Zinnias - Hyde Park, London
by Francine Puckly
As many of us step into the final days of preparation for Hanukkah and Christmas, I personally stare down the draft of a young adult manuscript I had hoped to finish by year-end. Each day that passes finds me more and more frazzled and bewildered, due in part to the physical and emotional drain of the holidays but also the physical and emotional drain that accompanies a long-term project. My days feel wobbly, and I’m in a constant state of trying to establish balance.
My goals partner, Martha, encourages me to plug ahead by saying, “If life is balanced, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.” Several times a day this reminder sustains me so that I can keep moving toward my goals. As I’m sure it is with most of you, my life isn’t balanced. Sick and injured children, an unexpected death of a family member and his funeral, and the general chaos of holiday shopping and entertaining have left me dragging into the final writing weeks of 2011.
I’m disappointed that I probably won’t hit my annual writing goals, but I must move forward regardless. And this movement begins with my secret writing spot. I have promised myself (and my goals partner!) that I will report to my writing location each day between now and Christmas Eve. One solitary hour a day. I expect most days I will work on my manuscript, but alternatively I might meditate or write holiday cards to dear friends or read from the current novel I’m savoring. But this daily commitment to be creative will sustain me through the final days of my project, as well as the holiday season. I will come close to hitting my writing goals, but more importantly, I will be rewarded with an hour of balance in my unbalanced world.
Two new writing partners in my life: Cora and Sid
by Francine Puckly
The holiday crush is upon us. The buying, the eating, the merry-making. But what about my writing? This time of year it typically falls into the oblivion. “I have too much to do. I have friends to see and presents to wrap. I’ll pick it up January 2nd and make a fresh start in the new year.” But in the deep, dark crevices of my soul, these excuses are just that—excuses. I’m disappointed when I sell out to the holiday hubbub.
This December my goal is to push myself creatively instead of financially. I am rallying to finish yet another draft of my first young adult novel. I have a vision. I have outlines and other necessary infrastructure. But that’s only the first hill to climb. After that, I need time.
Yes, I have the same twenty-four hours in a day that Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa had, but I repeatedly divide it into little chunks and spend it frivolously. I can blame it on the mundane tasks I must tackle each day, but that’s really not my problem. My problem is that I’m easily distracted. A five-minute phone call derails me for thirty minutes. Making a decision about dinner could take twenty-five minutes, even with the duplicate frozen meals I’ve stocked in the freezer. Vacuuming takes forty-five minutes because I discover a magazine on the floor I didn’t quite finish…it’ll only take a second.
My solution? I have had the great honor of finding a writing partnerand a goals partner. Two different writers. Two very crucial roles. Two people who have gifted me with renewed hope that I’ll finish this mountain of a manuscript.
My goals partner, Martha, is a fellow writer from my critique group with whom I must check in weekly—every Friday morning at 7:45 a.m.—whether I’ve written a word or not. And I can assure you, the thought of getting on that phone call having done nothing panics me. Not that she’s an ogre. Not that she’ll hurt me if I don’t do it. But I will have disappointed myself by having to say, “I didn’t get to anything this week.”
Martha also helps me set realistic, achievable goals. When left to my own devices, I say things like, “This week I’ll write 40,000 words, paint the family room, sew new curtains, host a dinner party, and bake and frost a three-tier cake.” My goals are more sensible now. “Write for thirty minutes each day” or “Finish chapter three” or “Draft three scenes that I’ve marked ‘missing’ in the manuscript.” And no cakes are getting baked and frosted.
Eventually I’ll hit those 40,000 words, especially with the help of my writing partner, Sonja. Sonja is a fellow writer who invited me to sit in her writing space once a week. We settle in at a glass table across from each other and work on our own manuscripts. We share hot tea, almonds, dried fruit, and our love of writing. Words are exchanged before and after, but never during. No distractions. No excuses to go see what’s taking that dishwasher so long or to make that phone call to the vet.
Does it help that Sonja’s writing space is a renovated choir loft in a church-turned-art gallery? Yes, indeed. It’s a beautiful, soul-sustaining gem of a space. But most importantly, it allows my writing to be the priority for a few sweet hours.
So this holiday season take heart and take time. Let the gift of your manuscript be the priority. Finding time and setting goals take a little creativity, but figure out what will work for you. Dangle a reward carrot and recruit another artist to help you through. The shopping can wait, but the manuscript or illustration shouldn’t have to.
For more blogs, check out Francine's group blog on goal setting and other writing topics at www.24carrotwriting.com.