Thursday, June 3, 2010

Confessions of a project shark

I have a history of taking on too many creative projects. And by "a history" I mean "an ongoing, near-compulsive habit." To badly mangle a quote from Glee, I'm a project shark - if I stop moving, I die. I have conversations like this a lot:

Me: "Oh god, I'm going to die of busy! Too many projects!"
Kiah: "Didn't you say you weren't taking on any new projects, like a month ago?"
Me: "Yes."
Kiah: "And didn't you then knit yourself a new hat?"
Me: "That was hardly a project. It was just one ball of sock yarn!"
Kiah: "And then didn't you set an unreasonable deadline for yourself on that one story?"
Me: "Yeah, but I should've been able to revise ten thousand words in a week."
Kiah: "...And then didn't you agree to illustrate a children's book for a hospital?"
Me: "Hey, that book is about an EAGLE whose favorite hobby is SMILING and it's gonna be EPIC."
Kiah: "All I'm saying is maybe you should cut back on the projects."
Internal John Locke: "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!"
Me: "Yeah, what he said."

2010 so far has been The Year Of Not Meeting Deadlines, and that has forced me to reexamine the way I collect projects. My biggest problem is unreasonable expectations. I think I can do everything at once - and I hate to admit that I can't. So I listen to the little Locke voice in my head and think, "Hey, yeah, I can totally get both those novels written in one summer!"

No, I can't. I have limits as a writer.

I also have limits on my time, which is my other blind spot. I work 40 hours/week and spend another 10 minimum doing school stuff. Add to that creative projects, downtime after a busy workday, and the social life of someone who's trying very hard not to become a hermit who will be eaten by her pack of yapdogs...and I don't have much time for sleep, much less new projects. But the more I want to be done with school, the more I find myself imagining my life as it will be after graduation - no homework, less stress, and a vast stretch of hours open for creative pursuits. And then, when it comes time to prioritize things, I find myself planning for the creative life I want, not the one I have.

This past weekend was an eye-opener for me. WisCon is a place with a high level of creative energy, and many of the attendees are writers. While talking with other writers, I kept thinking, "How are these people able to manage their lives, jobs, and writing? Why can't I?"

(Internal John Locke: "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!")

The answer is, of course: I can. It will just require work. And taking responsibility for my own priorities. And sacrificing some projects I would like to do right now to make more space for the projects I know I can do right now.

The night I got home from con, I faced the wipeboard that contains my current project list and picked up an eraser. After several swipes and one loooong hesitation, I pared the list down from 10-12 items to this:
  • Revise auction story (10k words)
  • First draft of Wendigo Girls novel (60-70k words)
  • Finish the multi-chapter fanfic I've been working on (20-30k words)
  • Illustrate Eddy the Eagle book (24 pages of simple illustrations)
Conspicuously absent from this list is the final book of the Fantasy Series What Ate My Life, which took me multiple tries to work up the guts to erase. I've wanted to finish it for years, and I'm ready for it to be done, but given my limitations this summer, I'm not going to rush it. I've been working on that story for almost twelve years, and it's not going to suddenly fizzle and die because it has to wait another few months to get dedicated writing time.

I have other, smaller projects cataloged in a mental list of things I can do as well, but those have no deadlines. They'll get done, for sure - I find that with fiber arts projects especially, I work better if I don't set ETAs for myself - but I'll work on them without expectations. I'm hoping I can turn 2010 into The Year Of Finding A Balance.

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