Don’t you dream about a writing life that’s calm, contemplative, and free of annoying distractions?
Well, writers are some of the uber-dreamers, right?
The need for quietness–not just absence of sound or commotion around us, but an inner space apart from stress, worry, dozens of appointments/commitments, and deadline pressure–is vital to the optimum working of our creative muse.
We need space. We need peace. We need a haven from the clawing talons of Interruption and her harpy-sisters, Distraction and Worry.
In our modern, hectic, multi-tasking world, however, where in the world do we find Thoreau’s pond? I’m sure you’ve heard all the usual suggestions: turn off the phone in your writing office; turn off the email chime; shut and bolt your door; train your family not to even speak to you unless a) the house is on fire or b) someone is bleeding.
I used to pitch some royal hissy-fits in order to finally convince my family to leave me alone. Result? Instead of knocking on my office door, someone would furtively ease it open and an eyeball would peer in at me. If I gave any indication that I was noticing this, the individual would then waltz in and cheerfully ask his question. If I steadfastly ignored the peering eyeball and kept typing–fuming inwardly all the while–the door would steathily close. I was interrupted all the same, but my family member felt virtuous about “not bothering me.” Gak!
In time, I changed my tactics. Once I had a day job and no longer wrote full time, I needed to guard my writing session more than ever, but interruptions increased. Tired of pitching fits, I instead became the stealth-writer. During parental visits, for example, I would either negotiate for a length of writing time, aware of someone impatiently hovering near my door or deliberately making noise elsewhere in the house as the end of my writing session approached OR I would wait until everyone in the house was asleep and then I would sneak to my computer and write in secret. Such tactics had an illicit feel to them, and could be fun … until sleep deprivation caught up with me and I grew cranky.
Currently, I try to arrange my life in the Asian way of little compartments, all kept as separate as possible. There are teaching days, writing days, chore days, and days chasing antiques. It’s a little too regimented for my artistic temperament, but when you have a book deadline or you need a sale–artistic temperament had better take a hike.
Recently I’m finding myself in a new squeeze of overlapping commitments. The compartment walls are melting, thanks to a side business that I started for fun. I felt I needed an outlet, and I’m always looking for a creative hobby or some kind of play time to keep my inner child happy and refreshed. Problem is, the business is trying to grow and the new friends and associates I’ve acquired are demanding more of me. They are untrained when it comes to my true nature. They admire the writing life while not understanding what it actually entails. These are not people I want to pitch hissy fits in front of. Professionalism requires that I treat them with courtesy and not roar my rage like some wall-eyed beast.
Which means, to survive and keep my writing time secure, I have to set firmer boundaries and enforce them. My inner child is yelling outrage at this notion. I don’t want to be the enforcer. I don’t want to be the disciplinarian. Too bad. If I want to write, I have to make clearance for it.
Today, as you’ve no doubt guessed from the subject matter of this post, life hit me with one of those curveballs that are so blasted frustrating for writers. I had my writing schedule blocked out for the morning. I had a number of non-writing tasks to complete, including working with a handful of students. I was on target–or so I thought. Then whamo! something else landed on me. It was unexpected, unanticipated, and totally in the way.
What to do? (Besides swearing?) I took a deep breath, and channeled my artistic frustration into focus. The kind of focus that is narrow and intense and ruthless. I took care of the interruption, and although it feels like a waste of half my writing day, the task is DONE. Better to face it, smash it, and clear it aside than to whine and let it drizzle over, say, a week of procrastinating misery.
Now, I can swing my thoughts back to the book proposal at hand.