I caught myself doing something absolutely horrible the other day, and it made me wonder how often I do it without realizing. So I’ve been paying more attention for the last few days and am appalled at myself. Now I wonder if I’m the only one or if others have fallen into this same self-defeating trap. Before I can tell you what crime I’ve been committing, let me explain a little about the life of an author.
These days, whether self-published, indie published or trad-published, being an author is a business. If we don’t think of ourselves as a business – with all of the financial management, marketing, customer and vendor relations, and everything else that goes into running a company – our careers will fail. We’re not just writers. Yes, we must spend the majority of our time writing and creating, but there is much more to what we do than that. We must wear a lot of hats. We must juggle a lot of tasks and activities, and we have to manage our time carefully. This is even more true of self/indie published because we have added responsibilities that our publishing houses and editors don’t do for us. Throw in household duties, children, school, and for many, day jobs, and it’s easy to see how important time management is.
For me, this means compartmentalizing my days and hours. I plan my weeks and days ahead of time, scheduling my writing time, my business time, and my personal time (of course, when a deadline is soaring at me, all bets are off, but this is the ideal situation). Whatever “time zone” I’m supposed to be in, I try to keep my focus on that area, get things done, and move on. Otherwise, I can bounce all over the place from one task to another without actually accomplishing anything. And I can easily keep myself busy 18 hours a day without writing a single word, which is no bueno.
There is also the whole thing about needing to be more present. More in the now. We writers have this uncanny habit to drift off in the middle of conversation because our minds have gone to the story we’re working on. We’re “listening” to characters talk in our head and “watching” scenes play out in our minds. If you’ve ever been talking to a writer and see them get this glassed-over look in their eyes, that’s what’s happening. We don’t do it because we’re bored, and we certainly don’t mean to be rude. We just can’t help it – the voices in our head become louder than everything around us. But after many complaints from family, friends, and business partners, I’ve had to remind myself to be more present. To be a part of life as it is right this minute because I’ll never get this minute back again.
So here’s what I busted myself doing the other day: I let my mind wander away from the task at hand, which was organizing some business stuff (the professional term) and creating monthly and weekly to-do lists. You know, those things we do at the beginning of the year so we can be even more productive this year than we were last. Or at least, less chaotic than we were last year. Anyway, my brain had the nerve to go to other places, like to characters and stories and scenes I want to write, rather than focusing on what I was doing. That’s not the crime, though. Ready to hear what I did that was so bad? Ugh. I’m embarrassed to even write this.
I told myself: “You can’t think about that right now. It’s not writing and creating time. It’s business time. You need to focus on organizing this crap.” And I immediately turned off the flow of creative thoughts before they really got started, and I focused on what I was doing. Turned them off like they came from a faucet.
This may not sound bad, especially to those who are OCD control freaks like me who think, Yeah, you should be focused on the task at hand. But it is really, really bad for creative types. Especially when this kind of thinking becomes so ingrained, we don’t even realize we do it. We’re subconsciously stifling our creativity! Or maybe I’m the only one who does it, so I’m stifling my creativity.
When I started paying more attention, I realized I do this throughout the day. Many times. A. Lot. In fact, whenever I’m not in the “writing time” zone, I cut off my thoughts every time they try to go to the story or characters, and remind myself to focus on what I’m “supposed” to be doing. This used to be impossible. My characters would talk to me all day long and at the most inopportune times, and I couldn’t do a thing to stop them. I’d have to pause whatever I was doing to write down notes so I wouldn’t forget everything when it came time to actually write. But somewhere along the way while juggling way too many things for one person, I’ve learned to completely mute the voices. I taught myself too damn well to be “present.”
The bad part comes when it’s time to write – when I’m “allowed” to be creative and let my brain go there. By then, I’ve stymied the flow so much that my creativity comes in trickles rather than gushes. It takes longer to get into the story and allow myself to be there. Sometimes the voices have been told to shut up so much that they do so permanently.
I’m not really sure what to do about this, because those other things still need doing, and they need focus if I’m going to do them right. My family and friends still deserve to have me fully present when we’re together. But at least I’m aware of this criminal behavior and admission is the first step, right? I’m hoping that when I catch myself about to tell the voices to shut up that I can allow them to talk at least a little more, to start with. I think I’m going to have to make it a point – and forgive myself ahead of time – to drop what I’m doing and let my mind wander when it goes to story stuff.
I wrote this blog post two days ago, but Blogger was giving me a fit and I couldn’t publish it. And in that time – in fact, on the way home from the grocery store yesterday – my mind began wandering and I let it. But then … a brand-new character popped into my head, and then another, and then a scene. They have absolutely nothing to do with either of the series I’m currently neck-deep in, and I was easily tempted to tell myself to shut up, to not think about these intriguing people whose story I want to know, because I need to be thinking about Jeric and Leni or Tristan and Alexis. Not about sexy college dude answering his parents’ door in jeans and no shirt and no shoes, and holding a baby … or why he’s holding a baby … or who’s on the other side of the door …. And I caught myself doing it again. Trying to cut off the creativity. So I’m letting myself go with this one while I can. Who knows what could happen with it?
So I apologize in advance if I get distracted with this new and shiny idea. For me, it’s a good thing as I unlearn my tendencies to stifle my own creativity. No worries – Jeric, Leni and a new(ish) girl in The Space Beyond, The Book of Phoenix #2, are also talking quite loudly. And I will make it a point to not tell them to shut up, regardless of what I’m doing. And now I apologize in advance to everyone who knows me in real life. I’m a writer. What can I say? I will never be the normal you want me to be.