Monday, January 13, 2020

Writers, Protect your Time

As a writer and a stay-at-home mom, one of my biggest challenges has been finding the uninterrupted time to actually sit and write, without needing to worry about outside or additional responsibilities.

That the unpaid duties of parenting and home keeping - whether beloved or merely tolerated - still fall primarily on the shoulders of mother, is an almost universal constant. Women have been navigating these competing priorities for generations now. Those of us working in the arts are not exceptions, although we might have the advantage of a short commute if our studio is at home, as mine is. A recent study of salary data, found that the work of a SAHM is worth over $162K per year, when all the different functional roles are added up. Today as housekeeper, cook and part-time administrative assistant, my salary should be about $90K - but that would assume I'm a bit more enthusiastic of a housekeeper than I usually manage. 

For the last 20 years, I have been acting as the support system for my partner (my husband) and his professional activity as the breadwinner, while my own career aspirations have fit in part-time, around the choices I made. Yes, I did make the choice to live this lifestyle, centering home schooling as my priority and all the multitude of tasks involved in being a home maker as how I spent my time. It wasn't my original ambition to be out of the workforce. I had planned a fabulous career in theater and film. Just because I am happy with the choice I made, and the beautiful life I lead, doesn't mean I don't sometimes mourn what might have been.

Slowly, starting about 10 years ago, my daughter grew ever more independent. As she needed less of my focus, and I turned increasingly towards working for an income. Now I am a writer, with my first book on its way to publication. (More on that soon.)

In fact, I would go further to say that now I am practically a full-time writer.

It is because my daughter has entered college, and my husband and she leave for work/school together early just about every morning. My productivity, now that I am free of interruptions or plaintive importunities for attention or snacks, has skyrocketed.

Never have I felt the truth of and identification with Virginia Woolf's idea in her essay, "A Room of One's Own" so keenly as now, when I feel the real difference the comes from being alone in the house for a specified, predictable and regular time on a repeating schedule.

How did I manage to write a whole biography before? Well, my daughter was able to give me just enough time alone at my desk each working day, either from her sleep schedule or from as much self-discipline as she could muster, that I was able to put in about three or four hours a day, with some extra magical times when I was able to squeeze in 8 or 9. But it was a slog, and there is no denying that sometimes the others in my household, while expressing full support, left me feeling torn with their reasonable neediness.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Here are the tactics that I use, that worked well in the past to let me get some writing work done, and continue to work well now.

  • While working on the bio, I had a daily set time when I wrote that I made sure everyone knew about. I had my accountability buddy to help me start every day at a consistent time. But I also had a set finishing time most days. When I was in a particular deadline mode, I would put the time on a dry erase sign, to let my people know when I was going to stop. I don't have an office with a door - yet - so that sign was very important. This included working on resumes too. 
  • I got efficient about preparing meals, and I have only become more efficient now with week-long meal planning and a daily preparation time built in to my schedule. I know when they will be home, and I work to that each day. 
  • I've been using a Pomodoro timer app. I let it tick aloud during the five minute breaks, when I jump up and do some quick housework task. But I find the countdown clock inspiring too. I have really become a lot more productive. 
  • I have a to do list, numbered by priority. If I have to make fewer decisions, work gets done faster. I spent some time during the first week of January creating an editorial calendar for the first Quarter of the year, even longer for some aspects of my writing businesses. Just four pre-planned blog posts a quarter here - surely I can manage that. 
  • I get most of my groceries delivered, especially the kind of household paper goods and sparkling water that come in bulk sizes. On the other hand, it can be a nice break to go up to the store and gather a week's worth of veges and proteins for meal planning. But the fast ordering and ability to avoid traffic and standing in lines, helps my time management immeasurably. 

There was no way for me to work consistently and in the great chunks that actually move a work of fiction along while my daughter was tiny and underfoot. Sure, I could knock out a blog post, or an article - even if it took a few sessions. But the ability to write a thousand reasonable words of a narrative or a screenplay needs the kind of time that allows flow - immersion in a whole other world where time moves entirely differently, and re-entering the common world, leaves one in a daze wondering where that time went...when did it get dark? How long has the cat been asserting her desire for her dinner? That takes protected time. And now I have it, for the time being at least.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Good books I read over the last year

I have to be honest. Most of the time I listened to audio books. I have subscriptions to two different services and this has been the greatest impetus to get new books and consume that informative, inspiring or entertaining content.

One of the reasons I choose audio for so much text based content is because of time constraints. When I read a book, that is all I do. What tends to suffer when I am absorbed in a book, especially a ripping narrative, is my sleep. I will continue the habit of a lifetime and read in bed. It's still relaxation, but it's not sleep.

I travel by public transit a little over an hour to my volunteer gig once a week. Every other week, I have an errand to another part of town. Perfect reading moments, right? Alas, I get terrible motion sickness if I try to read in a vehicle or on a train. So it is the perfect time to listen.

I like to listen to something while I'm walking or grocery shopping. Often I hit up podcasts, but buffering can be a problem. So I have a book downloaded, and I can listen happily. At home, I use an audio book as my "reward" for doing some housework. I put my earbuds in, turn on an entertaining book, and clean. It's especially great for the vacuuming.

Here is a selection of the non-fiction titles I read and appreciated this year, in no particular order. I read more than these, but these are the ones I truly enjoyed in the moment or intend to return to for references and ideas.

Wendy Wood - Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes (2019). This book is a conglomeration of the science including a lot of Dr. Wood's own research into the topic, but is written in language accessible to the layman. I have only just finished my first listen, and I will be going through it again to make notes of some actionable practices. Stay tuned on that one.

Ken Robinson - Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative (2011) and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (2013). Creativity is a particular interest of mine. Ken Robinson's TED talk on the subject is still one of the most listened to in history.

Simon Sinek - The Infinite Game (2019). This is an interesting take on the concept of fixed and growth mindsets for leaders. I have already recommended this book to others.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton - The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience (2019)

Michelle Obama - Becoming (2018). Definitely her story, her point of view, not his. Good value too, because it is long and detailed.

Mel Robbins - Work It Out (2019), Kick Ass (2018) and Take Control of Your Life (2019) - Audible Originals. These are recorded coaching sessions with deeply insightful commentary and actionable take-aways. I like this work better than the original Five Second Rule.

David Wallace-Wells - The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming(2019). A depressingly clear run down of the current climate-change science, and some of the predictive models - but with some hope attached. Very useful for anyone writing futurist or sci-fi novels, if nothing else.

Marie Forleo - Everything is Figureoutable (2019). One of the great features of this audio book, is that the sections with the exercises - what she calls an "Insight to Action Challenge" for each chapter - have their own heading - so it is easy to jump to them to participate in the exercises.

Currently reading:

Matt Bird - The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (2016). This is another book that will I will be taking copious notes from. I'm finding it illuminating.

Amy Schmittauer Landino - Good Morning, Good Life: 5 Simple Habits to Master Your Mornings and Upgrade Your Life (2019). I am already a fan of Amy's first book, Vlog Like a Boss, and I like her reading style in audio. She writes in a friendly, authentic style and shares personal stories from her own life, including sometimes painful learning experiences. Plus it includes actionable exercises and doable steps. I like it so far.