Struggling With Work Ethics and Downtime

WHAT’S PLAYING: White Town “Your Woman”

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

                        – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

No offense to Mr. Brown, but just because something is correct doesn’t make it right. I’ve always had a problem with time management. Sometimes I swear I can literally feel it slipping through my fingers.

There are never enough hours in the day or days in a year. Not for everything I want to do.

Don’t believe me? Here is a breakdown of a typical workday:

3:00 AM – First alarm. Time for morning workout.

3:00:05 AM – Wake up, hit snooze, and go back to sleep, promising to exercise after work.

3:55 AM – Second alarm from across the room. Cursing the clock, my job, and mornings in general, stumble out of bed to shut it off.

4:00 AM – Coffee, shower, and more coffee.

4:30 AM – More coffee. Leave for work.

6:30 PM – Back home, exhausted and hungry.

6:30:05 PM – Stare at workout gear. Eat dinner instead.

7:00 PM – Plop down on the couch and watch whatever’s on the DVR.

8:00 PM – Shower.

8:30 PM – Set alarm for 3AM so I can get up early to exercise.

8:30:30 – Sleep.

Rinse and repeat.

Days off are pretty much the same. Except instead of work, I have an endless list of chores and errands I wasn’t able to do earlier in the week. Not to mention the six hours a day I devote to writing. Sometimes, I exercise. (Not often, but it  happens.) By the time night rolls around, I still haven’t accomplished half the things I set out to do.

Time is my nemesis. Guess who’s winning?

Part of the problem is my tendency to get caught up in little things. I’m an organization freak. While cleaning the house, I’ll stop scrubbing or vacuuming just to alphabetize my movies and books. Or I’ll revise the same paragraph repeatedly to get it “just right” before moving on.

Then there is the time I spend watching movies, playing video games and surfing the web. You know, being useless. I figure I should be able to devote as much time to living as I do to earning a living. Right?

Even though I’ve earned my downtime, I still feel guilty every time I glance at the clock and realize that I’ve been playing “Uncharted 3” for three hours. Thus, begins what I like to call “Jacqui’s Cycle of Chagrin”.

First, the guilt turns into shame. Not your everyday, run-of-the-mill shame either. I’m talking the bone-deep, nerve-twisting kind of shame found only in a house full of hardworking Southerners.

Next, the shame turns into resentment. Who says I have to work all the time?

Finally, I give up and try to force myself to be productive. It’s rarely successful. By that time, I’m so emotionally exhausted that even writing seems like a chore, which makes me feel like a colossal failure. Thus, completing the cycle.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking that maybe time isn’t my enemy after all. Maybe it’s me, my need to be a better writer, chemist, friend, sister, daughter, etc…just better. Perhaps the answer isn’t more time or even better use of it, but learning to relax and be happy in the present moment. We all need to take a break every now and again.

Even from dreams.

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Note to Self: Keep Moving Forward

WHAT’S PLAYING: The Pierces “Lights On”

“It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you don’t stop.”

Confucius

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, writing is hard. And, for me at least, it doesn’t get any easier. Sure, I’m a better writer now than I was a year ago, but the actual process of getting ideas out of my head and on to the page remains both frustrating and futile. For every page I write, I delete two. You do the math.

My problem is that I’m a perfectionist. The attention to detail that makes me a good chemist is anathema to creativity. I get caught up in the little things, debating comma placement instead of focusing on writing. I lose perspective. Then I lose patience. Finally, I lose the story.

Every word must be dissected, weighed, and measured by my internal critic before it can see the light of day. Let’s call her “Bitchy Jacqui” or “BJ”. (Insert pun of your choice *here*.) That nagging little “expletive” is forever reminding me that, no matter how good I might think a particular piece of writing is, it’s not good enough. I can’t seem to translate the images in my head to the written word. Not perfectly.

BJ does have a point. I’m not nearly as good a writer as I someday hope to be. I’m learning, and happy to be doing so, but still, there are so many stories I want to tell and my writing is just not good enough to pull them off.

At least, not yet.

I’m lucky enough to have a great mentor who also happens to be a fantastic writer. I’ve been promising to send him the first chapter of my novel for over a year now, and still haven’t done it. It’s not ready yet. It’s not perfect. I have nightmares in which he shows up at my door, waving pages and demanding why I wasted his time with such drivel. (I know. I have issues.)

Letting go of perfection isn’t easy for me. Do it right the first time is sort a battle cry for my profession. Let’s face it, if there’s any career where perfectionism is required, it’s nuclear power. That and the medicine.

The trick is having patience. With myself and with life in general. I know that my skills will grow with time and practice, and I’m putting in the necessary work to improve: taking classes, writing, reading, etc. I just have to give myself time.

What are you doing to bring you closer to your dreams? How are you moving forward? What motivates you to keep pushing for the life you truly desire?

Things won’t always work out the way I want. I can’t control that. What I can control is how I deal with setbacks.

I choose to move forward.

How about you?

Writing Lessons From Mom (Part 1) — Motivation

WHAT’S PLAYING:  Sting “Fields of Gold”
 
Director: “Ok, when I say ‘Action!’, I need you to walk over and punch Jim on the nose. Got it?”
Actor: “What’s my motivation?”
Director: (Blank look.) “To get to the other side of the room and punch Jim on the nose.”
 
When I was about ten, a fad swept through my neighborhood. Whenever one of the cool kids was asked to do something, he or she would look up, cock an eyebrow and ask: “What’s my motivation?” (Sort of a snarky way of saying “Why should I?”)
 
That summer, I decided that I was going to change my image from painfully shy bookworm to ultra cool loner. I swaggered around the neighborhood, dressed in black and draped in silver costume jewelry (and sweating like a whore in church because it was July in Missi-freaking-ssippi). I even learned how to raise one eyebrow that summer and thought that made me the very definition of cool. For one whole day, every time someone would ask  me to do something, I would call on my newly acquired skill, cock an eyebrow, and say, “What’s my motivation?” I even said it to my mother once.
 
Just once.
 
My mother subscribed to the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child philosophy and if there was one thing she could not stand, it was a disrespectful child. Needless to say that my “cool” makeover ended with a sore bottom and great wisdom: When your mother asks you to do something, your sole motivation is to avoid pissing her off.
 
As a writer, I’ve had to reverse my thinking. Every time a character says or does something, I have to constantly ask myself why. Why would Jim/John/Nancy walk through that door/poison his wife/mix plaid with stripes? Why would my hero or heroine put themselves in jeopardy in order to save someone else? Why is my villain working so hard to oppose my hero or heroine and vice versa? Without suitable motivation for their actions, characters just don’t work in fiction.
 
While it’s true that we all do things for no reason in real life, that just won’t fly in fiction. Whenever I run upon a character (no matter how cool or unique or well-drawn) who runs pell-mell through a story without rhyme or reason, I usually put the book down and won’t pick it up again. As writers, we have to ask a lot of our characters. So go ahead. Ask.
 
What’s your motivation?
 
But, whatever you do, don’t ask my mother.