Entries in A Metaphor is like a simile (83)
Annette and me at the First Annual Jane Austen Tea Party, May 2012
Annette and I are blogging about the same topic today. Here's what she had to say.
When people first learn a little about my life--that I am a writer with a husband, six busy children, and a demanding Church calling--they tend to marvel (or ask disbelievingly), "How do you do it all?"
My first response is, "I don't do it all."
My second is, "I don't do any of it very well."
But my third response is the real truth, and it's more than a self-deprecating one-liner.
Writers tend to live isolated lives, and often, so do stay-at-home mothers. Anyone who's both (as I am) has a double whammy to handle. Yes, being both is awesome and fulfilling, but it's incredibly demanding as well.
Isolation occasionally means blissful solitude, but for me, isolation often means being overwhelmed to the point of anxiety-filled paralysis. That, coupled with chronic depression, is my reality.
Enter my secret weapons, a duo that sounds like a Jane Austen novel: Choice and Accountability.
Long ago, Claudia Bushman gave me this sage piece of advice. "When you want to take on a new project, sit down and consciously decide what you will give up in order to make room for it." In other words, make hard choices, and make them up front--at the beginning of the project and at the beginning of each year or month or week or day.
My choices take the form of daily lists. I write down what needs to happen, from scripture study to laundry to a word count for the day. Once I've written down everything necessary, I write down some optional stuff that would be nice to get done, if possible. Please note that my list often includes things like "Power Nap" or "Read several chapters of [Fun Novel]" I want to live mindfully and not run faster than I have strength, and renewal has to be part of my daily routine.
I'm sure lots of people make similar lists. The real power comes from the second half of that duo: Accountability. Reporting one's small successes to someone else is amazingly effective. It somehow makes them more real and gives them the satisfying weight of accomplishment.
I have the tremendous blessing of having an official Accountability Partner--my angel friend, Annette Lyon. Annette is a talented, successful writer with the most incredible work ethic of anyone I've ever known. More than a year ago, she and I formed a partnership. I was flailing about, directionless and despairing, and I called Annette to whine about it. She listened compassionately and then suggested we work together on a return-and-report basis until I was out of my rut. The rest is history.
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, it doesn't matter that we live in different states. Nearly every work day since our first accountability pow-wow, we have done the following:
1) Either the night before or early in the morning of a work day, we email each other our highly detailed and specific To Do Lists. We will usually include a couple of paragraphs of ranting or venting or rejoicing over whatever is going on with us, but sharing the list is our basic intent.
2) Throughout the day, we'll text each other whenever we've completed something on our list: "Scriptures studied." "Laundry swapped, clean load folded and put away." "Bread rising, beans soaking." "Scene edited." "1000 words written." Stuff like that. Sometimes we'll respond: "Great job!" "You rock." "Yessss!!!!" Other times, we'll simply counter with our latest item completed.
3) We don't always get everything on our lists done. That's okay; we just make a new list for the next day. Sometimes items migrate for days until we can text victory. Doesn't really matter; slow progress is better than none. Overall, I know that I am vastly more productive because I know Annette is waiting to hear from me. Her triumphs inspire me, and I hope mine do the same for her.
What would I do without Annette? I don't plan to find out. I envision us 50 years from now, holovideoing each other from our retirement homes and reporting on our latest plot problems or character dilemmas solved. When you get something this wonderful going in your life, you don't want it ever to end. Thanks, Annette.
Click here to read Annette's side of the story.
Our youngest child is, shall we say, a reluctant eater--so much so that we sometimes wonder how it is that she shares our genes. ("Perkinses eat a lot" is not our family motto for nothing.) Anne will dawdle over a meal literally for hours if I don't coach her, wheedle her, and (often) hand feed her.* Left to her own devices, it's simply not worth the work to her to finish the food on her plate.
Sometimes she'll just sit on her chair, a wad of half-chewed food in her cheek, an exasperated, defeated expression on her sweet face. When she does, I encourage her to keep going. "If you chew it and swallow it, it won't be in your mouth anymore," I say, secure in my logic. Or, "The faster you eat it, the sooner you can go play." Or, "You don't have to like it. You just have to eat it." She's heard these words thousands of times, and she still does what she does. It defies reason, I tell myself, and I can't understand why she can't just get it done.
But the other day, it hit me: my daughter is exactly like her mother. Let me explain.
I was hired several months ago to work on a secret creative project. It's a bit out of my wheelhouse, and I've had a fairly steep learning curve to mount, but I've never in my life been able to turn down an adventure, so I took it on. The project is cool, I've learned a ton, and my collaborators are fun, interesting, and very smart. And the money? It's fantastic.
Yet. For months, I have wasted a ton of time NOT working on this project--procrastinating, fretting, regretting--even though whenever I turn anything in, my work is praised and valued. I've encountered more Resistance on this project than on any other I've ever begun.
Every day, I tell myself I'll complete a certain portion of the job. Almost every day, I find a way not to make my goal. In effect, I am like my daughter, sitting on my chair with half-eaten food in my cheek. Unwilling to continue, unable to leave the table. I could complete my assigned tasks in a fraction of the time I spend consciously avoiding doing them.
Can I apply my own smug logic in pep talks to myself? Can I cajole myself through the rest of the work that needs to be done? "The only way out is through," as Cathy says to herself in Dispirited. I need to make myself believe that.
*There are diagnosed reasons for this. We employ therapeutic methods with her. I'm on it, people.
People have been writing really nice things about Dispirited, my YA dark fantasy novel, published by Zarahemla Books in March of this year. I thought I'd link to them all right here--mainly so I can go back and re-read them when I'm feeling down. But you're welcome to read them, too.
I am thrilled to let you know that I have just posted discussion questions for my fantasy novel Dispirited. At the top of this page, you'll see a tab that will take you there.
My dear friend, Christine Edwards Allred, has a Ph.D. in American Literature. She used to get paid a hefty sum to lead book groups for rich ladies on Manhattan's Upper East Side and in New Jersey. Later, she wrote book group guides for great writers like Elizabeth Berg.
I was honored when she agreed to come up with discussion questions for my book, and I was beyond thrilled when I read them. Spoilers abound, so be alerted! But if your book group should choose to read and discuss Dispirited, please feel free to use these questions as the abundant, thoughtful resource that they are.