Sunday, July 11, 2010

TSS: Summer Progress

I am a realist - although some people might choose to translate that as pessimist.  I really don't try to look at the glass as half empty, but that is the way my brain interprets the sight.  Having said that, I must report that for me, summer is now half over.  Teachers report the week of August 16th and students return to the classroom on the 23rd.  Truth be told, I will have to start working on lesson plans before that - so yes, my summer is quickly disappearing.

It has not been the summer that I anticipated nor expected.  At first I thought I would be studying in Oxford and visiting all sorts of quaint British villages, but that fell through.  Then I thought I would spend twelve weeks in total selfish abandon - honing photography skills, creating scrapbook pages, whittling away the TBR pile, and filling  moleskine notebooks with written prose.  While I have accomplished a bit in all those areas, I have not come anywhere close to meeting my expectations.  My immediate reaction is one of sadness and disappointment, but if I am to follow my own advice from Life is a Verb, I must choose to respond with acceptance of what has happened, and anticipation of what I can still accomplish over the next few weeks.

Part of the reason for my less-than-stellar summer accomplishments is due to Mom's health.  She is in the hospital - again.  I feel as though I am working towards an RN degree whether I want one or not.  I know more about hypertension, orthostatic-hypertension, and congestive heart failure than I truly care to.  While typically these are three conditions that can be easily controlled through medications, Mom's situation is exacerbated because the drug used to manage one creates adverse effects in the other two.  It is a delicate balance game of tweaking the meds to her best advantage, knowing that at some point in the future (two weeks in this case - but it could be as long as six months) they will need to be tweaked again.  This not only requires that I physically be there with her, but it also exacts a certain amount of mental and emotional energy that takes away from my creative productivity.

But I also have learned something about myself that has been an eye-opener:  I am rather self-defeating.  I have always been a goal-driven person and to that end, I am highly organized with to-lists and deadlines.  While I do not think there is anything wrong with being wired this way, I do think that it can be taken to the extreme - and I have most definitely taken it to the extreme (I can now envision my husband and daughter vigorously nodding their heads and shouting "It's about time!")

I become so fixed on the goal and the deadline, that I suck all the joy out of the project.  I have done this for years - sometimes out of necessity, but oftentimes out of my own warped sense of duty.  Take for example this novel project.  When I began the process this spring, I was afraid that I wouldn't come up with an idea.  Not only have I come up with one idea, I am beginning to create more and more narrative situations as time goes on.  This is quite exciting, as I thought I had atrophied this portion of my brain beyond repair.
While I truly want to try to write for me - this particular project is fueled by the creative writing class that I will be teaching in the fall.  I decided that in order for me to truly sympathize with the students, I should undergo the curriculum myself.  Mind you - no one else has specified this requirement:  not the principal, not the parents, not the students, not the creators of the program.  Just me.  And with each passing week I become more and more agitated because I am not as far along as I think I should be in order to meet the deadline of August 16th.  Good grief, Molly --- change the deadline!  Who cares if it isn't complete by then?

I have been reading numerous books and blogs by published authors who talk about spending years writing a book (I believe Susan Vreeland spent three years researching and writing Luncheon of the Boating Party and she is an accomplished bestselling author).  Why do I think I have to write my first novel in twelve weeks?

I have also discovered that I really enjoy the time period in which I have set this historical fiction piece.  I have always loved all things French (which is why I was a French major in college) and I am learning to really appreciate the art and artists of the Impressionist era.  I have been immersing myself in this time period, by reading historical fiction, educational non-fiction, visiting museum exhibits, and writing a bit on my own; this is a great escape for me.  And I truly believe that the more I surround myself with this kind of literature, the more realistic my own narrative will be.  So why am I denying myself the pleasure of the process in order to meet this arbitrary goal?  I have no valid answer for that, which necessitates that I change this way of thinking.

So while this is not a big an earth shattering idea for many of you, this is a major break-through for me.  I vow to continue writing and developing the story idea.  But I also vow to enjoy the journey.


  1. We could be sisters of the soul, Molly. I, too, love to set impossible goals and then actually try to meet them (often doing so to the detriment of my mental health).

    However, I have recently returned from a trip to France and I concur with you....It is refreshing.

    I will not go back to the way I was. One more time. I will not go back....

  2. I have exactly the same problem - it is amazing how the joy and anticipation of setting out a plan or project dissolves into recriminations over how little progress you have made. It helps, sometimes, to see it happening to someone else - I finally found myself saying to my mother, "At the end of every day you beat yourself up about every item you haven't completed on your To Do list, but you totally ignore all that you HAVE accomplished. 3/4 of this list is crossed out!". Be sure you give yourself credit for all the things you do get done; I find that it makes it easier to preserve my enjoyment of projects.

    Hang in there!

  3. I think I probably said this last night as well, but you are in good company with me. I am the classic over-achiever, and only since I quit working have I attempted to change the way I live my life. Ah to let go! To understand what demands are placed upon us, outside of our control, and the ones we place unnecessarily on ourselves! If you are able to enjoy the journey of this project, I am sure you will have a better end product AND you will likely write again!

  4. This sounds like a huge personal break-through... congratulations!! Hope they find the right balance for your mom's meds - as you know too well, it can be tricky until she's there.

  5. Sorry to hear that your mom is continuing to have so many problems.

    You sound like maybe you have hit on the first step for all of the over-achievers--admitting that there's a problem! Trying to balance the drive to meet the goal with enjoying the process along the way can be tough.

  6. Like you, I've always been my own worst enemy is the area of placing too many demands and high expectations on myself. I'm better lately, and it sounds like you are on your way to making changes as well.

    Hope your mom can recover and that you as a result will have less stress in your life.

    Have a great week Molly.

  7. Good for you!! Your excitement about your novel is palpable--and infectious. Float on that joy and see what happens (I predict good things).

    Hope all goes well with your mom, too.

  8. I can't believe you actually expected yourself to complete your first novel in 12 weeks! That seems impossible if you ask me. Creativity is an organic process, and I do think you have to enjoy the ride AND deal with whatever life throws at you. At the minimum, take the time to write at least 30 minutes a day. Surely that is something you can stick to.

    And best of luck with your mom. I'm sure that is really difficult.

  9. I am very goal oriented too, and can drive everyone else crazy with it, so I can totally relate to it.

    We're struggling with my dad's health here, so I know how hard that is as well.

  10. I've begun three novels and completed one. I never took any of them through a second draft so they're all still in a file cabinet in the basement. But they were fun to work on.

    I was most productive when I made writing part of my daily schedule. Up an hour before I had to leave for school so I could spent 60 minutes writing every day. It worked.

    May I suggest looking at your first novel as practice. That could take some of the pressure off. The second novel, or the second draft, that's the real thing.

    Hope your Mom is back up to speed very soon.

  11. Hope things will turn out well for your Mom. And for your writing. I've started writing as well, and it's slow going as I procrastinate. This may well mean it would take me 8 years to write a book instead of three :) Hang in there.

  12. "I become so fixed on the goal and the deadline, that I suck all the joy out of the project."

    When I read that, I was like "Oh my gosh, that sounds like me!" (lol) I've really lightened up though. Julia Cameron's workbook, "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" started me on the road to chillville. I couldn't be exactly like she was asking, but I estimate I've relinquished control by 50%. :)

    A couple months ago, I realized I was getting back in that mind set and backed up, re-evaluated, and adjusted my way of thinking.

    Even though you are making these discoveries about yourself, take a moment each day to tell yourself you did good. You might already, but this is an area I lack in.

  13. You write such great advice listen to it and quit putting so much pressure on yourself!! Isn't it funny how we put ourselves under so much stress and we wouldn't dare ask that of another person??? Take care of yourself, write when you can, and enjoy the ride!! Now if I could only follow my advice to you!! LOL!!!

  14. I'm sorry to hear your mom is back int he hospital, Molly - I can truly empathize.

    Re: being goal driven and sucking the joy of the journey - well, you and I must have hatched from the same egg! *laughing* I am happy to say that I am working on this and have found some success as I've edged toward the 1/2 century mark! I especially find my quilting to be something which I truly enjoy every step. You're on the right track...and you should definitely enjoy the journey...that is what life is all about!

  15. It looks like you struck a nerve with this post, Molly - you did with me, anyway! For one thing, I'm also a realist who is often viewed as a pessimist :-).

    You may not be where you thought you'd be on the novel right now, but the personal breakthrough you've had is progress of another kind, and equally worthwhile.

    I'm sorry about the strain of your mom's health situation - good luck with that!

  16. CB has some excellent points. Too often, high achievers tend to expect their first draft to be perfection and this stops them from actually writing. The first draft of any book is always GARBAGE. A novel isn't written until you get to the re-write portion. And re-writing certainly takes much longer than 12 weeks.

    I would throw the 12 week thing out the window. You won't be able to find your narrative voice unless you sit down every single day (no exceptions) and spew out all the garbage that will be your first draft. Don't think, just let the garbage flow onto the page and don't even think about how it would read to other people.

    Once you do that, you'll have something to work with and then you can allow your perfectionist side to come out as you re-write and re-write and re-write.

    It's gonna be great, Molly! And it wouldn't surprise me if one of your characters ended up with a loved one having medical much of an author's current experiences end up, however briefly, on the page. :)

    ps....prayers for you and your mom....caring for a loved one in times such as these is stressful for all.


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