Thursday, August 16, 2007

What Obstacles?

Maven Lacey Kaye
So I volunteered to blog on overcoming other people's unsupportiveness when working toward achieving your goals. Which, in retrospect, may not be the right subject for me. What has and does work for me won't be for everyone--I'm a hardcore loner. So think of this post as an extreme set of guidelines, and realize only you can know what fits into your life. That said, I do have a lot of experience in preventing other people from preventing my success. Take what you can use and go from there.

Why start out so ominously? Well, there aren't too many demands on my time, or too many people out there who can prevent me from doing what I set out to do. That's the extreme part of it, and the part I realize many of you can't or wouldn't change about your life. See, I'm single. I'm childless. I'm self-sufficient. I have no roommates or in-town family. I quit my management job at a high-energy company (long hours) for a union position as a chart monkey (short hours). I chose these paths so I could pursue my dream of being an author (and being childless childfree). Are we talking big decisions? Yes. Lonely ones? Sometimes. Worth it? Totally.

What you can take away is that my free time and lack of interruptions are not accidental. I planned it that way.

It starts, as Erica said, with deciding what you want. From there, you need a plan to get it. This is a lot trickier. If you want to write 10,000 words a week, you have a lot of options. You can write 1430 words every day. You can throw out Saturday and Sunday and write 2000 words Monday through Friday. You can write 5000 words on Saturdays and Sundays. But let's say you decide to write Monday through Friday, because that's my schedule.

Now I will teach you a little industrial engineering stuff. (Obviously, IE is nothing but management engineering, ergo, it will be very familiar to many of you.)

The first rule of scheduling is never to plan for "errors." (Of course, you have to recognize an error to know not to plan for it, but hold off on that for a minute.) So let's say you know it will take you 2 hours to write 2000 words. Don't schedule yourself to write 2000 words in 2.5 hours, thinking "Boy Child is going to want a microwave burrito, plus I have to answer the phone, and if it's my mother..." It either takes you 2 hours to write 2000 words or it takes you 2.5 hours to write 2000 words. Pick one. If you tack on slack time, you'll use it up and then need more slack time. That's just the way people are. The trick here is deciding what's valid slack time and what's required to get the job done.

IEs call all the fuzzy stuff "delays." (Fancy-schmancy terms, dearies.) You can have allowable delays and unallowable delays. Maybe for you, answering the phone is allowable (personally, I would vote against this being allowable, but that's for you to decide). Or turning on the computer is allowable. (Mine takes forever to boot up. Since I can't work without it on, it's a requirement--unless I decide to leave it always on. But that's for later.) Or checking your email is allowable. In other words, if you sit down to write for 2 hours and use up half that time on other stuff, then you're cheating yourself out of the ability to accomplish your goal, which is to write 2000 words. So you have to plan that extra time in, or you will just end up frustrated and bashing your head against the keyboard (or nearest countertop).

Right. So you've got a schedule. You've got a list of the things you'll allow yourself to do within your writing time. Now you sit down and... Your husband shows up. Maybe he doesn't give you the support you need in your writing career. (Maybe he does, and you're extremely lucky.)

Let's say you've decided to devote 2.5 hours of your evening to writing. The second rule of IE is to get buy-in from everyone affected. You can take your plan with your allowable interruptions and present it to your family. Maybe your kid will point out he needs to go to soccer practice starting in September. Did you remember to factor that in? Or was your plan specifically for what will work this week? Maybe your husband points out that he married you, not the back of your head. Did you consider his feelings when you made your plan?

It may well turn out that your plan for 2000 words in 2.5 hours is only good through the end of August. Let your family know you're willing to revise when soccer practice starts. Encourage your husband to appreciate his time away from you. Perhaps he can take up a hobby. Most important, though, is that YOU deliver what you say you're going to deliver.

That means 2 things. One, that you STOP WRITING after 2.5 hours. That was the deal. If you renege, everyone else feels cheated. They're sacrificing and you're not. The second is that you GET YOUR STUFF DONE. Nothing builds resentment like the DH looking over your shoulder as he passes through the room and you're reading blogs. Trust me, I know. If you cut a deal with your family, you MUST keep up your end of the bargain. If you don't treat your writing time and your goals professionally, they won't, either.

Ok, so let's say you have a completely unsupportive family. Nothing you can do will keep them from resenting the time you spend at your computer. You've already limited your blog-hopping and emailing and loop-reading. You're not doing endless amounts of research where they can see you (but honey, I HAD to know what they put in shortbread!). You're writing, you're producing, and they still don't get it.

If you can't hold a family pow-wow, then you have to decide to do what's best for you. It's a pretty universal truth that when writers don't write, they feel like terrible slackers. It's a deathblow to morale when you feel like you can't find time to get the voices out of your head. This may result in all sorts of creative solutions, or it might end in you giving up.

Personally, and again, we're remembering that I don't have these problems because I decided NOT to have these problems, I have a hard time believing there's NO solution. A lot of the resentment with your husband probably stems from the fact that you're writing when he can see you, i.e. at night. If you can manage to get your chores done early enough that you can write before he gets home, for example, then you'll have a lot less to overcome with him. Or maybe you'll get up early before work.

I can't fix your marriage, but I can try to help you find ways to reduce the detrimental impact your writing can have on your family's quality of life.

A group of mothers can trade kids every day of the week. Groceries can be ordered online and delivered to the house. If your kids are over the age of 14, they can do the shopping while you sit in the car with your alphasmart. (This totally works AND teaches responsibility; my father had me doing the family shopping from a very young age.) Carpets can be left fallow until company is imminent. Paper plates and cups can be used at dinner.

The third rule of IE, then, is to think of the solution that works BEST. Simple is better. Prioritizing is key. Don't think: I can't. Think: What do I want? Then: How do I get it?

Example: I can't have 2.5 hours of free time because I have too much to do.
Example: I want 2.5 hours of free time in the evening.
Obstacles: laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning kitchen, must-see tv, shuttling children, bathing, hubby wants to get some.

Take them one at a time. Again, think of all the ways you can solve each issue.

Ways to reduce laundry:
Eliminate kanban (laundry basket). As someone who despises laundry, I offer up this solution. When you take off your pants, check the pockets. (Actually, it's more efficient to check the pockets while you're still wearing them.) Gather up your dirty clothes and put them directly into the washing machine. Toss out your laundry basket! This will help prevent batching, which will reduce the terror you feel whenever you look at the massive pile of laundry you have to do.

When you go to put that last sock into the tub and see the machine is full, start the cycle. Before you go to bed, chuck the wet clothes into the dryer. Buy colorsafe bleach, if that's your next argument. Have to iron if you leave it in the dryer overnight? Stop buying clothes that need to be ironed!

(Same goes for dishwashers--if the item isn't dishwasher safe, I don't care how many tons of angel hair it can cook in five minutes or less. It's not allowed in the house.)

Or make your kids do their own laundry. I can't tell you how shocked I was when I got to college and found out there actually ARE moms in the world who do all their kids' laundry. WHAT?!!?

For cooking dinner and cleaning the kitchen, think of alternatives. Like I said above, paper plates. You're not a bad mom if you use paper plates. You may be a bad environmentalist, but that's another blogosphere. Make meals in advance. Casseroles, crock pot stuff, etc. Split the chores with someone else (you cook, I'll clean). Eat leftovers. Buy prepared stuff. I remember my mom used to go to Wendy's and get the $.99 side salads. Cheaper than making salad for dinner AND it comes in its own disposable tray!

The point is, when you have a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely), you can think of many, many solutions to get there. When you're determined, you're invincible. Nothing can stop you because you have momentum! Just TRY to get in my way, and see what happens. I dare you.

Which reminds me. In IE, we do something called trystorming. Instead of brainstorming, which is thinking up pie-in-the-sky ideas from the comfort of your desk or conference room, we get down on the shop floor, make glue & paper mockups, and elimate everything that doesn't actually work in production. See, there's a trap up there in your conference room. What sounds fabulous when you're lazing back in your office chair may suck donkey balls in reality. So when you trystorm, you don't think "Hey, wouldn't it be great if?" You get out there, mock up your idea, and see if it works. If it doesn't, you can see exactly why. It gives you a new perspective. If it does work, leave it down there, give it a few weeks and it will be refined even further as people actually use it.

So if you tell your family, "We're eating on paper plates from now on," and they say that will never work, it sucks, my friends will think we're crazy, then just go to Costco, buy 5,000 paper plates, and see what happens. Vow to use all 5,000 before you give up on the idea. Change takes time. There's a fine line between buy-in and bully-in. Just remember, if you don't stick to your guns, no one else will.

What are some of the creative solutions you've come up with? Do you have a negative nancy in your life? Have you ever snuck out to Starbucks to get some alone time? Am I a green little optimist who's all washed up? Hit me!


Erica Ridley said...

If you tack on slack time, you'll use it up and then need more slack time.

Isn't that the truth? I guess I need to stop budgeting slack time in. And stop, er, slacking on my budgeted time. Hmmm

That means 2 things. One, that you STOP WRITING after 2.5 hours. That was the deal. If you renege, everyone else feels cheated. They're sacrificing and you're not. The second is that you GET YOUR STUFF DONE. Nothing builds resentment like the DH looking over your shoulder as he passes through the room and you're reading blogs. Trust me, I know. If you cut a deal with your family, you MUST keep up your end of the bargain. If you don't treat your writing time and your goals professionally, they won't, either.

I have nothing to add to this paragraph. I just wanted to repeat it because it rocks so much.

Freaking awesome post, Lace.

Unknown said...

Ha! Well, with that paper plate stuff, I wouldn't call you "green," but I'm good for the rest.

Great post -- I really liked the stuff about "trystorming" and not planning for errors. My writing time is so limited that I'm working on an experiment. Does this count as "trystorming?"

I keep a big notebook with me at all times and whenever I have "wait time" I write. I'm keeping a time and word log (I hope you're proud of me, Lacey)to see how much work I can actually get done in those random half hours when I'm waiting for the kids or whatever.... Yesterday, I wrote 1500 words (long hand) at my son's football practice and discovered that yes (1) I can still write long hand (imagine that) and (2) if you want to badly enough, you can find the time. Even sitting in a big field with no shade in Florida in August.


PS: My friend without children prefers the term "childfree" to "childless." She thinks "less" implies she's missing something and since I'm happy to let her borrow my children any time she wants them, she says she's not missing anything -- except stains on her carpet and small, plastic toys stuck to the ceiling. (I have boys).

Bill Clark said...

hubby wants to get some


Don't think of this as an obstacle, but as another way to get your creative juices flowing! ;-)

if you don't stick to your guns, no one else will

I love this! It deserves to go in Bartlett's!!

lacey kaye said...

Erica -- I guess I need to stop budgeting slack time in. And stop, er, slacking on my budgeted time.

You and me, both.

Cara!! Hi! Hey, everyone, wave to Cara!

You made me laugh with your so-not-green comment. Ah, the English language and its many intricacies.

I would say not only are you trystorming, but you're thinking outside of the box! And you get extra props for doing ANYTHING in the Florida heat. Yetch. I'm hot just thinking about it.

Have incorporated your "childfree" into my vernacular. Nice.

Bill -- wow, somehow we've manage to be infinitely quotable and also perverted in the same comment. Thanks for making my Thursday ;-)

feywriter said...

So true! When I first got all gung-ho about writing more on a regular basis, I did most of my writing in the evening. At the end of the month, I was glowing at my progress, but hubby was feeling neglected.

I have since moved to daytime writing (for the most part) and things go much smoother. In fact, I've found I write more when he's not looking over my shoulder.

Carrie Ryan said...

(2) if you want to badly enough, you can find the time.

Cara - I think this is so true! I can remember challenging myself to write every day for a month. Some days, the only time I had was while the pasta boiled. But I did it, and I added about 250 words a day doing that. Because I wanted it.

Darcy Burke said...

Best. Post. Ever. Everything about it. There's a thread in there, Lacey, about choice. We all make choices. Make the right/smartest ones for you. You rock.

B.E. Sanderson said...

The Mavens score another winning post. Thanks, Lacey.

When we were still dating, my husband told me that there were always excuses I could make for not writing, and pretty much to knock it off and just write already. (Not his exact words, but you get the gist.) It was like a little lightbuld went off over my head. I took his advice and had the first draft done in the next 6 months - during which time we also got married.

Nowadays, I write what I can when I can. Usually an hour or two after 9pm, because that's the time of day when I'm done teaching, the kid is in bed, and the hubby is relaxing with a baseball game. This semester of school, though, I've decided to edit while my daughter is doing her work, so I can get more done. So far, so good.

Thanks again for an awesome post.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Yes, Lacey, you're an optimist. But don't worry, we love you any way.

Seriously, in my case, I just have to carve my writing time out wherever I can find it. And most days, I can. Does it mean I sometimes rob Peter to pay Paul? You bet. But the alternative is Evil Bitch Mommy-Wife, so I figure it's worth it!

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