Every day I see other writers on social media acknowledging how hard it is to be consistently productive at this time. I find it incredibly validating, because it’s true.
It feels ironic (and frustrating) that this would be the time I finally get to do what I’ve wanted for years—to write my book, and more generally to shift my work balance away from being an editor and teacher, toward being a writer. I love being an editor and teacher, and I will return to those endeavors in May, once I’m done with my book. But I’ve been longing for the opportunity to focus more on writing, at least for a while, and here it is.
January was the first month I wasn’t working on anything other than my book, and between the insurrection and the anxiety leading up to last week’s (fortunately uneventful!) inauguration, plus the remaining threats to our lives and and our democracy, writing has been really, really hard this month.
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One of my biggest challenges, at any time in the world, is that I’m hard on myself. And then I am hard on myself for being hard on myself, and it all gets compounded, ad nauseam. This dynamic is even more pronounced now.
No matter how often I remind myself that writing is a process that takes time, that first drafts only need to exist and will naturally be shitty, that this is a particularly challenging moment for this work, I seem to be mad at myself every day for, get this: not yet being done with my whole book—months before my deadline.
It’s ridiculous! I’m not supposed to be done yet!! But there is some task master inside me who seems to believe that I am, and she is such an unrelenting bitch. She’s in my goddamned way, and I want her out. 😂
I took a mid-day walk with a friend last week, a fellow writer, and it was a tremendous relief to hear her voice a similar tendency. She talked about how at the end of nearly every day through this pandemic and chaotic political time, she’s felt disappointed with herself for not producing enough—despite knowing this has been one of the most difficult times to produce writing for just about every writer.
She said something like, “Sometimes I have to remind myself to be my own friend.” That really resonated.
So, silly as it might sound, when the task master takes over, I’ve begun trying to remind myself to be my own friend. To that end, I’ve started a spread sheet to track my progress with the various pieces going into my book, and that has been a nice way to make note of how much I’ve already gotten done. (Although, sometimes my tendency is to note how much is still yet to be done. When that happens, I remind myself to be kind.) I’m making a point of acknowledging myself not only each time I finish a piece, but also when I find a new phrasing that’s more precise, or manage to get down a story that’s painful—or just logistically complicated—to tell.
And I did my new best friend—a.k.a. me—a real solid last week: I asked for a month-long extension on my book. My editor kindly granted it, plus an additional extra month if I find I need it.
It had been due March 15th, and that’s still almost two months away. But I was starting to feel anxious about how much I was producing, and wanted to calm myself by buying myself a little more of a runway. So now I have until April 15th, and maybe, MAYBE May 15th, but I’d like to avoid that, because I currently don’t have an income, and there’s only so long I can manage without that.
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Now that we no longer have a president who is actively trying to spread a deadly virus, destroy all our institutions, and attempt an authoritarian coup, hopefully this endeavor will get easier. Things are definitely moving in a better direction, and hopefully I’ll adjust before too long.