Today, we are talking about structure.
Oh, not structuring your great immortal work of literature. Far more incisive brains than mine have written about that—I can recommend K M Weiland’s book on the topic, if you’re desperate for words of wisdom and are fulminating quietly at my letting you down over it here. I didn’t intend this post as a bait-and-switch, fool-’em-into-coming-to-read sort of thing. It really is about structure.
Not my novel’s structure. Mine.
I had an epiphany this week. I came up with a jolt against the realisation that my life is very unstructured. I am drifting here and there with the tide. Which is, you know, restful and effortless, but sadly, doesn’t get you anywhere. Flotsam and jetsam, that’s what my life has become.
And it’s not pretty.
I’m still reasonably active in fandom. I moderate a fanfiction Yahoo group—let’s call it LW— for a forty year old TV western series, as well as managing one of its main archives, and I’ve been worrying recently about the fall off in activity at the group. It’s always been active and vibrant, you see, but the last few months people have just vanished from it. People who had written lots and who have been the backbone of the fandom community there… poof! Gone. I know that people come and people go in fandoms. That’s the nature of the beast. Some of them are writing their own stuff now and others may have gone on to other fandoms. That’s how it goes. But this is marked. It’s a big drop in activity, and the whole atmosphere of LW is one of decline and unenthusiasm. Another Yahoo group, similar in focus to LW but long moribund, has sprung into renewed life and many of the missing people from LW are posting there. It’s perplexing and worrying.
Then one of the members, off list, said something that brought this great epiphany in its wake. She said to me that for a long time now, I haven’t been posting there as a fan, as someone who loved the show and wanted the fiction to thrive. But that I’ve only been posting there as a moderator: do this, please, people or don’t do that. She was right. Oh boy was she right.
And as I started to defend myself, I sat down and looked at all the things I’m doing:
– final revise of Shield 2, taking on amends suggested by crit group (I’m two meetings behind there)
– sort of writing Golden Scarab. In a desultory way.
– manage the LW archive website – which includes putting up every story ever written (about 200 of them) by the fandom’s most prolific writer. Each one has to be checked for crap HTML, too. Not a simple job, even doing 5 or 6 stories a day. Today I managed 2 stories and it took 90 minutes to clean up the texts
– manage the website for my husband’s orchestra
– beta advice to two or three people (am several chapters behind…)
– a long technical edit for a friend’s second book, and reformatting the manuscript (just finished that).
– crit and comment on two other writers’ works, for a regular Skyping crit group
– daily moderation of the LW group, which at the moment includes worrying obsessively about how to revive it and finding the time to write an article for it on how to offer real feedback. And find time to comment on the stories posted.
– fanfiction commitments – I must finish one story that’s been back burnered for 18 months
– Pinterest and sparkly tiaras! (Don’t ask, but that place sucks up hours that I don’t have to spare)
– my mother. She lives with us now and needs companionship etc
– housework (a too-big four bedroom London house) and cooking. The house is shamefully shabby
– walking the dog twice a day
– my poor, neglected husband…
And I realised that I’m not doing any of this well. I’m not doing it well because I’m not focused, not sharp—not the way I used to be when I was working full time. Then my days had structure. I had project plans and deadlines and I worked my arse off to reach them. The sense of achievement when I did, buoyed me up for the next task. I was enthusiastic and, well, I had purpose. Now my days just have flotsam and jetsom. I’m just drifting from one thing to another and doing them all badly.
The worst casualty (apart from LW) is my writing. We’re half way through the month and I’ve written about 5000 words. That is just unacceptable. I could have sent Shield out to another publisher three months ago. Instead I’ve let that drift. And that, too, is unacceptable.
It’s not good enough and it has to change. I’ve started by looking at my day and all these darn things I have to do in it, and drawing up a tentative ‘project plan’, with times for walking Molly and times for socialising with Mum, but putting the afternoons aside to work. I have a *chart* with coloured blocks on it and earnest little memos to self typed on it: Tuesday is clean kitchen day! and Don’t forget to walk Molly! and Take Mum to shops…
I wish I could show it to you. It is a thing of *beauty*. It’s focused, driven, planned. It takes all the things I need to do and it weaves them into a structured sort of existence where I’m back in control and I have
purpose, and plans, and (possibly arbitrary!) deadlines to help me get back on track. What I want to do is exchange all that nasty horrible flotsam up there (↑) for something honed and beautiful that will bring me pleasure not guilt. To continue the sea metaphor, if I have to have my life tumbled about in the waves, then this should be the end result, not rubbish:
I have a chart. I will have purpose. I will drift no longer.
I’ll start next week…
I have found this to be a real problem myself when I have too much unstructured time–in many ways I was more productive when I had to make the best use of my limited time (and not waste it on the internet! 🙂 )
Up to a point, though. When I am working too many hours/week, it just sucks the creativity right out of me. That’s why in one way, I am grateful for the reduced hours at the moment. Yes, it sucks when it comes to paying the bills, but there *is* more to life than paying bills. It has taken me a couple of months of “whee! more free time!” to figure out how to get the most out of it, though. And oddly enough, it meant putting more structure back into the day. Great post!
I was so determined when I retired that I wouldn’t just drift along, but that I’d use my free time wisely. This has really been a wake-up call to me, a shot across the bows warning that I’ve failed to keep that promise. The result is that I’m struggling to keep my head above water and deal with everything, because I don’t have a plan for dealing with everything.
And what a lot of water/sea/nautical imagery has pervaded this post!
Good luck. I haven’t been able to force myself to stick to a schedule yet. I spend waaaayyy too much time RPing with Fingers & Kamikaze, even though that will hopefully lead to some more original stuff. I haven’t been sucked into Pinterest too much, though I have an account & have snagged more than one photo from there. There’s just too darn much to choose from!
I love Pinterest. My Pinterest boards get mentioned all over the place as a go to set to look at tiaras. But seriously, it *eats* time. I have got to control my time there otherwise an entire day passes with me pinning or rearranging boards.
I promised myself when I retired that I wouldn’t just let myself float along, but here I am, three years later, floating. Time to get a grip, I think
I think at first, some floating is not only good for you, but necessary. You’ve put in a lifetime of schedules and To Do lists. It’s good to free yourself from the tyranny of little tasks and say, “You know what? I don’t *have* to turn around now. I can keep walking if I want to.”
Eventually, however, I think we all need to put structure in our lives if we want to accomplish anything. When we have large blocks of time, it feels like we’ve got plenty of time to get x-y-z done. But that’s before you add in family responsibilities and frittering away the morning on the internet.
The internet is the biggest time waster for me. I feel I *must* answer emails, and check out Facebook, and post to my website, and in truth, I do. But I need to set time limits on it: half hour, no more. What doesn’t get answered today can wait until tomorrow. The internet can survive without me. 🙂
What I try to do now is use that first half hour when I get home (after feeding the animals and walking the dog and making dinner, that is), when I finally sit down at the computer, for catching up with my social media sites and then saying, “Time’s up!” until tomorrow. That works better on some days than others.
That’s in part what my new chart will train me to do. I’ll internet and skype when I get up, until 8, then it’s off to shower and dress and get Molly to the park. AFter that, no more until I’m lunching and can do a mild catch up then.
We’ll see if I can keep to it!
As someone else who has been catapulted into a somewhat unstructured way of life after years of working full-time, I found a lot of food for thought in this. Firstly, though, I think some unstructured time is probably a really good thing to experience after years of deadlines and related pressures. You’ve earned a break!
One of the things I’ve found most helpful in achieving things on a daily basis rather than pleasantly drifting has been to use a spreadsheet with daily writing targets set out on it. The base design was by someone much better with Excel than I am who put it together for NaNo; unfortunately I can’t remember who it was or from where I got it, but if it is something that might be helpful, let me know and I’ll send you a copy. It has a pie chart and bar graph mapping one’s progress, and I get such satisfaction from beating my targets that it’s a great motivator.
I suspect, though haven’t been strong-minded enough to do this more than once or twice, I’d get a lot more done if I closed my browser while on the PC. It may not be Pinterest for me, but I certainly have sites which I seem to think will disappear if I don’t pop in on them every twenty minutes or so.
The best of luck with your chart. I’d love to hear how it goes! 🙂
Oh, do send me the spreadsheet! As you’ll have gathered from my delight in my nice coloured chart, I’ve got as much of a visual imagination as I have a word one, and I thrive best on visual aids!!
And yes. I should really write on a laptop that is not web enabled. That would keep me off the sites that seem to drag me in!
(Happy Birthday, btw!)