In the midst of this pandemic so many lives have been turned upside down. People have been thrust into new ways of living, existing, coping. I haven’t. My life hasn’t changed much because being home, working from home, homeschooling was my life and to a point, still is. The most I’ve struggled with is finding toilet paper and finding focus. The degree of change has varied with each person, with each family.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I know there are people struggling with getting anything done at all when the house is full of people, when normal routines have been disrupted, when there’s no certainty when things might go back to some semblance of the way they were. I wish I had some tips and tricks to help others figure out how to navigate this, but the way I did it was to just do it. I didn’t have any other choice. I didn’t have the privacy of a home office the way I do now. I didn’t have the dedicated time to do what I wanted to do. I had to make it or I just had to do it in little swatches of time.
And one thing I learned by doing it the way I did is that I’m a high stress person. I’ll stress about the smallest things and I’ll stress about big things and I’ll stress when something impacts my family and I’ll stress when something may impact my ability to get coffee the way I like it… But I’ve found, in general, that I can actually thrive and make progress when there’s a lot of stress, outward stress, at least. Inward stress and I’m done for. But the outward stress… That’s what I thrive in.
I didn’t always believe that and here is what this post is actually about. I thought having a nearly empty nest, and all sorts of time in a day, and a dedicated home office, and a chore schedule, and pretty much zero interruptions that I would be productive as shit, cranking out books left and right and upside down and right-side up… And well, I was wrong.
I can’t speak for anyone else. There are writers who need that, who need to not be on the verge of pulling their hair out. They need dedicated space and quiet and to be left alone. I get that. For instance, when my books are in editing and when I’m formatting them, I am that writer. But otherwise, I am not. I get distracted and unfocused and even…bored. God, I hate that word. So fucking much. And I’ve tried the schedules. The morning routines. The plan everything. The set my intentions.
Maybe the quiet gets to me. Maybe the walls get to me. I don’t know. But I do miss the chaos of all the things happening and going on.
And there’s definitely a piece of this that is mourning the near empty nest. I am in mourning that my kids are grown and don’t need me as much. I am in mourning that those magical years are over. I am in mourning that a new stage of life is here and I wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared for it. Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with it all and maybe that’s what most of my struggle is. What do I do with it all? The mourning and the new? I spent so many years working and writing and living one way that I’m not sure how not to work and write and live another way. This is the inner stress. This is upheaval of life as it once was but isn’t anymore and I know a lot of people are going through it, just on the other end.
I worked a job. I homeschooled. I did the cooking and cleaning. I wrote in the wee hours.
Then… I homeschooled. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote in the between times and in the wee hours.
Then… I dropped off and picked up. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote less and less and not in the wee hours.
Then… I wandered aimlessly and the concept of time got skewed in my head.
I miss the chaos. I miss the way things were. I miss being pushed against the walls of all the things that needed to be done.
Now, none of that is to say that chaos is the only thing that helped me or that peace and quiet and time are the only things that I’ve struggled with. I’ve struggled jealousy. Envy. Compairisonitis. Too many things. Not enough things. Inconsistency. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Lack of confidence in myself. Lack of belief in my writing and the stories I’m trying to tell. These are all pretty serious things in and of themselves, but put them together and it’s one big fucked up show.
But when there was chaos in my house, when there was normal life in my house, I didn’t have time to think about all those other things that throw wrenches. I could only throw myself into the writing in the windows of time I had at my disposal. I wrote at the kitchen table. On the couch. In bed. At baseball games. At band rehearsals. In the pick-up line at school. In coffee shops. At restaurants. In bookstores. In the middle of the hotel lobby at a conference. Those things worked for me, worked like a fucking charm for me. I can set goals until I’m blue in the face and with the best of intentions and for a couple of days, I’ll get all over them. Then, I’ll fall off. I have time. I can start again later. I can do that tomorrow or next week or whenever. No one is waiting. No one cares. And those things are just fucking lies. People are waiting. People do care. I am waiting. I care.
For a long time now, by this point in the year, I’d have given up already. The goals long forgotten. The planner collecting dust. And I’d be in the… Well, I’ll try again next year frame of mind and beating myself up. I had time. What’s wrong with me? But this year… through the writing of blog posts and journaling and not giving up and plugging along and trying to learn about myself as I am now, as life is now, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t do well with a planner (that post is HERE), and I don’t do well with word count goals (that post is HERE). I need pressure and a little chaos, even if it’s manufactured. And when it comes to my writing, a deadline does that. It gives me an end. It gives me an ultimatum. And I will thrive in that. Telling myself that I need to get to 50,000 words by the end of the month does absolute shit for me. I’ll let the end come and go, and I’ll wave as it passes. Set up a pre-order and have a deadline… Dude, I’ll get that done. I’ve let one lapse over the years, but my mindset game wasn’t strong at all. It’s stronger now. It’s better now. It’s not to be fucked with now.
It’s kind of like when my mom is coming for a visit and my house is a wreck the way it always is… I’ll start off doing little things here and there a few days before she’s due to arrive. Then, the day she is supposed to get here, I’ll talk to her throughout the day to find out where she is and how much longer it’ll be until she pulls into the driveway… When she’s an hour to an hour and a half out, my ass is in high gear and this place is spotless and things are put away and the toilets are cleaned and the floors are mopped and the clothes are hung and the surfaces dusted and the kitchen is gleaming.
The writing for me, with a deadline, is like that. The writing for me, in small pockets of time with all the things going on around me, is like that.
The writing with all the time in the world to get it done, is not like that for me.
The writing with peace and quiet and time, is not like that for me.
It’s probably why I also like and need and have conditioned myself to use a timer when I write. Not blog posts, obviously, but my books, definitely.
Life is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not ready for all the changes that are here now or that have been coming. I can’t control any of it and I can’t stop it. I can’t make my life go back 10-20 years even though I wish I could. I’m jealous of all the people who are homeschooling now and who have all their kids around because I miss mine. Because I miss those years. And I know some people are jealous of the situation I find myself in…kids pretty much gone and time is now my own. The only things I can control right now is my writing and my output and I’ve not done well with it. I’ve lost a lot of time trying to find what box I fit into now.
How do you cope with changes in life and stress? Does your writing soar or suffer? Let me know. I’m curious. Always.
And coming from a romance author, that’s kinda…well, not a good thing, is it?
My story endings tend to be more Happy For Now rather than Happily Ever After. I’ve tried writing HEA’s but they don’t feel genuine to me. That, too, coming from a romance author isn’t a good thing, is it?
There’s a strict definition of romance and it’s centered around the idea of a Happily Ever After. I even have a couple signs in my office that say Happily Ever After. That’s the aspiration for me at time, I think. But as all writing does, mine shifts and changes and gets closer to HEA’s and gets farther away from them, too.
I don’t like endings. Not in books, not in movies, not in television shows, not in my favorite band’s careers, not in life. Ending scare me. Endings mean change. Endings mean finality. Endings, happy or sad, leave me with a sense of…loss.
My first memory of an ending came when I was a kid, kindergarten, and my father sitting on the side of the bed in my parent’s bedroom. He was upset and that’s my last memory of him as my father. After that, he became someone else’s father and someone else’s husband. I saw him a couple times after that, but it was never the same. I was never the same.
When I would leave my grandparent’s home at the end of every summer growing up, I would cry because what if it was the end? What if something happened and I never saw them again? I’d cry at the beginning of summer, too, when my mom would drop me off with my grandparents because what if it was the end? What if I never saw her again?
Friendships. Relationships. I either stay longer than is healthy because I can’t handle the thought of ending something. Maybe I should try harder. Maybe I haven’t done enough, given enough. But there’s another side of it, too. There’s the side that says I’m going to do the leaving. I’m going to do the hurting. I’m going to do the ending because it won’t destroy me as much if I’m the one who controls it. None of it is healthy or easy. It’s all fucking hard as shit. It’s all growth and acknowledgement. It’s all confrontation of myself and my fears that I’m not worth, that I’m not enough, that I’m not lovable, that even as a child I wasn’t lovable. It’s a thing internalized that it wasn’t a thing between my parents, but that it was a thing with me. After all, he married someone else and had a son with her and they stayed married, are still married.
This fear of endings followed me all through childhood and teen years and young adult and new adult and now I’m 49… And guess what? I still hate endings. I still cry with big change, little change. When one thing is ending. When transitions are happening. And there are things happening in my personal life right now that are ending and changing and transitioning and shifting forward and back and I’m an emotional mess over all of it. Even knowing these days would come, these changes, these transitions. Even knowing… I’m still just…
Expecting an ending isn’t the same as being prepared for it and how this translates to my writing is… Hell, if I know. I don’t write good endings. I write them well, either. I kind of just…end them. Like there’s something more coming after, like the middle or beginning of another scene. Like it’s not really over. And I know that’s because I suck at endings, I hate endings, I’m fucking scared of endings, whether someone else ends a thing or I end a thing. You can never go back once it’s done. You can never get it back once it’s over. At least that’s how it is in my head. It’s final. It’s unchangeable. And I do realize that my view of endings is skewed based on my earliest memory of one. I’ve always been fascinated with Happily Ever After. My favorite story was Cinderella and the Prince who search high and low for her. Of love being the triumph. The Hallmark Happily Ever After is one, too, that fascinates me. But the one that always gets me, that resonates with me, as far as a Hollywood everyone has seen it thing… My Best Friend’s Wedding. The friendship that always was is changing, forever. The friendship that was this way would never be that way again. The unresolved issues will always remain because he’s moving on, his life changed and she’s left with a broken heart and trying to piece a new part of herself together from the emptiness that is now there. Now, I’m the one who sees it that way, but most see it a different way, that’s just how my brain works.
We all process and handle rejection differently. We all handle the way things end or don’t end or change or morph or transition and it’s something that I work on, that I journal on. Sometimes distance helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it haunts me and I think for years of what I could have said or done or what I did say or did do… I am a second guesser and that follows me through pretty much everything I do (and I’ll discuss this in another blog).
I think in some ways, this is why we experience book hangovers. Sometimes it’s just the content is just that good, and sometimes it’s the fact that something just that good has come to an epic end. And for me personally, this is sometimes why I avoid reading the last or last few books in a series. I love it so much and I don’t want it to end so I leave it undone. I can go back to it any time at all because I haven’t experienced it yet.
How weird am I?
If you’ve got any thoughts or helpful hints or anything at all, leave a comment. (See, I don’t even know how to end a blog post.)
Actually, let’s don’t and say we did. Please stay home, stay well, help keep others well, too.
But… We can watch movies and from everything I’ve seen online over the last few weeks, people have definitely been watching movies and television shows and streaming the entire catalog available on Netflix.
I haven’t done that, yet, but I have been watching movies. Or, at least listening to them. I have a small television mounted on the wall in my office and I turn on movies sometimes when I’m writing blogs, putting together newsletters, doing revisions, setting up pre-orders, etc… You know, the busywork of being an indie author or really any author at all who doesn’t have a virtual assistant.
When I’m writing, I listen to music, and sometimes when I’m doing the other stuff I’ll listen to music, too, but a lot of the time, I’ll put a DVD in or find something on Netflix or Amazon Prime to watch/listen to and recite the lines word for word. Don’t judge me. You do it, too.
Below I’ve listed some of my favorite movies that…comfort me, bring me peace of some sort in hard times, soothe when I’m depressed or creatively challenged, inspire me to keep going after my dreams when I falter, or are there when I just need to get lost in a world that is not this one…
The Lord of the Rings trilogy… I mean, anyone who knows me knows this.
Something’s Gotta Give
Stranger Than Fiction
Julie and Julia
You’ve Got Mail
Music and Lyrics
Pirates of the Caribbean (the first 3)
Mission Impossible (all of the Tom Cruise ones)
Ford vs. Ferrari
Avengers, Iron Man (1-3), Thor: Ragnorak, Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy (1&2), Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War… I haven’t watched Endgame since I saw it in the theater last year because I’m still not over the death of Black Widow and still unhappy with how they undid everything Thor had accomplished up to then, and honestly, I prefer to pretend that Endgame never happened. One day, I’m sure I’ll feel differently, but not yet.
Red (1 & 2)
John Wick (1-3)
Charlie’s Angels (with Drew, Cameron, and Lucy)
As you can see, I like sports movies, writing movies, fantasy movies, and kick-ass action movies. I like some romantic comedies, too.
Movies, like books, allow for escape, allow us to live in another world and another time for a little while. Some movies eventually become a comfort, a place we can go get lost for a couple of hours and revisit characters who’ve become like old friends. Movies that we already know the ending to and find comfort there because the real world often has more questions than answers, and sometimes we need a little hope that things can get better.
…but I’ve learned that planners don’t work for me.
I read a book recently, Dear Writer, You Need To Quit by Becca Syme. It was great and it gave me a lot to think about. One of the things was a process the author calls QTP or Question The Premise. This is a tool to use when you need to question something, perhaps when something isn’t working the way you think it should or when you start to adopt a thought process because it works for everyone else and you believe it should work for you, too. For instance:
Planners make people more productive. But…do they?
Everyone should write every day. But…should they?
Procrastination is bad. But…is it?
Becca suggests questioning the premise of the thought, idea, statement, belief, etc… And it can work with anything. She has a whole series of QTP videos on various things regarding writing and I haven’t watched them all yet, but I will because I’m learning a lot. She has one about planning the year out and I did plan my year out because everyone says you should and I fell off that wagon before January was finished and now I’m curious about her QTP video about the subject.
Anyway, so yesterday I found Becca’s video about planners on YouTube and I’ll link it at the end for you to watch if you’re interested. Basically, I fit what she describes.
I buy the planner. I use it for a bit. Then I don’t.
And then I see all the writers who use planners, who swear they’re more productive because of the planners, who spend hours and small fortunes on decorations and stickers for the planners…
Inevitably, I think that I just haven’t found the right planner yet. I haven’t found the right system or method or layout or collection yet. So, I’ll waste time searching online, going to the stores (when they were open for us to do that), spend money I don’t need to spend on yet another planner that should work because it worked for this or that writer.
When I get home, I’ll lay it all out and fill it in and check the boxes when I’ve done the things, all proud of myself for about 3 days or 10 days or a month, sometimes I can stretch the feeling for 2 months, and then… I don’t use it again for weeks and weeks.
Then… Because I’m hella behind, I’ll feel a surge of ‘boy, I was more productive when I used the planner’ and I’ll open it up, skipping ahead to the current date and start again only to fall off even faster. Pretty soon, I’ll start beating myself up because I’m not productive at all, planner or no. I’ll go right for the I’m just too damn lazy spin and I’ll stay here for a while, then dust myself off and just go about life without a planner. But the cycle will start all over again. It always does. Because there’s something wrong with me. I have a defect. It’s me. Not the planner. Not the system or method or anything else. It’s me.
And truthfully, it is me, to a point.
I’m not a planner person.
I’m not a planner. Not like that.
I’m what Becca describes as a Data Responsive person… And I fit her definition of If I see it, I’ll do it.
She uses another term… Data Controlling. If I plan it, I’ll do it. That’s not me. Planning three months, six months… Hell, planning one month in advance or even a week in advance doesn’t work for me.
I do like getting all the shit out of my head because it will help me focus to brain dump. And I do like seeing the list. I do like crossing things off the list. But I’ve tried three different planning methods this year so far and it’s only the middle of April.
So, what does this mean for me? Well, it means, I need to resist the temptation to buy planners. I need to unsubscribe to all the planner newsletters I receive. It also means I need to stick to that which does make me more productive and what does keep me on top of all the things. I need to be able to see things. I tend to look up more than I tend to look down and when I look up, I see the whiteboard and the calendars on the wall. Everything is written out in bright colors and catches my eye and triggers something in my brain. I know these things work for me, but damn, I wanted the planners to work because the planners work for everyone else! Or…do they? (See what I did there? LOL)
Another thing that works for me is not getting up from my desk. Once I get up from my desk, I don’t want to come back to it, so my list of get-to-do’s needs to be short and sweet and only comprised of the top things I want to get done that day. I plan to try the index card or post-it note method to see if either of those will work for me along with writing things up on the calendars.
I have three calendars on the wall…
One is yearly. I put releases up on that one.
Another is monthly. I add my daily word count on that one.
The last one is weekly. I haven’t used it much, but the idea is to take what’s on my index card/post-it note and add it to the calendar each day so by the end of the week, I can see progress being made. I’m one of those people who needs something enforced multiple times and in multiple places so it gets into my head.
I also have a large, plain whiteboard where I keep plot points or other books ideas so I don’t forget them, or things I might need to work out, or the direction I want to take a book in. I have a OneNote account where I keep this information, too, but if it’s not IN FRONT OF MY FACE like the whiteboard, I won’t open it up, I won’t look at it. I will, in fact, forget that it exists most of the time even though the folder is on the desktop.
I need to see it in order to do it. It doesn’t need to have an extra step like open or find under a stack or clear the desk so I can use it.
I’ll miss looking for the pretty planners and seeing all the cool things that people do with them, but planners don’t make me more productive and therefore are a waste of time for me.
Another thing about me…
I’m an all in person. If I see one part of thing needs to be done, I’ll do all of it. For instance, laundry… If I see one group of things needs to be washed, I’ll decide there and then that it all needs to be done and I’ll just do it. I was trying the house cleaning method of this room this day and that room another day and nope. I would rather do it all and get it finished. That kind of lends itself to the If I see it, I’ll do it mindset as well. I don’t want to have to drag cleaning supplies out multiple times a week or fold laundry every day of the week. I’d rather just do it and get it done.
Same with reading a new book. I want to read it all. Either the whole book or the whole series. I want to spend every waking moment reading until finished.
And the same with television shows. I’d rather binge and finish, than to start and stop and start and stop. I’ll lose interest, even if it’s something I love.
If I see it, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t do it at all, or I’ll forget about it for a while until something triggers my brain about it.
So, I’m going to link the video from Becca here about planners and let me know which type of person you are… Does a planner work for you and help you be more productive or are you more like me in that you need to see it and then you’ll do it?
Homeschooling one or more kids, possibly differing ages.
Significant other working from home now, too.
A bit of history…
Working from home began for me 21 years ago. It wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to go back to work because I loved my job, but I had a crushed ankle and had a newborn baby and a 5-year old and no family nearby, and the job I loved required me to stand 8-12 hours a day. Needless to say, I couldn’t go back to it. We made different choices. We made a lot of additional sacrifices.
So, I took a job working from home and raising our kids as a stay at home/work from home mom. I cooked and baked a lot, learned how to do a lot of things without a car and without Amazon. The Spouse worked about an hour away at the time and my daughter was in kindergarten. Fast forward 4 years and home schooling became another new normal for us at the suggestion of one of my daughter’s teachers.
My son was in kindergarten by then. I was still working from home. I had flexible hours, but still had to put in my 6-8 hours a day. We still only had one car and we still didn’t have much money. And most home school material at the time was religion based, so I had to put together my own materials and get real creative. Online learning wasn’t a big thing at the time and there wasn’t a lot out there. The support system was extremely small and in a lot of cases, non-existent.
When we moved to North Carolina from Florida, things really weren’t much different. We had two cars and a bit more money, and I didn’t work for that other company anymore. They went out of business and I took the plunge into romance writing. There was a lot of home schooling red tape in North Carolina that there hadn’t been in Florida, and I was still putting together most of my own material for lessons. Home school activities primarily took place on the other side of the city and we made the trek quite a bit, but were still pretty much on our own.
I say all this because some people now do feel as though they’re on their own. They’re isolated in their homes, can’t get together with friends or family, kids are home and they’ve been plunged into the world of home schooling. Now, the advantage is that teachers are preparing the lesson plans, online learning is lightyears ahead of where it was when my kids were doing it, YouTube lessons and instructions are plentiful, and there’s a lot more accountability. But I know it isn’t easy.
If you’re not used to being at home, or being at home with everyone else at the same time for more than evenings and weekends, or being working from home with others also working from home and schooling from home, or whatever the variation is that you find yourself in, it’s hard. It’s an adjustment. It takes time to find a new normal and new ways of doing things. And if you’re living arrangements are such that it feels as though you’re stepping on each other and can’t get any space to breathe and collect yourself… I get it. It’s not an easy thing what everyone is being asked to do right now. I made conscious choices to go that route for the most part, but… The one that really threw me for a loop was when The Spouse started working from home full-time while I was working from home writing and home schooling our son. My whole day to day routines were shaken up and I floundered. A lot. After more than 15 years of having a routine, it was shaken up. Much like everyone’s is now.
There’s a new normal to adjust to for the next few weeks or months. There’s a new way of processing life for many people. This is my normal, though I’m used to there being more flour and yeast and milk and toilet paper and meat in the grocery stores than there is now, but for the most part, this is my normal. My kids have been able to entertain themselves because they were raised that way, they were raised to not have others around all the time or a boatload of activities to entertain them, so, they’re doing well with this. But I know a lot of others aren’t. It takes time and it takes patience that can be in short supply. It takes hiding out for five minutes in the car or the closet or around the back of the house. It sometimes takes screaming into a pillow or putting in earbuds and listening to your favorite song so loud that it drowns out everyone and everything else for 3-4min. It takes getting creative. It takes support and luckily for most, the support is there. The world has come together online to support each other. That’s something I and a lot of others who have lived this life didn’t have. We were always the ones looked at as odd and strange and why would you home school when you could have your free time with kids in school or more money by getting a job or… Well, this is a good reason why, it seems. What you’re going through now, I’ve already been through. I’ve already done it and with less support. I’ve already done it and come out the other side with resilient kids, a relationship that survived, and…a coffee addiction, but that’s a whole other topic.