Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time on My Hands

In September, my youngest child went off to college. It was quite an adjustment for me, more than I ever expected. Suddenly I had time on my hands. Most people would find this to be a blessing. That was not my experience. I found myself wondering how I was going to fill the day. Acquaintances offered their opinions on what I should be doing with my new found time. One suggested volunteering. A very valuable consideration, but there are two non-profit organizations with which I have been involved for more than ten years, so I did not feel the need to find another organization just to volunteer. Another suggested returning to the work force. But I haven't worked in close to 20 years and therefore, am no longer qualified for anything more than being a greeter at Wal-Mart, which holds no appeal. A good friend, who had recently entered the land of empty-nest herself, told me to take my time figuring out what I wanted to do. "Don't rush into anything," she said. "Find something you're passionate about." So I took her advice...

I want to write books for children and young adults. Duh! Didn't I already know that? Yes, and no. Finding myself with time on my hands made me wonder if this was what I was supposed to be doing, or if I should be out in the world doing something REALLY important like cleaning up cat and dog poop at the local animal shelter or directing lost shoppers to special price deals in aisle 7? When I spent day after day starting at a blank Word document I had to ask myself, how can I be a writer if I'm not writing? I came to the point of put up or shut up.

I decided to put up. I decided re-commit myself to my writing. I attended an NJ-SCBWI Workshop which I hoped would light a fire under me and I began searching for ways to improve my writing. The workshop was a success in that it definitely lit a fire. The editor I was paired with was interested in seeing one of my stories after revisions and the critique and first page session gave me new ideas for revising a second story (see my post "A Fine Line" on 2/25). To improve my writing, I decided to apply to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Suddenly, I didn't have so much time on my hands. I had to write two essays for the application and I had two YA manuscripts to revise before sending to editors. Additionally, I had my regular homework to do in the class I am auditing on Medieval Christianity at Drew University (a great experience but the topic for another post).

THEN, with another case of when it rains it pours, an agent kindly rejected my historical YA but expressed interest in my contemporary YA.

In all of this, I discovered something about myself. I work better under pressure. Perhaps not extreme pressure, but certainly with deadlines -- lots of deadlines. Otherwise, I procrastinate to the point of being completely unproductive.

So, in keeping with what I am learning in my Medieval Christianity class, I am undergoing a personal reformation. I am remaking myself - trying to return to my old productive self who wrote everyday, while striving to reinvent myself into the writer I want to be.

Now, having said all this, when you read this I will be sunning myself on board Celebrity's 5-day Caribbean cruise so I might not be able to respond to comments as frequently as I might like. But don't worry, I'm taking a stack of YA's to read and I will be revising my contemporary manuscript, all while drinking fruity umbrella drinks.


  1. Deadlines work for me too. I also admire writers who say they work for a designated amount of time each day then quit.

    Isaac Asimov wrote from 9 to 1, I think, and that was it.

    And R.L Stine has said he tries to write 10 to 15 pages a day until he's brain dead. Then he takes the dog for a long walk. And that's his day. That works for me (though I don't have a dog).

    Giving yourself too much time to write invites procrastination, for me anyway.

  2. Yes, deadlines or some kind of external expectation, help me too. so you are not alone.

  3. I, too, am a fan of the deadline.

    I can time-manage an external deadline with no problem. What I haven't yet mastered is the self-imposed deadline.

  4. When I'm writing for magazines and working on a few short manuscripts at once, I try to meet my personal deadline of having one piece ready to submit at the end of each month.
    I don't always make it, but it does give me a goal.

  5. First off...Meg, I hope you forgot to pack the stack of YAs and the contemporary manuscript. Drink the big fruity drink, get a massage or mani-pedi, go visit Hemingway's six toed cats in Key West but under no circumstances are you meant to work on a cruise!!

    Second...yes, deadlines and pressure work for me too. My youngest just began Kindergarten this year and is gone from 8:00AM to 3:00PM. Do I write? No. I mean, I try...but there's always something more enticing and the thought that "i can fit it in later" but then 3:00PM rolls around and bam...I put it off until the next day.

    You are inspiring me to get back to my better work habits! Writing muscles really do get more buff when you use them every day. (it's a shame it doesn't burn more calories though) And btw - you are one of the most prolific and hard working writers I know...don't kid yourself, chickie!

  6. Don't worry Meg, my dear. Once you get into VC, you will have PLENTY to do and you will love every minute of it.

    After I quit my full time job, I found that I didn't know how to structure my time. The writing life is a funny thing. We don't have any boss breathing down our neck forcing us to complete anything. It's wonderful to be free like this, but I really have to push myself to be more self disciplined. I ebb and flow, somedays (like yesterday) I wrote for four hours. Other days I stare into space. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be? Maybe our minds need a rest?

    Have fun on your trip!

  7. RE Deadlines - I certainly need them. Worked all this week on my manuscript for next week's critique group review which had to be emailed to the group a week ahead, yesterday. Sat down every day and worked on that manuscript - thought of the characters and plot each day when exercising, paying bills or making dinner!
    For most of us, deadlines are a good thing.

  8. Hello all -
    I am back, suntanned and relaxed, but I have a cold.
    J.L. - I like Isaac Asimov's schedule of working 9 to 1.
    Bish & J.A. - I need concrete deadlines. Self-imposed doesn't seem to work. I am not that disciplined.
    Gale - You're so disciplined you make my head ache.
    Robin - I had LOTS of fruity drinks and a massage, and I read two YAs (which were very interesting and different) AND I did some work on the contemporary wip but found I could only do so much without my computer. An excuse....maybe.
    Toni - Thanks for stopping by the Paper Wait. I should be hearing from Vermont in a week or two. Fingers crossed.
    Eileen - When I'm really into a story, thinking is just as important as writing - some of my best ideas come while I'm in the shower or driving.