m still waiting for the results, but it could mean a major change in circumstances, not just for me, but for all the “characters” living in my house. 

Celiac, for those unfamiliar with the…desease, disorder, issue?…means that you can’t eat gluten – no wheat at all.  In his case, it will go hand-in-hand with a milk allergy.  Here’s a link to more information if you are interested.  Now, not only is there a TON of information about celiac available out there, and there’s an aisle full of gluten-free products in my grocery store, but my son’s godfather has the same issue but very severely and can be a wonderful resource for me having lived with it for 40+ years.  So either way, we’ll be good.

Change-GraphicBut this got me thinking about how we writers need to change the circumstances on our characters.  Pull the rug out from under them, turn life on their head, leave them topsy-turvy.  I enjoy change – I always have.  I love to play “What if” games in my head.  What if we get snowed in and I’m stuck at the mall, all alone?  What if everyone in my neighborhood drops dead from a superflu and society as we know it collapses overnight?  (Don’t worry, my family is usually uninfected with the flu in this head-game.)  What if I won the $365 million lottery?  What if I decided to plant a garden this year? 

As writers, we have to change our characters lives and then help them work through the results of that change.  But lots of people hate change or fear it.  Often that’s the same thing.  Maybe that’s why people like to read – to see how the other half live.  To experience a (usually dramatic) change in circumstances in the safety of our own home.  I know that’s why I like it.  Did I just say I liked to read?  Ha-hmmmm.  I mean that’s why I love to read. 

Today’s not-so-secret Secret: Changes in circumstances can come from anywhere and involve anything.  If you run out of ideas, or realize that you haven’t changed your characters circumstances enough, look to your own life for inspiration.

Today’s Question: What’s your favorite type of change-in-circumstance story?  I love historical romances and more modern day, they’ve-kept-these-secrets-from-us-for-millenia-but-now-it’s-all-coming-to-light-and-boy-are-we-in-trouble type stories.

Today’s bonus secret: click to here to see what changes are in store for our beloved Eric Northman – they’ve begun filming True Blood season 6!  Yippeeee.