Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Productivity and Pep Talks

“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card… and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

- Joyce Carol Oates

Feeling the sweet leisure of summer was slipping through my fingers, I decided to make Monday a productive one. How had a month passed by so quickly? The last two weeks, I’ve endured restless sleep and a twisting stomach. What will I have to do if I’m a daily substitute teacher again? September is chasing after me.

I awoke to the sounds of grinding construction equipment redoing the sidewalk and curb next to my home. Peering at the clock, I saw it was just after 7:00 am, which was a good a time as any to get something, anything accomplished.

After checking my e-mail, I surfed a couple of website for jobs. I found two Building Substitute positions listed in Cambridge. I redid my cover letters for each position and applied. In addition, I e-mailed the principals to tell them how often I’d subbed in their buildings, how well I’d worked with specific staff and students, and how I’d love to work in those schools. And I made sure to attach my cover letter and resume.

When that stressful task was completed, I read a few blogs and checked Facebook. Laundry also needed to be done, so I threw in the first load. My daughter was up by then, so we snuggled. My son doesn’t snuggle as much as he used to, but he gave me a nice hug and we had a nice conversation as I prepared breakfast.

While the kids ate, I did some sit-ups and pushups. Can’t let my body fall apart while I’m in this dismal mental state, can I?

I looked over one of my critique group member’s manuscript, and made suggestions. I still hadn’t done anything related to MY writing.

Besides needing to write, edit, submit more queries, keep a house going, spend time with my children, and look for jobs, I also gave myself a goal of 100 books to read this year*. I know, stupid. But I’ve been crafting some good ways to get close even if I can’t reach 100:

Books, books EVERYWHERE.

1. I have a light reading book in my bathroom. When my daughter was younger and took baths, I read to keep an eye on her without being bored while she played. Then I decided, why not read while brushing my teeth? I read anywhere from 4-6 pages per day. Right now, I’m reading Secret Lives of Great Authors but before that I read Page After Page because it’s an excellent way to get through books on writing.

2. Stephen King recommends always having a book with you. For women, this is easy. I keep a paperback in my handbag to be retrieved when I’m waiting for my children at school, am on line at the post office, or on a break at work. I just tucked Voices of Ire by Aubrie Dionne in my tote.

3. I’ve discovered audio books make long drives go by seamlessly. To and from Maine, my son, daughter, and I listened to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Not only is the man a gifted writer, but also his soothing British accent is perfect for his audio book. (And what a way for a writer to make more money! Too bad nobody would want to listen to my voice for 7 ½ hours.) Normally, I call my father when I get off at I 295, to give let him know how much longer I’ll be. When I reached that spot, I couldn’t tear my ears away from Neil Gaiman. I told myself I’d call my dad when I got to Wiscasset in case I got stuck in traffic. Then I told myself I’d call him when I had to change discs. The next thing I knew, I pulled into his driveway. (Sorry, Dad.)

4. Lastly, I have my main book, which is often a hardcover. Right now, I’m reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling. I know - it’s long. But it’s not as long as book 5 (This one is only 652 pages). I can’t just stop partway through the series, can I? Then there’s just one more to go.

If only I could figure out my writing life the way I’ve figured out my reading life.

Around noon, I walked with my kids to the library. When we got home, we ate lunch. My critique group planned to meet at 2 pm.

The problem was that after my morning applying and obligations, I didn’t have anything left in me to write. The next two mornings weren’t looking too hot for productivity either. And mornings are normally my most productive time. How do these days keep filling up?

I resolved to force productivity later in the day.

But then I went to my critique group, which zapped so much life out me I was going to have to crawl to the kitchen to cook dinner.

Until I read this unorthodox pep talk:


Besides making me miss New York City, it made me laugh. In Page After Page, Heather Sellers likens discipline to write everyday to training for a marathon. This post reminded me of that chapter. We writers are runners (Well, not me, because I hate to run). Just because we may not win a race (I won’t), doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep running (or walking or biking or inline skating).

Just do it.

And I got a second wind after I cooked dinner, writing up a storm well into the night.

My reading post:



  1. Okay, now I'm hoping some of that second wind blows my way. I talk and write about writing and then have nothing left to write. I was thinking of letting it go until tomorrow... but you've convinced me to try and get some words down tonight :-)

  2. Phew. So many things going at once!
    I hope those applications pan out, every attempt is another chance.
    Neil Gaiman rocks!
    Gambatte on your reading and writing! : j

  3. Thanks for including me in your post! Again! I hope you get some writing done! I'm moving pretty slow this month as well. Too busy with flutey things. *sigh*

    I hope you get a job!!! It's so exciting (and scary) sending resumes out.

  4. @ Charmaine, I love blogging but I've cut down my # of posts per week because it zapped to much creative energy.

    Good luck writing tonight!

    @ Alesa, I like, "Every attempt is another chance." Well put!

    Neil Gaiman does rock. Now I want to read more of his books.

    @ Aubrie, I've missed you and your manuscripts while you've been doing your flutey things.

    It is scary getting resumes out. At this point, it's only exciting if they call for an interview.

  5. What I want to know is what you did with all your spare time. Wow!

    What I like is that you're moving. I seem to sit all day at my computer. I need to move more, change things up.

    Good luck on the job search.

  6. Yeah it's hard (impossible) to do everything. So we have to set priorities.

    I read (or re-read) one book a week. That's a pretty good pace.

  7. Whew! I'm tired just reading about all you accomplish in a day!

  8. @ Helen, I spend a lot of time at my computer too. I squeeze it in between everything else. I'm also trying to use my computer time for writing time instead of surfing, e-mail, FB, and blogging time.

    @ LR, setting priorities is a good way to look at it. I think one book a week is impressive.

    @ Edith, it tires me too. In a few minutes I'm going to iron.

  9. Oh shoot! I forgot I had laundry going. Thanks for reminding me. I'd better go put it in the dryer. The wash cycle should be done by now...

  10. I've been feeling a little overwhelmed lately too. Right now I'm in the middle of reading 3 books, but really the only time I get to read is late at night.

    Good luck with job-hunting!

  11. I love that quote from Joyce Carol Oates, how brilliant is that. I need to copy it. I'm impressed that you did situps and exercise while in your dismal state. That's always the first thing to go when i'm in a dismal state!

  12. I love your new look blog!!! I love it !! It's got that weed thingie that you blow off into the wind and wish!!!

    Good luck with your job applications. I hate doing them - absolutely hate them - I hate that I have to muster up enthusiasm for the job I am applying for - maybe it works for the first 2 or 3 but afterwards - it's a chore!! But you do it cos it's gotta be done!! GOOD LUCK!!!

    And yay for your reading matter!! Oh I'd love to try an audio book at least once - I used to listen to radio alot - not just the music stations, the discussions, game panel shows, the Archers! and really enjoyed that - so I ought to try an audio book too.The Neil Gaiman sounds like a fab one to start on!

    And of course GOOD LUCK with your writing and querying!! Yes the race is long and hard and strewn with hurdles but you carry on! I think you;ve gone this far and there's no turning back now! Just going forwards!

    Take care

  13. love the push up and sit ups...good for you...love e x

  14. @ Liz, I feel like I always have laundry going. I'm glad my blog could be a service to you.

    @ Amanda, thanks. So, you're a book juggler too.

    @ KarenG, I came across the quote from The Chocolate Chip Waffle blog and saved it for the right occasion.

    @ Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella), my head often spins and then I sit comatose on the couch at the end of the day.

    @ Old Kitty, I love my new blog too. I'm sure everyone feels like me, and wants to stare at/admire it all day.

    I sent out job applications as they come, but unlike my SASE's, they don't come back to me.

    I'd definitely recommend starting with Neil Gaiman. I hope he narrated more audio books.

    @ e x, now I just have to do yoga and biking, and I'll really be in shape.

  15. Can I just say that today I felt like I was having trouble breathing while reading this post, due to the fact that you shove so much crap in a day I can barely keep up! I feel like I need a second wind now having just read this!

  16. I tried reading 100 books in a year once. I got to 76 before I finally gave up. It was the year I was working full time, taking night classes, planning a wedding and getting married, and then house hunting. I really should try it again.

  17. Yay for writing storms! Love how you manage to balance such a busy life.

    Your #3 made me laugh. Nobody would want to listen to my voice either. No faster way to butcher a story than to ask me to read it out loud.

  18. Oh my gosh, that was hilarious! I don't know if I could ever say that to myself in a mirror...I'd be too busy cracking up, but under all that is a lot of truth. I had a friend give me some good advice just a week or so before I began blogging in February. Basically, he said that our 'gifting' was something we want, and usually the thing we struggle with the most. Without thinking, I blurted out that I struggle with writing. He said that he's always felt I should be writing, so I began with the blog-as a discipline.

    It's been weeks since I've written anything on my WIP. I have tons of excuses/reasons...but so what? Like you, I can find lots of creative ways to make time for reading. I think it's because I struggle with believing I can really do this. So, I really want to say thanks for that link. It's a kick in the booty that I need.

    I really hope you find what you're looking for in the job market. The set of schools you talked about sounds promising...I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you...

  19. @ Jen, maybe it sounds worse when it's crammed into 1000 words. But it is hard to keep up mental energy for writing when I keep spending it elsewhere.

    @ Surfie, you're my hero. I'm amazed you squeezed reading with all of that. If you're less busy, I'm sure you'd have no problem reading 100 books in a year.

    @ Jennifer, ha! at least my kids don't complain when I read to them aloud. Then again, maybe that's what motivated my daughter to read on her own...

    @ The Words Crafter, I felt the same way about the speaking aloud in front of a mirror part. I wanted to quote it here, but some people get persnickety about curses.

    I know what you mean since I make plenty of excuses too. When I write a rough draft and there's no fear attached to editing, nothing stops me from writing, anywhere, anytime. But edits seem to use a different part of my brain.

    Well, I hope the writing kick in the booty works for you like it did for me. I worked on my manuscript even more today.

  20. Summer does indeed fly by! I can't believe August is just around the corner.

    It's easy to become worn down with everything life wants from us. Little steps is the only way I can cope.

  21. WoW! You've got a lot going on!!! Love your attitude and drive.

  22. I've been meaning to give audio books a try at the gym. I'm tired of my music but can't think of new songs to add...I can download books from my library website, but somehow just haven't got there yet!

  23. You seem to manage everything MUCH better than I would if I was in your position. 100 books -- wow! That's awesome.

    Good luck with the job applications, that's where I am, too -- trying to find a sub or aid job for the upcoming school year.

  24. @ Jemi, I should take your advice and focus on little steps. My mind keeps wandering to big picture.

    @ Bossy Betty, thanks. I'm trying to stay focused and positive. It's really hard.

    @ Vicki, my mother-in-law loves audio books. For years, she listened to them while commuting to and from work. Now she has an iPod and downloads them while she walks on the beach.

    @ Shelley, it's only a goal. I don't KNOW if I'll read 100 books.

    Good luck finding a job. Ideally, I'd take a full-time Social Studies position, but I'd rather be a building sub than a daily sub.

  25. Don't get down on yourself for not being as productive as you'd like over the summer - you've got kids at home! And they won't be kids forever, so enjoy them while you can. And best of luck with your job hunt!!!

  26. Aww, I hope you get some (more) writing done (I know you've made progress today).

    And don't worry, keep your head up and stay positive, you'll find something! I know how you feel, but don't let it get you down! Good things are on the way :)

  27. The only writing I've gotten done was at about 2 a.m. I got two ideas for picture books, so I hopped up from the sofa (I'm scared to get too far away from the sump pump) and jotted down my ideas...After discovering mold in my basment, I celebrated with a break from life...and went out for an awesome dinner to get my mind off the mess in the basement. We were going to take the dog on a late night walk, but found a lost kitten and went door to door trying to find it's home. (Smiles) We found it's home...a local farm vet gets kittens droped off at his house all of the time and it was one of them. I think if it gets lost again at my house it will mean it chose me. :) He said he would love it to choose me. So it turned out quite nice...

    Good job on all of your reading!

  28. Great Joyce Carol Oates quote. Great post. Great (fun) verse. Keep on truckin' :) - Stasia

  29. Now that was a productive morning.

    Good skill with the positions that you applied for.

    Also, thumbs up for the abdominal workouts--even with little ones running around here I still make myself do situps and pushups. No time for the gym, but I can at least do that.

  30. Oh, Theresa, so much of this hit me in my heart. I have been feeling so much of this post lately! I have done ZERO writing this summer. I have been so busy and it is slipping away so quickly. Ugh!

    I needed this today. Thanks! :-)

    And good luck with those jobs.

  31. @ Susan, you're right, my children won't be little forever. But I also want something to happen on the teaching/publishing front.

    @ WritingNut, thanks for the encouragement. I hope you're right.

    @ Sharon, great you were productive at 2 am.

    Sorry about the mold. I hope the kitten comes back.

    @ SWK, thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

    @ Slamdunk, I feel the same way about sit ups. I should at least be able to squeeze that in.

    @ Shannon, thanks. I hope you get some writing time in because I know you'll feel better. I always do.

  32. I'm impressed that you did exercises in the middle of all of this! Gosh - you are dedicated!

    Good that you got your second wind. I can do with one of those right about now.

  33. At the beginning of this summer I promised myself I would be productive, but unfortunately I haven't gotten as much done per day as you have. I've gotten caught up with teaching, my website job, and dog sitting for my parents, that I haven't done all the other things I'm supposed to do. I have started working on my second novel, though, so I figure that's something.

  34. @ Talli, I appreciate the second wind I got, especially since I just came back from my daughter's birthday party for 3 1/2 hours in the hot sun, and I know no wind is coming today.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, working on your second novel + the list of the other things you've done sounds pretty good. It's hard to do everything we plan to.

  35. Hi Theresa! Blogging brought me back to writing. I like to blog because it's some sort of an outlet to vent out, to express my feelings and to write my thoughts out. It's so nice to know you get 300 visits per day! :-)

  36. @ Len, it's good that blogging brought you back to writing. I don't know what writers did in the time before blogs.