Have you ever had days you moved through furtively restless, with the certain impatience there was something you needed to do? A pressure that meant you could not go outside to trim the bougainvillea that nearly clotheslined the UPS man (in all its bloody thorniness), could not (as you had promised) take the boys to the movies, could not spare the hour to catch up with your dear friend in LA (even though, for once, the time diff was in your favor), could not do laundry or dishes or even think of writing…but couldn’t name source of the urge?
I spent today in the tufted leather chair my boys expect me to sit in when I work (I work better sitting on my bed, but look so much lazier there, so that the leather chair claims me). I had the laptop in my lap. I had lists of things to do, and those that had been accomplished to check off. I’d written three blogs this week, which needed proofing before posting. I’d gathered more pictures for another Living with Books. I’d traded notes with staff at a TT race in Ireland, that gave me just the detail to write an inner monologue for Wake‘s mose elusive character (where he dreamed himself the race marshall responsible for warning approaching racers of a hazard in the road, but somehow failed, as the character does ultimately, in preventing a family member’s death). I had 14 brief manuscripts to read and comment on for a workshop with Ann Hood starting Wednesday, and three more litmag submissions to read and respond to.
More urgently, 69 student essays and 17 preliminary research packets await comments for classes this week, with mid-period grades due tomorrow.
I assumed that was source of the restlessness: resentment at spending my Sunday grading, guilt not to be with the boys. I love teaching writing but have to confess myself worse than the students this year in having early-onset of summer fever. As much as I’ll miss this fabulous year when it ends, right this moment I want nothing more than hours alone to myself to read and write and play with my boys and maybe, if I have to, get the house clean. Or go on a date. Student papers drag their toes in self-conscious awareness there’s no competing with all that. Together, the weighty bag of papers and I went through the day watching guilty marathon episodes of Miami Towing on tru.tv (yeah, that bad) knowing I was clearly in a state of avoidance.
The boys went out to let me work but the urgent impatience continued. With the irritable absentmindedness of a nervous tick, I flicked back and forth through software on my computer and online. Metaphorically pacing. Searching. Waiting for something. Every twenty minutes or so, a tweet would come through, an email would come through, friendly comments and connections from my friends in the ether. A good article to read, an interesting piece of news. I’d be sated, momentarily, like easing a junkie’s craving, so that yes, it seemed, maybe that was it: just boredom. Avoiding the essays. Loving the connection of fellow writers. Avoiding the essays.
Just as quickly, the craving would be back, the pacing, the constant flickering hunt through the buttons on screen.
But, whatever I was looking for, it wasn’t here.
The boys came home, breaking my trance. I broke free of the leather chair (who may find itself summarily dismissed for its continued failure to aid in productivity), went upstairs to where the beginning of twilight lit the bay window of my room like a treehouse.
Sitting here reminded me of the hour stolen before teaching last Thursday: writing the scene where this elusive character revealed himself, pulling the long unused key to his parents’ house from his wallet, his men turning away in denial of how his hand shook, scraping the brass face of the lock before he could turn the key. The house of the death he’d caused, the main character still thinking him a victim while the shear act of turning away had revealed to him that his closest friends had thought him at fault all along.
Where all day there had been restlessness, I am now there in that novel — in the scene just written, in the race getting ready to be underway in Northern Ireland (in the real world) which the elusive character’s father was famed for winning before his death (in the novel). In the scene still in my head, wanting my attention. Awareness fills me, as it does, with the engulfing physical and emotional presence a work in progress can have.
I realize with a mix of frustration and relief this is the answer I looked for all day. The novel. I want everything else — the grading, the cleaning, the movie, the duties — to fall away and leave me dozens of hours to disappear into finishing this story. It’s frustrating because the timing is off. I budget time for fiction, but today’s hours were allotted to getting grades entered and I’m being bratty to complain about it. I’m lucky enough to be working only part-time this year, to have 3 days off for a workshop this week, to have 2 months home this summer between teaching. Wait, impatient novel. Your turn is coming.
But, even with the limited time, I pause to enter this post to say one thing: what a relief it is, and a joy, to know the writing I am doing has this powerful a pull on me. To know that, even when it has to wait its turn, it is strong enough to leave me pacing and craving the work. Relentless: that’s the nickname of the motorcycle race coming up in Northern Ireland this month. I like that, as it fits the relentlessness of this urge I have to get this story down.
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5 Things I Could Have Done to Make Today More Successful:
Yeah, I know better.
1. Write first. What relief I would have felt, had I given myself an hour, even, to get that one scene down before trying to work on other things.
2. Not let interruptions begin, in the first place. Bad, leather chair, bad. Sounds like I’m kidding, but fact is, this chair is aimed at the tv, in a room crowded with the boys’ toys, causing stifling chi even when the tv is off. I know this to be true. The trick is to know yourself and not invite the disaster in to begin with. I should have begun the day in the room where I knew I worked more productively.
3. Don’t worry what other people think. I started my day in the family room because I was waiting for the boys’ dad to pick them up. He would have taunted me for “sitting in bed all day” if I’d been working in my room when he got there. So what? I should have done what I knew to be best, regardless.
4. When you get in a rut, break it right away. Okay, so yeah, it was hysterical seeing the crazed big man stuck in the passenger window of his car, fighting to keep the tow truck driver from pulling away. But, yo. As I procrastinated into the third episode of Miami Towing? Take a hint. Break the trance. Go for a run. Go to that movie with the boys. Do anything — but don’t let the procrastination take over.
5. In avoidance mode? Use a timer and break work into 15 or 30 minute increments. Grade 30 minutes, then give 10 to something rewarding, whether that be a break with friends online or reading for the workshop later in the week, or a turn with fiction, getting that new scene down. Several 30 minute increments would have left me much more productive than the day turned out.
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Worth Reading: For friends who have been participating in Robert Lee Brewer’s Social Media Platform challenge this month (#mninb on twitter), I’ll end with a link to a great article by Jane Friedman: read this for the great checklist, providing an interesting approach for deciding how to balance time between writing and building platform. Comments following the article are just as insightful.
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Best to all of you, who struggle with the ongoing need to balance writing with the other demands of life. If you have similar challenges, or insights for what works well for you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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For more on managing writing time:
- Click Time Management for Writers or Writing Life in the Category cloud in the sidebar.
- Coming next: Writing Life: Today’s Job – Nonwriting Days
- For time management strategies to reach your goals, check out the 2013 series January Challenge: Finish, Begin, Improve, Plan
- Writing Life: A Zen Prompt for Writing Past Blocks
- What I’m Reading: Summer Reading 2012
- Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy