Monday, July 4, 2011

Easy To Start, Hard To Stop

The first half of 2011 is past. We face six new months of the year. It's a good time to reflect on how we've spent those last six months and how we intend to go on. One of the things I've learned in my own reflection is that it's easy to get started on a project, to commit, to begin, but harder to back out, stop or regroup.

During the end of 2010, I had said "yes" to a lot of projects--church volunteering, speaking engagements, family requests--beyond my full-time job and writing goals. Those commitments were spread out over the next six months in what I thought was a manageable schedule. What I forgot is that when I've made a commitment, I've actually given up control of my time on several levels. My own values and sense of how a comittment is to be completed are added to unexpected requests from others and to the happenstance of life. I found myself spending extra time answering questions for people interested in a church fellowship group. Clearing my schedule for a day to be with my husband for minor surgery and having that surgery postponed due to a surgical emergency elsewhere, which required that I clear my schedule a second day. Or my father-in-law's unexpected decline in health which ended in his passing within two weeks of his admission to the hospital. I've committed to my family, my husband, and my church, as well as my job, my writing and my health, all of which define how my time will be spent. It's easy to say "yes" at first, but hard to pull back once the "yes" is given.

We writers know that a novel is a substantial commitment, one of time, energy, and emotion. We know that it's important to choose a writing project for which we have some strong motivation, deep passion and a sense of fun. It's going to be a long haul, and we know that we need every advantage we can get to drive us through the rough writing patches. When we say "yes" to a book idea, we want it to have the best chance for success. Writers know how wrenching it is to give up on a novel that is just not working out. Necessary at times, but wrenching nonetheless.

Let me share what I have learned during the first half of 2011. Every "yes" means that you have handed over a precious block of time to an activity or a person. If you are not passionate about that person or activity, take a breath and say "no". Don't commit to the "good" thing to do; commit to the "best" thing to do. The best interplay of your talents, your preferences and the world's needs. Remember, saying "yes" to something today means that something else will be left undone tomorrow. Perhaps something that draws you and lights you up from the inside. And you're stuck with that "yes" you're now duty-bound to complete--or with the unenviable task of backing out as gracefully as possible.

That basket of "Yes" I filled in late 2010 meant that I had less time for fiction writing, I put aside my love of singing, gave up contradancing. I did very good things, but I did not do the "best" things for me. Those choices left me with a short temper, little emotional reserves, less patience. During the next six months, my intent is to stop my immediate "yes" response. To examine each request with more discernment. To remember how much I'm already doing and to give myself credit for those efforts, not to discount them. Life is not about the number of days we spend on earth, as a Native American saying reminds us, but about the quality of the experiences we embrace.

Say "no" more often. In and out of your writing life, make a commitment to experience quality in your days.

Best Writing Wishes of the Day!


Sandy Cody said...

Oh, LaVerne, I so hear you. Sometimes I think I'm the queen of over-commitment. Thanks for letting me I'm not alone and for the sage advice in your last line.

Georgie Lee said...

Great post. Saying "no" is a skill I've had to learn. It isn't easy but sometimes it is necessary.

Joselyn Vaughn said...

I've been in a similar position lately. It is so hard to say 'no' especially to things you feel you should be doing. It's even harder to look at the things that you are doing and eliminate the ones that are detracting from your life.

Great post.

LaVerne St. George said...

I do have trouble admitting that something I've chosen to do is actually detracting from my life. Could I have made such an unwise decision? Me? With my over-the-top high standards? I need to "come clean" more often, admit the mistake, say 'no' and move forward. Whew!