Thursday, June 12, 2008

Crazycakes

Maven Lacey KayeOver the last month, I've done exactly one productive thing. Unfortunately, that productive thing wasn't writing a book. In fact, in the last six months I've done almost nothing productive when it comes to writing a book. I'm not okay with that, but that concern is for another post.

Long-time readers know I'm a process engineer. I'm devoted to studying and improving productivity and output; it's my passion. I never thought I could go at it, though, with the same sort of single-minded determination I used to use to write novels. Engineering seems so...black and white. I guess I was just waiting for the right opportunity.

A month ago, I became head of a project that meant big time savings for my organization. It had the potential to improve communication between various orgs, and almost assuredly would create higher morale and job satisfaction for my minions and minions everywhere. The only problem was I had 3 weeks to pull the whole thing off, including implementation and beta testing. During those three weeks, I received requests for the same program to be implemented at other sites -- that would be the program we hadn't even written yet.

And I have a life.

Suddenly, I felt very, very kindred with Maven Erica :-) My phone wouldn't stop ringing. My email was full of bug reports and frequently asked questions. I had one week to get 100 people up to speed on a user interface that had never been tested and was barely developed. I had three devoted coders working around the clock to keep up with the changes. I was making phone calls and shooting off emails to organizations I'd never contacted before and presenting the concept to managers I desperately needed to have buy in from.

It was so, so awesome.

The energy was amazing. Apparently, I thrive on God-awful deadlines. Who knew? And seeing all the shocked-yet-hopeful faces when it was announced the project had eliminated the need for the daily afternoon meeting we'd been having for thirty years -- quite literally, priceless.

I wonder if we're authors because we like to see what's in our imagination come alive. I can equate every step in this project with the same sort of ephemeral buzz I get when writing. First, we had a workshop to talk about the future state [of the meeting we ended up eliminating, w00t]. That was like when I get together with the Mavens and brainstorm the concept of a novel. Then I was locked in a room with three bright, enthusiastic coders ready to tackle the logic to create the software -- that was like storyboarding. (We even had food.) Then we banged out a draft just to see if the concept worked; I don't need to draw this part of the picture for you. Then we fine-tuned it, and then, knowing it was buggy as hell, we released it into the world to have beta testers help us locate and smash them. (Contesting and beta reading, anyone?)

It was and still is hard to come in every day to my inbox and realize the interface isn't perfect. It will probably never be perfect, as it's written in Visual Basic and heavily utilizes Microsoft programs...(sorry, Keira, but it's true). But when the feedback is positive -- wow. Is that a great feeling or what? And when we're improving job satisfaction, not just because we're saving faceless money, but because we're literally helping people have a better day...that's nothing short of amazing.

The only problem is that during this time, my "life" became about this project. Either I was working on this project or not sleeping because of this project or worrying about this project or out kicking it with friends, valiantly trying to forget about this project. And now, just 2 days from full implementation, I'm still blogging about this project. It never ends!

But I am trying. My game plan this last week has been to come home ON TIME (+/- an hour of over time), work out, take a nap, and either a) play with my Xbox (damn you, Ryu!) b) watch an episode or two of LOST (can you really watch just one?) c) read a book (Lost Duke of Wyndham is on my TBR) d) go to happy hour (no comment) or e) do nothing. Yes, that's right. Do nothing.

But we had to filter through a, b, c, and d to get to nothing.

YOUR TURN: Do you ever let yourself stop? Do you ever feel like even when you're "relaxing," you're really trying to cram something fun into your day? Do you ever find yourself replacing the joy of writing (Freudian? I just typed "job") with the joy of something else? (there goes that job again)

7 comments:

Jackie Barbosa said...

Relaxing? What's that? LOL.

I used to have the kind of passion for my day job that you describe, and I have to say, it was great! Nowadays, I still feel passionate about parts of it (although it's exhausting, I do love to teach!), but overall, it feels like more of a burden than a joy.

That said, I do wonder if you could process engineer my novellas so I can get them finished by September 1 despite the craziness that's hit my life. Got a week to come out and do the analysis? ;)

lacey kaye said...

I could, but to do that I'd have to take a week off work. Ah, conundrums.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I read your post this morning, and planned on replying to it. Then things got wild. Throughout the day all I could think of was that your word 'crazycakes' described it perfectly. Now I can't remember what I was going to say in reply to the post. Ugh.

lacey kaye said...

Well, thank you. I will take credit for finding the right word to describe the post, but I can't take credit for the word itself. I learned it from Maven Erica. I tend to use crazypants myself. As in, "Please ignore my crazypants today" or "Watch out, or I'll go crazypants on you."

lacey kaye said...

Which is to say, I believe crazycakes and crazypants are different.

Something is crazycakes. Today was crazycakes.

Your behavior is crazypants. Me and my crazypants ways.

Kristi said...

Ooohh...another engineer who writes! I'm not the only one! Many of my software engineering coworkers won't read any book without punctuation in the title (i.e. ++, #, etc....). Even then, "reading" is not quite the correct word for it.

I, too, have found many parallells between how I do my job (the software design & development) & how I write. I get excited about the same parts (the initial brainstorming, laying out the basic structure), and I get bogged down in the same parts (filling in some of the less exciting details, the debugging/editing...)

And I can totally relate about having so many things I want to do to 'relax' that I get stressed out about it. My days "off" are far more grueling than the time I sit at work. It is hard hard hard to sit still and do nothing. It gets worse after you have kids, too, btw--not only is there far less time for relaxing and doing nothing, but there is far more guilt when you do achieve nothingness.

John - Chapteread said...

I set mornings aside for time to relax. I usually read a book or sit out in my backyard for a bit. This has helped tremendously with revamping my creativity. I find that it helps to create to-do lists and use the 80/20 rule. This helps me to stay focused on what I really want to set out and do.

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