The Relationship Between “Time” and “Why”

I’ve been thinking about time a lot recently. It’s been popping up on web posts I’ve read, and a book I’m reading, and in my own life—after all, none of us ever have enough time.

We all try to cram so much into our day, doing things we think we should be doing, how we should be doing them, and yet most of us never ask the important question: “Why?”

Why are we doing the things we are doing? Why are we choosing to spend our time doing A and not B, even though we would like to do B as much as A or even more?

Sometimes, of course, we do A because it must be done. Things like going to work or taking care of your child. But, see, that is a Why answer—and a valid one. I work so I can have food on the table. I take care of my child because I love her. I spend time with my spouse because I love him.

There are some things that have an obvious Why answer.

But then there are other things that I make myself crazy with (and I’m sure you do, too) that maybe we should ask ourselves Why? Social media is the big thing I’m thinking about here, because it can be a huge time suck. As writers, we are encouraged to be on every social media platform known to mankind, and so we plunge in. I am on so many I can’t even list them all, and I do manage to keep a current presence on all of them. But then an article I read by Kimanzi Constable said most writers who do marketing and social media never ask themselves Why? And that got me thinking.

The easy answer is, “I do social media to build a base so when I do have something to sell I have a base.” But that’s too vague a Why. Why am I on THESE social media platforms? Why do I frequent THIS one instead of THAT one? In other words, do I have a PLAN?

And I don’t. I hop from one to the other and sort of poke around and then hop off. Now, I really am on most social networks just to be…social. To build a network of friends and colleagues to help get through this writing life. But I have often felt of late that I may be focusing on the wrong places or the wrong things in my online presence—or that I might be so scattered across the platforms that I’m almost better off not being on them. So sitting back and thinking Why might be a big help. Who am I trying to be social with? Why on this platform and not another? I might be able to make my social network rounds more efficiently yet more effectively if I had a plan, perhaps built around the platform I am most comfortable with and then branching out to others. Making a social media plan is on my To Do list, for sure.

The other major reason I was thinking about how I spend my time is because writing colleague Tiffany Schmidt asked me if the time I spent blogging was worth it. In other words, with writing time so scarce, could the time I spend on the two blogs I write for be better spent on my fiction writing?

I had never asked myself that question: WHY am I spending a couple hours a week writing blog posts? Without knowing that, I couldn’t answer the question of if that time was well-spent.

I finally decided that, yes, my blogging time is worth it. First, honestly, most of my blogging is done in my “fractured time”—those stolen 5-10-15 minutes between chores and child. Anything less than half an hour is pretty useless (for me) for dealing with my fiction—I can’t switch mental gears fast enough. So this fractured time might otherwise go to no use at all in forwarding my writing if I didn’t squeeze in the blogging there.

Second, not only can I write better, faster than before, I feel myself a part of the larger writing community. The blogs I write for are part of the online conversation of writers, and I like contributing to that. Not to mention how much I have learned—and continue to learn—from reading so many other blogger’s posts. I will admit that the name-recognition I have gotten from blogging (particularly at the Author Chronicles) is a plus. To have complete strangers come up to me at a conference and recognize me from the blog is a bit of a thrill (and a little disconcerting). To know that I am helping people and making an impact in the community is a great feeling. For now, my blogging time is totally worth it. When I get a book deal, I may have to reassess if it still makes sense, but for now it’s where I want to be.

So I think I will take some time in the near future and look at a whole list of things and ask: WHY? The answers may make my life simpler—and they may surprise me. But from now on, instead of running around blindly trying to do everything, I think I will stop to ask Why.

How about you? Do you find yourself racing about like a headless chicken without really knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing?

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My Biggest Takeaway: 2013 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

This year was my third year going to the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I have always enjoyed it, and always been psyched up by the energy of the writing community there. This year, though, there was a vibrancy above the energy levels of the past years.

Perhaps this reflects a change in me, but I don’t think so—others noticed it, too. I can’t say why it felt different—perhaps it was the near-capacity crowd, perhaps the mix of teachers. All I know is that I was even more jazzed than usual.

A common theme seemed to emerge in the workshops I took this year: the theme of how to present yourself to the world as an author. Cecily Kellogg talked about bloggers and their voices. Suzanne Kuhn spoke about presenting yourself professionally and consistently online. Jonathan Maberry and Keith Strunk’s Act Like A Writer was all about the “writer-persona” you need to build to present to the world. Even in Solomon Jones’ Novel: Character workshop, we worked on our writer bio. Why? Because that bio is the first character we create as writers.

How to be a professional writer. How to be engaging online without giving too much information. How to be accessible without becoming vulnerable. How to be a public figure without losing our most private selves.

A common theme—but not my biggest takeaway.

My biggest takeaway goes back to the vibrant energy of this conference. Ever since my daughter was born, I have been in something of a creative funk. I have been writing consistently, blogging, have turned out a handful of short stories, but all my novel-length work has been on projects begun and first-drafted prior to my daughter’s birth. That never-ending rush of ideas that most writers have dried up after she was born, and I have been feeling totally uncreative for more than three years now.

But at the conference something stirred. Something sparked. A fleeting glimpse into a new character, a new plot. A siren song—still far off, but audible. My creativity raised its head and blinked sleepy eyes at the world.

I am by no means back to where I was creatively. But my creativity is not dead, as I had feared. It’s still there.

And it’s waking up.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

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Overload Paralysis

A few years back, when my daughter was still an infant, we lived for a time on the island of Chincoteague, VA. Since I still had commitments back home, I would make the trek up and down the Eastern seaboard twice a month, my car filled to the brim with all the ridiculously large items a tiny baby seems to need.

Almost every time I needed to start packing up, I experienced a strange phenomenon: I couldn’t do anything. I would find myself standing in the middle of the living room, frozen. My mind whirled with the long packing list I had, as well as with all the things I needed to do other than packing—cleaning, bill paying, etc. I had so much to get done that I couldn’t do anything at all. The overload would paralyze me.

I sometimes get that way about writing, too. I end up with so many projects going on at once, that when I do get some free time to work on something, I end up doing something totally unrelated to writing. The overload of work can paralyze my creativity and my motivation. Right now, I am editing 2 novels, polishing up 2 short stories, have 2 blogs due every week, and have to maintain the constant round of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads… Not to mention reading the dozen or so blogs I follow regularly.

It can be overwhelming enough that I want to hide from it all.

There is a way to break the paralysis. The answer is both easy and hard.

Pick something.

Do it.

That’s the big secret. Do something, anything, on your list, and you can advance into productive work. But what to pick? Hardest thing first? Easiest thing first? It depends on your mood and your personality.

If I have a very long list but most of it is little stuff, I will do the easiest first and work up to the hardest. By doing the easy things first, I get the instant gratification of checking things off my list and seeing the list get shorter quickly. If I have a shorter list but the tasks are more complex and time-consuming, I will usually do the hardest one first. That way I know the most difficult (and often the most time-consuming) one is done and the rest will be easier and usually take less time than that first one. So, sometimes I inch my way up to the top of the hill, and sometimes I start at the top and coast down.

Of course, there are always things that are not on your To-Do list that crop up and need to be done. Those you just have to incorporate based on their necessity. I immediately need to take care of my daughter when she falls off the bed and hits her head, but the crayon drawn on her closet door can wait until I have more time. The phone call from my family needs to be answered, but the one from an unknown number can leave a message.

Do you experience overload paralysis? Do you have a different way of busting out of it? Or do you have a method of organization that bypasses this overwhelmed reaction altogether?

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My Lost Week

Last week, I spent four long, exhausting days in a small hospital room with my 10-month-old. I didn’t get a word written. And I started to wonder what on Earth I could blog about this week, since I hadn’t done any writing. It was a lost week.

Until I realized that writing about not writing was the blog topic.

My blog’s subtitle is “The journey toward publishing while parenting.” Sometimes the parenting comes first. I can’t tell my 10-month-old to stop babbling so loudly or to stop pulling up on everything she sees or to stop wanting to play with me. I can’t postpone testing until it is convenient for me. I can’t tell my baby not to be sick, or not to cry, or not to need me. I’m her mother. Period.

I have talked before about finding a balance between my writing life and my mommy life. Mostly, I have maintained it, but this last week I fell off the balance beam. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I was pushed off by events beyond my control.

So I spent 72 hours in a hospital room, playing with my baby girl. She was getting an EEG, so she looked like a cyborg mummy – gauze wrapped around her head, wires trailing wherever she moved. And I played with her, smiled with her, laughed with her, read books to her, and walked her around and around in circles.

I got no writing done. I got no social networking done. I got no blogging done.

But I realize now it was not a lost week. How could it be when I spent it cocooned with my baby girl? Getting to know this amazing little person she is quickly becoming?

Best of all, the EEG showed everything normal—my baby girl is healthy. Which means I can look forward to many more years of occasionally being knocked off the balance beam. I’ve learned my lesson, though:

I may not write a word, but time spent with my daughter is never “lost.”

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