This week, our hound offers a topic familiar to most people. He asks, “What (if anything) drains/blocks your potential productivity? What can you do to correct this?”
The first question is easy to answer. Family responsibilities (for me) have doubled lately. Since the middle of last year, I’ve had lots of trouble finding the time, energy, and inspiration to write. It’s been a struggle to block out the real world and immerse myself in the world in which my characters reside. I’ll often sit down with the intention of writing, but then I’ll find six other things I should be doing and the writing doesn’t get done. I worry. I research. I think of questions and look for the answers.
Health issues (not mine) have taken up a lot of my thoughts, and by extension, my writing time. My husband had surgery in late January and his recovery has not been smooth. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that he finally started to return to his old self. For the past three months I’ve had to do all the driving, scheduling (since the meds affected his reasoning skills) and most of the cooking. I’m well aware that cooking, driving, and laundry are things that working women all over the world do on a regular basis, and I honestly don’t mind doing them, but since those are three things that I normally didn’t have to worry about, this made my daily routine change quite a bit. I had trouble focusing on nineteenth century England when I needed to figure out what we were going to eat that night, whether or not we had clean clothes, and what time we had to leave to get to the next appointment.
In addition to being head caretaker for my husband, I’m the only one of my siblings living near my mom. She is a healthy 85-year-old, but she needs to be transported most places, especially when there is snow on the ground. We had more than our share of that this past winter. She also worries about things she really doesn’t need to worry about, so I’m on call for things like being with her when repair persons come to her apartment, or when she needs to speak to medical, legal, or financial professionals. During the past three months it was a very rare to have a day when I didn’t have to take care of a detail for either hubby or Mom.
Those two preoccupations are the only relatively new things in my life. Neither person is asking for much of time my time. But as you might know, my calendar was already quite full. I teach two afternoons a week (the teaching schedule is easy, but the paperwork is daunting) and observed six student teachers this semester. I volunteer with a sewing group one morning each week. Three evenings a week I play in a local musical group. Monthly activities include scrapbooking, card-making, and meeting with three different writing groups. Until this past winter, this level of activity was normal for me and I was able to write and publish two or three stories each year. But added to the new obligations, something had to give, and this year it was the writing time.
My husband is slated for another surgery later this year, and mom is generally healthy, so I’m assuming the next six months will be at the same breakneck pace. I’ve come to the realization that I need to cut back on the demands on my time, not just to gain more writing time, but to preserve my sanity. And this brings me to the second part of our hound’s question of the week: “What can you do to correct this?” I’ve put some of these into place, and others are in progress:
- Find ways to hand it over. Today, my husband had an important follow up appointment with his surgeon. My mom also had an appointment with her doctor. She didn’t want to change her appointment because she finally managed to snag a time with the real doctor, not a PA. I finally called a trusted friend of hers to take her and listen. My children are also quite helpful and willing to step in when needed – I just need to let them know when I need their assistance.
- Convince myself that I’m doing all I can to help them. I often experienced crippling doubt about whether or not I was doing what I needed to do to for hubby and mom. Each of the three times hubby fell after surgery I wondered if I’d neglected to do something I should have done. Should I have been there? Was there something I’d forgotten to do? It was my daughter who reminded me that if I didn’t start letting him do things on his own he’d never heal. So I watch and hold back when I can. It takes longer, but he can get himself a cup of coffee. When he remembers to use his cane, he gets around pretty well, so I need to be patient.
- LEAVE THE HOUSE! During spring break I went to a writing retreat at school. I spent three days in a classroom with other faculty. A change of scenery helped me not think about medications, transportation, meals, etc. I was a teacher and writer. And the words flowed. This past weekend I went to another writing retreat with one of my writing groups. And this week I’m at another faculty retreat. Being in the company of other writers, I’m inclined to focus on my story rather than the day-to-day stuff.
- The final, and most difficult solution, is to cut back. I’ve informed the university that I will not be able to teach the class load I’ve carried for the past five years. It saddens me, because this is something I enjoy, but the paperwork takes up a lot of time, and I find it difficult to write about other places and times when I should be grading lesson plans or writing a student teacher evaluation. I’m also considering giving up one of the musical groups I play in, at least temporarily. The decision of WHICH group to give up is one I’m not looking forward to, but I have a little while to think about it.
So now I’ve identified the problem and I have a plan for resolving it. Wish me luck. How do you manage the distractions that hinder your creative self?