Making with the Crazy

There are days when my ambition outstrips my talent. There are days when my ambition outstrips my understanding. Most days, though, my ambition outstrips my reserves of energy. It’s a sad truth that, after 30, that’s a battle you’re going to lose 9 days out of 10. You just aren’t 18, or 24 or even 28 anymore. You cannot, no matter how much coffee you drink, get by on 4 hours of sleep. And it is damn frustrating. No, it is crazy making.

I suspect, like most creative people in their 30s, my talent and skill have finally started to catch up with my ego. I can actually pull off writing some of those stories that were just too complicated or too thematically deep for my younger self. I see possibilities where I didn’t before. I marvel at what technology makes possible for anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a freaking smartphone. I marvel, people. I marvel! I make plans. I see the future. Then, I yawn. Not because I’m bored, but because I’m not 18 anymore.

This isn’t the sour grapes of someone who let their health slide, either. For the most part, I eat right and in more-or-less appropriate portions. I get semi-regular to regular exercise. I even get enough sleep about 65-75% of the time. I am inside the ideal body weight range from someone my height and build. My big health sin was smoking, and I’ve switched over to vaping because it seems logical that it’s less awful for me. The next step is nicotine gum, then quitting. No, it’s not sour grapes. It’s just the reality that my body has started to slow down at a time when I could have actually put all that youthful energy to creative, productive use. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

I know I’m not alone in this, but that doesn’t make me less angsty when I realize I won’t get those last two pages that would finish a new short story. It’s not that I couldn’t power through and write them, because I could. I don’t because of the knowledge that I’d just wind up tired the next day and still need to rewrite those pages. It’s a fact that tired writing is a bad writing…pretty much always. Even that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is knowing how much I could be getting done, if I still had that boundless energy of youth. I’m painfully aware of how many idea and projects I’m not pursuing, will probably never pursue, because my cells aren’t generating energy as efficiently, that the myelin sheathes in my neurons don’t replenish themselves as rapidly, that my body just needs more hours of rest than it used to need.

Then, after I work myself into this tizzy of self-pity, I take a breath. I think it through. Yes, there are stories and novels I’ll never write, projects I’ll never pursue, because my energy isn’t equal to the sustained effort they require, but that was always true. That is the basic truth of being alive. Everything we do, every commitment we make, is a conscious choice not to take the other path. Would I like to be a world-class chef/guitar player/philosopher/novelist/astrophysicist/painter/neurosurgeon? Sure. Hell, who wouldn’t?

Is the fact that I’m not, and could never realistically ever be, a world-class all of those things some kind of failure on my part? Not in the slightest, despite what my overweening ambition tries to tell me some days. I need to remind myself occasionally that most of my interests, an admittedly eclectic and unusually wide range of them, are hobbies. They’re things I dabble in or waste an evening on. They are not full-blooded pursuits.

Not devoting the full measure of time and energy necessary to master them is how I afford myself the time and energy to devote to writing. Picking one writing project over another is a way of trying to maximize what I see as the most viable projects. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, but not pursuing every idea is simply a way to maintain sanity. So, to everyone else out there who makes themselves crazy because they can’t do it all, I tell you this…

It’s okay. No one can do it all. Everyone has that stuff they wish they could do, but can’t find the time for in their schedule. So, stop beating yourself up about living in a world with limits and work on the things that really, really matter to you. You’ll find it’s easier to look yourself in the mirror and get to sleep at night.

Improve Your Writing Time Management

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Image courtesy of pakorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The title of this post is a bit of misnomer, but you work with language people will recognize. As has been said many times, by many people, time management doesn’t exist. What does exist is self-management. What all time management boils down to is using yourself more efficiently and effectively with the time you have. For writers, especially those writing full-time and from home, this is a particularly challenging task.

Luckily, there are a variety of systems, techniques, tactics, and a plethora of desktop programs and smartphone apps designed to help you out with this problem.

Goal Setting

One of the most basic things you can do to improve your time management is to goal setting. Goal setting isn’t the same thing as wish listing. I may think to myself or put on my bucket list, write a personal essay while sitting at an outdoor café in Paris. This is not a goal in a useful sense. This is a wish. For a writer, a goal is something is something achievable, within a reasonable amount of time, which provides a benefit, and is not cost-prohibitive.

My hypothetical write in Paris wish fails on almost all counts. Write 1000 words a day, submit a query to a magazine, write a chapter on my novel, or pursue new clients are all goals. They are all achievable. Each can be acted on or completed within a reasonable period of time. All provide direct benefits to you and none are cost-prohibitive. A goal gives you something to pursue that will probably result in positive reinforcement, be it more writing done or more money.

Plan for Your First Day Back

All of us take a day off or a weekend off here and there and coming back is often an exercise in stumbling. Among several other excellent pieces of advice about beating freelance writer inefficiency, Carol Tice recommends building a to-do list for when you come back from your day off, vacation, or weekend. In addition to serving as an accountability check and getting you focused on the right things, clearing out your brain of all the things you need to get done lets you stop thinking about them when you take time off. Good self-management also means self-care and disconnecting from your work matters to your mental health.

Software and Apps

There are literally so many apps and pieces of software out there that can help you manage your work life it would take up an entire post just to list the tip of the iceberg. In point of fact, that is exactly what Passive Panda does with it’s list of 50 productivity boosting online tools. The time management tools start at number 20, but the project management and productivity management tools are all worth a look. The thing to remember about programs and apps is that you need to find what works for you, not one that you work for. If a particular app or program feels like it’s more work than it’s worth, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to try out more than one before you commit to using one or several of the options. I do, however, advocate for starting with free programs and apps before dumping money into one.

For more thoughts on productivity boosting, you can check out the post I dedicated to that topic here.

Also, check out Jamie Wallace’s excellent post for a more in-depth look at how to leverage project management software and techniques to your writing life.