Thursday, December 17, 2009

Projects, Jobs, and Interruptions

Quick heads up - Naked Science has a program about Lascaux this evening! It looks a little fringy (astronomy among the bulls? Seriously?), but still - squee! Check your local listings.

Anyway, I have a lot of things I need to do, but have to focus on one thing at a time in order to get it done. So I try to arrange my days to include a small handful of "jobs" - things like checking e-mail, sweeping, weeding - and work on one "project" - researching or writing or revising a book, sewing an outfit, planting a garden. On really good days I can keep up with my jobs while progressing with one housework and one writing project. On bad days, I have one interruption after another and don't do anything.

What's an interruption? The day job was an interruption. A 9-hour long interruption every freaking day. But I'm shed of that now and we won't think about it. The dishwasher blowing up, the phone ringing every five minutes from a call center, vertigo. The worst interruption ever was 2005. The Year from Hell, for everybody I knew. It took me two years to recover from that one, and I still feel it dragging behind me. Everyone was in crisis that year, no one had any spare energy, and who ever was in the least trouble at any given moment had to step up and shoulder some burden for one of the others. I held a house cleaning party and people came. One of us needed a loan and had no security; one of us wrote a check.

And the one good thing I brought with me out of that train wreck of a year was this: the wheel keeps turning if everybody turns it. Nowadays, if a job needs doing. I'm the one with control of my own schedule. I'm the one to do it. All my other projects will wait for me. So if any of my friends has a problem I can help with - feeding their cats, babysitting, being on call in case - that's not an interruption. That's a project, or a job, or it's just life.

You have to be a little selfish to write. I personally am a little anti-social. In some ways I'm not even a very good person. But you can't give up being human. We are social animals and supporting each other is what we do. I've known people (women especially but not exclusively) who gave up everything else they wanted in order to be the Supercaretaker, the one who is always there and always steps up to the plate, but I don't think that's good for us. We have a right to our own goals and our own purposes, and Supercaretaker has a hard time accepting help when she needs it. Supercaretaker would work herself to death and abandon all her other ambitions before admitting she needed help, or can't manage to give it this time.

This week my writing project is putting stuff back into the mail. I have six books to sell, five of which are making the rounds of publishers and one of which is dedicated to finding me an agent. This is the hardest part of the business for me. Something about getting the attention of a total stranger fills me with terror. The book is good, I know it is; but I become convinced that my personal shortcomings are so major they'll sink the book before it has a chance to strut its stuff. I have to personalize each query, revise and possibly rewrite from scratch every hook and synopsis, and usually wind up giving another polish to manuscripts I thought I was done with. That's after I comb all my market notes and research to decide who the next right person for this manuscript is. Each query takes me hours. I never have gotten the hang of spacing these out, and they tend to all get into the mail, and therefore to need to be sent out again, in clusters. Right now I have four to go. I'll be satisfied with myself if I select an editor and get a draft of my submission packet put together for one of them. For some reason I'm down right now, don't feel like the kind of person who ever sells a book or does anything useful ever again. But I'll do this anyway. Proposals don't mail themselves.

If there's one thing in the world I've learned doesn't matter, it's how I feel. Being in touch with my feelings doesn't get the work done. Indulging my ego doesn't get the work done. Talking about working doesn't get the work done. Only working gets the work done; and whether it's cleaning toilets, mailing manuscripts, or giving CPR, it's gotta be done.

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