Our Plate And Buffet

It’s Monday, and I hope you had a great weekend. I had a pretty good one, the weather was warm, I got to wear shorts, and I remembered that there were soft pretzels in the freezer. It was awesome.

Today I want to start the week somewhat picking up where we left off on Wednesday with social media, because it was pointed out to me over the weekend that while knowledge of social media is good and critical, you have to make the time to use it. And people frankly suck at that. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about sucking at making time to do stuff.

Normally I think this argument is a load of applesauce and horsefeathers, because if something is important to you, you will make time for it. You enjoy the procrastinating, so you spend an extra hour watching television. You like the comfy spot in bed, so you sleep an extra half hour past your alarm.

Just like a diet or a fitness plan, where you’re trying to change your weight or your exercise habits, there are sacrifices to make. Gone is the double portion of daily dessert fudge. The extra steakchos are given the heave-ho. These sacrifices are tough initially, because we crave the feelings and/or brain chemicals they used to provide, and our brains panic because we’re not getting flooded with the same stuff we used to, and change is scary so let’s all freak out.

It’s right around this time that people start getting a little huffy, because when I say “make sacrifices” they don’t mention the binge watch on Netflix, or the weekly phone call with a family member that just sucks the life and joy out of them. They mention the time with the kids, the bills they have to pay, the spouse who feels overlooked, the house tasks that need to happen. And they get defensive because they make this jump where I’m saying success comes at the expense of “the important stuff.”

Where I think people go off the rails is in how they define “the important stuff”, because when I talk to them, they list other people and other things. Their family. Their job. Their income. Their bills. They skip themselves.

Now maybe I see this because I don’t have a family the way they do, and I don’t have a lot of the bills they do, but you have to count yourself as important, because making that time to create a thing, making that decision to do more than just hobby around, is important.

Your book isn’t going to get out the door if you treat it like the ten other things you’d do if you had more time or more money. People aren’t going to even know that they can buy it unless you take the seconds or minutes to compose a message saying so.

If writing is a hobby for you, great, then relegate it to the time when Tiny House Hunters is over and just before you look at different flowering plants to put in the bucket in front of the house.

But if you want to make that transition from “this is the thing I do when I think I can, and I don’t take it seriously like that (more on that in a second)” to “I’m getting this book out the door, this is what I want to do, it’s important to me”, then Tiny House Hunters and those begonias are going to need to wait.

When the “take it seriously like that” part comes up, and it comes up quite a bit in my workshops and seminars, some people get upset. If this weren’t writing, if we were talking about you spending more time with your kids, then we’d talk about how you’re gonna have make that effort to do more with them on a regular and consistent basis, even when initially it feels super weird and your brain throws off a ton of excuses about why you can’t. But you have to agree that you can’t say you’re committed to spending time with your kids when you’ve only added in an extra 3 minutes every other Tuesday just before they go to bed. That’s an insult to the concept and a disservice to your kids.

I don’t see much difference between that and writing.

Maybe it’s in our definition of “serious.” To me, a serious writer is someone who sets time out of their day, every day, to do something that advances them towards their goal. If they need to be writing chapter 11, they’re doing it. If they need to communicate with people to build an audience, they’re going for it. Maybe just one thing, maybe both, maybe fifty other things. But they’re not screwing around and talking more while doing less. They’re doing what they want, they’re taking the steps, they’re not letting the excuses keep them back. How are you defining it?

All this is good, but this isn’t the practical side. People bring that up like they’ve trumped me, and the truth is I don’t know your schedule, I don’t know how you work, so I can’t give you (the non-existent) one-size-fits-all schedule. What works for me does so because I can divide my time a certain way to play to my strengths. I figured out this schedule because I was honest about how I spend my time, and took a guess as to what I thought I could do about my goals within that time frame.

I wrote down all the things I did. I spent a Saturday breaking down my not asleep hours in 30 minute segments. I tracked what I ate, when I ate, how long it took me to eat, how long I dicked around on Facebook, how may times I stared out the window. I wrote it all out. I didn’t judge it, I just documented it.

The judging came later, when I looked at my schedule and saw all the places that could get trimmed or changed. Gone was the 35 minutes on Facebook during breakfast where I vainly hoped someone would tag me and say nice things about me. I cut my “number of stares out the window” from 30 to 26.

It’s not like I gained hours. I didn’t. There weren’t hours to gain unless I shifted my sleep schedule and gave up the go-to activities that relax me. But I was able to repurpose those minutes so it felt like my plate – the way I was spending the day – got bigger, because what I was doing was more productive.

Instead of 35 minutes reading about people complaining about politics or social inequality or sharing pusheen pictures, I got 35 minutes to read a book about how to write. Or 35 minutes to read a chapter in a biography. I could sneak in part of a podcast, so I started my day with a laugh rather than a “oh good grief, this is what people are complaining about today? Can they just not be the center of the universe?

Your writing isn’t going to be revolutionized by hurriedly and radically changing your schedule. That sort of massive transformation can often be an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction to perception or anxiety, like a fad diet over a weekend so you can wear an outfit on a Monday. Those changes aren’t often sustainable because you can’t mistake a burst of energy for the inertia of routine.

We talk about “having so much on our plate”, when it’s our plate at the buffet of our own design. These are our choices and their consequences portioned out to us on our plate. Here’s that eight hour chunk of time at the job you sort of like and stay at because it allows you to take those two weeks off and go to Vermont. Splat. Here’s that relationship with the people you grossly disagree with that you maintain only because you’re afraid to jettison it and get flak from other people. Splat. Here’s a heaping helping of impossible goals you set because you want so badly to be praised and be successful while making other people happy so that you aren’t abandoned or ignored or belittled. Splat.

I’m not saying give up the job. I’m not even saying give up the negative stuff that you’ve built into your day to day life. I can’t ask you to do that. What I can ask you to do is look at your experiences, look at where you are, look at where you want to be, and exercise some portion control. Where you likely want to be, what you want to do, that’s going to call for a little less time doing A so you can do a little of B, since B better gets you towards your goal.

Yeah, it’s your buffet, and it is all you can eat, but you gotta be willing to say no to extra spoonfuls of the stuff that doesn’t get you where you want to be.

I’ll see you guys Wednesday. Happy writing.

 

 

0 thoughts on “Our Plate And Buffet

  1. Yeah – I can write today, or I could clean the house, do the weeding, sort out my summer/winter clothes. I have to accept that if I am a writer then clothes to not get ironed, the stairs remain un-vacuumed and the children are fed baked beans (again) for tea. But – when I die I would rather have people say, “Did you read the one she wrote about…?” than have them say, “Her house was always immaculate, you know.” When I look around my dirty, untidy house and the jungle of my garden and feel deep shame, I must remember that.

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