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Posts Tagged ‘self discipline’

Most of us, at some point in our lives, have dreamed of working for ourselves. We sit in our office cubicle, or other equally dismal assigned work space, and wonder what it would be like to not have to answer to that asshole of a boss anymore, or sit next to that whining hypochondriac, or deal with the petty power plays of the supply clerk over the next set of copy paper requests. We imagine how nice it would be to set our own schedule as we tool away at our dream job training unicorns to tap dance. Or maybe something equally a fantasy, like being a writer.
I certainly entertained those thoughts. And when the day came that my husband agreed I could give up the (fruitless two year, hundreds of resumes sent) job hunt and stay at home to give my writing a full-time chance, I was giddy with joy. FINALLY, I could live the life I wanted. All those stories that had been dancing around my head, all those characters demanding to be released, could actually see the light of day. No more alarms, no more power suits, no more office bullshit, and no more disorganized bosses. I stopped being a Certified Administrative Professional, and became a WRITER.
Yeah, you can stop laughing now…

 

lol-cat

I love the smell of folly first thing in the morning…

 

My grand plan was to get up every day when I felt like it, write for a few hours, have lunch, piddle around the housework, fix dinner for the hubby, and finish off the day with a few more hours of writing. I went and bought myself some spiffy writing software (Scrivener is awesome!)*, a cool electronic pad that captures hand-writing (Wacom is awesome!)*, and smooth heavy-bond paper for my fountain pens (Levenger is awesome!)*. I fussed over how my desk should be laid out, whether I should go for time or word count, listen to music or not, have the TV on or not, and about a bazillion other silly things that really didn’t matter but did because I’m a little obsessive/compulsive that way.

In the beginning, I actually did get some stuff accomplished. I (slowly) finished a novel and some short stories, made pretty regular entries here at this old dump of a blog, and did at least two articles a week for an on-line “news” site called Examiner.com, now defunct. I did that gig mainly to get myself back into writing shape, knowing I wouldn’t make a living off it, and left well before their fall. I have made queries and submissions for both the novel and stories, essentially to a large field of crickets, it seems, given the non-responses I’ve received. And I started a second novel. So, in the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn’t seem all that bad.

Appearances are definitely deceiving.

That early enthusiasm soon fell victim to my own lack of urgency. When I don’t HAVE to get up at a certain time, I don’t. In fact, I’m very cat-like in that regard. I’ll take a nap just about anytime. And when I say nap, I mean at least four hours of unconsciousness cuddled with the actual cats in a cool, dark room. And being naturally a night person, night was when I was awake. I’d see my husband off to work in the morning and promptly head off to the vault for my day’s snooze.

And not being responsible to anyone else’s agenda, when I was awake I wasn’t nearly as productive as I could have been. Hey, look! There’s a game I haven’t played in a long time. Maybe I should make something out of this fabric I’ve had for the last twenty years. Wow, I sure do have a lot of books I need to read – better get started. It’s amazing how fast time disappears when you’re not accountable.

Then came a couple scary events involving hospitals, bill collectors, and mortgage companies. The depression seemed to envelope me whole and what little productivity I’d managed rapidly fell off into nothing. Soon it was mostly sleeping and computer games, because nothing really matters, least of all me. Hiding is what I seem to do best. It’s so easy to put things off when there are no hard deadlines, no people to be responsible to, and no requirements beyond feeding the cats and the husband. And that little dark cave in my mind that began as a refuge, slowly transformed into a prison…

 

Wearing all black

But only until they come up with something darker…

 

I follow several other writers – a couple best-selling/award winners, and a few crawling up the ranks – all of whom are further along their journeys than I. Somewhere along the line, I began dissecting their schedules (if they didn’t outright tell their readers). They all blog more frequently than I, and post on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram numerous times a week. They usually write, or are at least engaged in some aspect surrounding writing, like editing or marketing, everyday. The up-and-comers send out dozens of queries and/or submissions a month, while the established pen mavens have to figure out how to balance all those offers with their already tight schedules. They talk about having to pay the mortgage, dealing with children interrupting their writing time, and imposter syndrome. They are going through all the same issues I am, but they have managed to keep the keystrokes active. They press through even on those days when it seems that writing is more a chore and less the passion they thought it would be.

They do it because they HAVE to, not just because they want to. They are beholding to their families, their editors, their readers, and any number of others involved in the chain of production from inception to publication. Don’t get me wrong: they still love what they do. But like with any career, once it starts rolling, there are other people to think of, and you’d best not let them down.

And that’s what I finally realized I’ve done. This writing thing isn’t just about me. My husband is carrying the household expenses on his shoulders while I piss away my day killing zombies. My family and friends support me and offer encouragement, despite me sleeping curled up with the cats all afternoon. There are even people who aren’t any of the above that read this blog regularly – or at least as regularly as my erratic entries allow – and still follow me regardless.

And that’s why self-motivation is an oxymoron. It doesn’t exist for me. I don’t give a crap for myself, so it doesn’t matter if things get done or not. You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t care. But I’m not operating in a bubble. I know that now. And I just can’t stand to let others down.

So things are going to change. Even if it means using that damn alarm again…

 

 

*   Disclaimer: I have received no monetary sponsorship for these claims. I really do think they’re awesome and use them often!

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Yesterday was my birthday so I decided to be an even bigger slug than usual. I did manage to do the dishes and clean the cat box, because some things just have to be done (especially the cat box – my, he is productive!). But the rest of the day I spent killing things on the computer and ignoring any possible semblance of responsibility. Yeah, I know, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. The battle between my depression, my intellect, and my inherent laziness is a constant war. And like all wars, the people (i.e., me) – regardless of affiliation – are the losers.

The lists of what I should be doing seem endless. And maybe that’s why I keep ignoring them. I look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. So many projects, so little discipline. And it is a discipline problem, not a motivational one. If people – especially creative types – waited until they had proper motivation, nothing would ever be created. (Premier Penmonkey and newest Star Wars author Chuck Wendig has his latest rant on the topic here.)

I used to be disciplined. I was that student who always did her homework first, practiced my music diligently, kept my room tidy, and wrote every day. There was a time when I set my sights on a goal and nothing would stop me achieving it. Straight A’s? – Boom, no problem. All-State Band? In the bag. Get into the college I wanted? Never any doubt. Write a novel? Hah! – here’s a whole trilogy! (Not in the least bit good, but it’s written.) My life was organized and on track for what I wanted it to be.

Somewhere along the line, something happened. Nothing that can be pinpointed, no one event that sent things careening off track. Just a gradual slide down the hill of life until you hit the bottom of a rut and wonder how you ended up there. Choices made that weren’t necessarily the best. Allowing fear to control instead of hope. And any modicum of self-confidence that might be had, beaten into a bloody pulp by soul-sucking jobs and self-serving co-workers and oblivious bosses. Eventually that rut looks mighty comfy. It’s safe in there. Dark and cool and consistent. You keep your head down because peeking out will only get you run over. Just keep trudging, kid – there’s no end in sight, but at least you know what you’re dealing with.

And it doesn’t help me that the last few years have been spent almost entirely in crisis mode: hospital visits, car accidents, bankruptcy. Can’t think about next week, let alone the dreams and desires, because we have to take care of this BIG DEAL right NOW! You get numb pretty quick. You retreat even further into your little rut. You think about smoothing out the bottom a little, maybe putting up some curtains, because you sure as hell ain’t coming out anymore so might as well like what you’re wallowing in. Friends aren’t allowed because you don’t want them to see you “this way.” Family is told everything is fine because they’re at the other end of the state and can’t check you on your bullshit. And your spouse slowly collapses into the trap with you, and you both become automatons in your dark little ditch, trudging along like mules before the plow because there’s nothing else you know.

Yeah, cheery, ain’t it? It’s easy to make that determination when you’re on the outside looking in. But it’s so very difficult when you’re down there in the dark. Life is status quo. You have your routines. You pay your bills according to which cut-off notice is next. You live in your pajamas because what’s the point in changing when you never leave the house. Sleep, eat, lose yourself in the magic box on your desk. There’s no real expenditure of effort. The boundaries are known, the results predictable. You survive.

But that’s all you do.

It’s said that the first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. Most people never get even that far. And those that do often never get any further. It takes effort to make changes. It takes thinking outside the rut and putting forth energy not used in ages. It takes risks and unknowns and – most rare and difficult of all – faith in yourself. You look at how far it is to the top and are convinced you’ll never make it. How could you possibly do all that climbing when it takes everything you have just to put one foot in front of the other down there in your nice, deep, endless rut. Not to mention all the crazy, fear-mongering wackos that await anyone who sticks their head out, playing whack-a-mole with their zealous, bigoted, prejudicial rhetoric useful only for pounding us back into our hidey-holes and being afraid.

Let me tell you a little secret: don’t worry about any of that. All you need is one step, just one step to start. Focus on building one perfect, decorative, level, supportive step. Plan it, build it, admire it. You’ll soon come to realize it’s all alone and needs a friend. So you’ll build a second step. Then a third and a forth and a fifth, and on until you finally – Surprise! – breach the top. And you’ll be so strong by the time you get there, nothing will bother you. No war-mongering politicians. No apocalyptic doomsayers. No too-big-to-fail corporations.

It won’t be easy or quick, but it beats living forever in the dark.

My first step is to fix my attitude. Attitude is everything. If your attitude is crappy, so is your life. I have to stop looking at the whole picture and being overwhelmed, and focus on just one thing – finding something good in every day. Doesn’t have to be big or shiny or popular. It just has to bring a spark of positive to your energy. Today my good thing was a snoozing cat in my lap. And that’s enough to keep me going until tomorrow.

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