Monday, April 18, 2011

Deadlines And Play Time

Barbara: I don’t know if I mentioned to you guys that I have a few deadlines looming lately. I’m trying to simultaneously write 4 different projects that are as different from each other as Astaire and Cera, as ice skating and roller derby, as winter and summer. So it gets interesting in this household to say the least.

People ask how I can write four different stories at the same time. Well, that part is easier than it sounds. I liken it to having children: you treat each child as the utterly individual beings they are, but you also know them so well, so intimately, that you don’t even have to think about it. When you’re with them, you’re just in their zone, talking their language, feelin’ their vibe (ooh, yeah). 

My issues flare up when it comes to balancing writing with down-time and family. I love to write and I love these projects. I want to get them right (and rather need to, as well). But what happens when my family humbly requests my presence? Politely asks if I will join them for dinner, for a chat, for a movie? Do I hiss in their faces that I’ll eat when I’m damn well ready (or, worse, cook dinner)? Do I ignore them as they reveal their latest news and keep tapping at my keyboard while offering the occasional , Mm-hm, Uh-huh, and Awwww? Do I pretend to watch the movie while actually composing the next scenes in my mind, and then pretend to discuss the movie afterward with some kind of authority while really not knowing at all what I’ve just seen???

The thing is, I know I need down-time and breaks (and dinner) or my work will suffer. But when a deadline (or in my case: deadlines, plural) is looming, how do you prioritize?

This is what I’m doing, for right or wrong. When my kids need to tell me something, I finish typing my sentence and give them my time (I know I can usually get right back in the flow, but I might never get that moment back with them) When my husband needs to tell me something, I ask him to wait (you see, he gets it. And while his feelings can get as hurt as the next guy, he’s also remarkably resilient.). If it’s my turn to make dinner, I prepare my go-to quick meals (even if we’ve had chicken six times last week, or *shudder* take-out). Housework and taxes? Those fall by the wayside, but I do try to set aside an hour here or there to manage them. Amazingly, stuff gets done (if not exactly to “spring cleaning” standards). Movies and playtime? This is my Achilles heal. It feels like play should be put off till I’ve met my deadlines. But when another deadline will just replace the last one met, then that might mean deferring it till, I don’t know, 2013. So I force myself to put away the computer for certain chunks of time. And watch a movie. With my peeps. Is it hard? So very!! But I do feel better afterward. Refreshed. Ready to write more and better.

But it’s also a constant battle. And one I have to keep reminding myself to wage. How do you do it?

Deb: When our son was younger this was a real issue for me as I wanted him to know that he and his Dad were always my first priority, but I also wanted him to learn to respect the fact that my work needed my attention too. We came up with a solution, the memory of which still warms my heart.

I told him "Luke I will always stop writing to be there for you, so you never have to worry about that." But when someone is writing it is awful to be in the middle of the perfect sentence, the perfect thought, and be interrupted. When that happens, your creative moment comes crashing down. So, here is my idea Luke. When you want me, just come up behind me and gently and without sound, lay your hand on my shoulder. That will tell me you need me, I will finish my sentence or thought and then I will be all yours." The sweet memory of that boy coming up to me time and again, laying his hand on my shoulder and waiting patiently just lights me up. And it worked.

And as a young adult writer I hope he understands how important that little ritual was. As I am writing this, I would give anything to have his lovely hand on my shoulder. What I wouldn't give right now for one sweet distracting interruption from my boy. 


  1. Great post. I kind of have this same situation. With me it gets so crazy between work and school,and school work or working on a paper,or writing a post. Because I only have just a few months before I graduate I really have to work hard. I really don't get a lot of down time or free time. I love to spend time with my family but latley it seems like there is just not enough hours in the day to do everything.. It's like I look up one minuite and it's day time,and I look up again and it's night time. I do however keep in mind that yes the things that I have to do is very important but that can wait but my family comes first. I have now starting using a day planner to plan all my work so I can have more time with family and friends.I hate to use a planner to plan things but until June that's what I am going to have to do till I get out of school. If that's what I have to do to be with my family who I have been missing a lot then I am going to plan away and hope that it works.

  2. Lyndsie: "It's like I look up one minute and it's day time, and I look up again and it's night time." YES YES YES! That's exactly how it feels! But your day timer idea for planning fun too sounds like a plan. Let me know if it works.

  3. I will trust me. It's worked so far.

  4. Thanks Molly. Actually brought a tear to my eye when I was recalling it.

  5. At the moment I'm working 75 hour weeks on a federal election. I've done this every few years since 1990. At first the long hours were hard on my husband who had to pick up the slack with the boys, the housework and also assist on campaigns as well as commuting to Toronto from Niagara on the Lake to a busy job. By the end of every campaign (federal and provincial) we'd be at each other's throats. This time we have no kids at home and he is semi-retired. He uses all that time to make sure that I feel pampered and have no distractions. He also drops leaflets and foot canvasses most days. His support on what is probably my last campaign allows me to do what I have to do. I'll have to figure out a way to make it up to him. Love your story, Deb.

  6. Found an interesting link on daily rituals: how writers, artists and other interesting people organize their days. The one on Fred Rogers made me smile. How do you all organize your day?

  7. Nag, I can't imagine a more grueling routine than the one around an election. Hats off to you. Am always in admiration for people who enter that fray!

    And Tsumicat -- love love love that link. What a great roster of writers to ask about routine. Mine? I get up in the morning, get some basic housework done (bed/breakfast/dishes), then write till lunch, take a break, write until dinner, take a break and sometimes (if I have to) I proof in the evening. But really don't love to work at night. I try to get a dog walk in somewhere, and try to go to the gym or yoga a few times a week. You?

  8. As a student, deadlines rule my life... at the moment I'm having to complete a paper at least every 5 weeks. That on top of work and more fun stuff like guitar lessons, band practice, family time, my time, sometimes I wonder how I do it... Somehow I manage to get there though. Planning? I find if I try and plan, it almost guarantees that it won't happen!

    Deb, that's the cutest story! I love it! Though I probably would've had a heart attack with someone quietly sneaking up behind me and putting their hand on my shoulder!


  9. The day starts with coffee and cats. Then off to work. Sadly, thinking about my routine makes me realize I want to change it :)

  10. Loved this today. After being away from blogs for a few weeks (banned in China) I realize how much time I do spend on them. But my time is my own now and I love it just like that. So I have just spent hours catching up as I wash clothes and try to stay to get my 15 hours ahead back.

  11. Deb, that was an exceptionally sweet story, and I'm glad you shared it with us. And it is, without doubt, one of the best solutions to that problem that I've ever heard.

    Barbara, I think we all have those problems with time management. There just aren't enough hours in the day, it seems...

  12. Thanks for sharing your solution to the interrupted-thought thing, Deb. My son often comes into the room to talk to me while I'm writing, and I can't listen to him at the same time so have to wrench myself away from the screen and keyboard. I'm going to ask him to use "the hand" as Luke did. Like you, I know that these moments when he actually needs -- and WANTS -- to talk to ME -- are precious.

    Have been busy lately and just managed to catch up on your last few entries, all very enjoyable. But now ... I'm six minutes late to start work, so must away!

  13. Kate I'm so glad the hand on the shoulder works for you. I figure as I said, it teaches them the value of our work and the value of them all at the same time. Nice to have you back. WE MISSED YOU!


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