Writing, when the Primary Job is Busy

It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting in my “writing” Starbucks.  I’ve spent the last several hours working on The Repossessed Ghost, and I’m taking a brief break to gather my thoughts and drink a hot drink.  Life is good.

Life hasn’t felt all that great, the last couple of weeks.  Mostly because I’ve been working so hard at my primary job.

Don’t get me wrong.  I really like what I do, and derive a great deal of satisfaction from the programming I’m doing.  I’m creating software that I can be proud of, that’s contributing to the bottom line of my company.  And I’m paid well, and (more importantly) appreciated for my hard work.

Nevertheless, I worked about 120 hours the last two weeks.  I burned the midnight oil, and when I ran out of that fuel, I started setting other things on fire.

Note that I volunteered this time.  I’m a salaried employee, and no one is compelling me to work longer than normal hours.  I’m doing this because I believe strongly in the work that I’m doing, and I want the projects I’m working on to meet their deadline.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and spending that much time at work means I’m spending less time doing other things.  Unfortunately, one of the first things that gets thrown out is my writing.

I continue to save Wednesday nights for writing, and I continued to show up.  But for me, it takes a little bit more than just putting myself in front of the keyboard.  For me, writing is an act of will.  I need to be able to make decisions, find words, and push through all of the anxiety and fear that surrounds my inner editor fills my head with.  In order for me to write, I have to be able to harness my willpower.

When I have burned through all of my energy at work, and I find myself unable to write in the evening, a terrible thought floats through my brain.

“A real writer is compelled to write.  If you were a real writer, you would be writing.”

There’s some truth to that, but it’s also bullshit.  If you just exhausted yourself helping someone move a piano, you can’t expect your next workout to be great.  If you just spent an hour and a half shouting at a concert, you can’t expect your singing voice to be pristine.

Or if you’re like me, and you just spent 10 to 12 hours at work, doing complicated equations and holding entire systems in your head, you shouldn’t expect your writing to come easily, or be stellar.

This all sounds like an elaborate excuse.  It sounds like a doctored up, “I can’t write right now.  I’m too tired.”

Only you can know if you’re bullshitting yourself or not.  Or, if you’re like me and it’s difficult to tell, put yourself in front of the keyboard and try to write.  If it hurts, maybe you’ve strained something and you need to take a break.  If it doesn’t, then keep going.  You’ve successfully dodged self-deluding yourself into not writing.  Reward yourself with more (or better) words in your manuscript!

Okay, break time is over.  Time to harness my willpower and turn my imagination into shareable words.


Emotions and Writing

It’s a lovely Wednesday evening.  Melissa has joined me at the writing Starbucks.  I’m getting ready to dive into editing another chapter or two.  Before I open up Scrivener, I want to talk about strong emotions and writing.

I’ve heard people say that when you’re in the clutch of strong emotion, you should write.  You should channel those feelings into prose, pouring whatever sorrow or joy that’s infecting you onto the page.

Maybe that works for some people, but it doesn’t really work for me.  When I’m particularly angry, as I am this evening, I find the emotion to be as distracting as someone playing loud music next to me.

Why am I angry tonight?  It’s mostly a collection of little things.  I’m a little bit tired.  I’m a little bit hungry.  I ran into a little bit more traffic than I wanted to.  And of course, work has been really busy lately.  I shine under that kind of pressure, but pressure can sometimes generate heat.  For me, heat often means anger.  And I’m feeling it.

Whether it was anger, sorrow, elation, or anticipation, I don’t want too much of it when I’m writing, because when I write, I want to concentrate.  I want to be able to focus and find the right words.

So what do I do when I’m coming into a writing session with a head and heart full of noise?  Honestly, most of the time, I abandon the writing.  I’m good at compartmentalizing, but if I do it too much, I’ll reach a point where the emotions are going to get out when I don’t want them to.  So instead of suppressing, I do something else.  I play a video game.  I surf YouTube.  I drink a beer.  I ride it out.

Tonight, I’m doing something different.  I’m telling you all that I’m a raging tornado tonight, full of fury and cacophony.  This simultaneously gets me warmed up for writing, while also releasing some of the pressure.  I’m almost done with this post, and already the winds of my anger are slowed from throwing mobile homes around to holding kite strings taut.

Maybe I’ll write a story someday where I can just channel the emotions directly onto the page.  I don’t think so, though.  My thoughts have many voices, and the ones with all the nice, descriptive words are difficult to hear when so many others are howling.


Dream Chasing

Happy New Year!

I’ve remained a bit distant in social media, and silent on my blog, but I haven’t been idle.  I’ve been busy programming at work.  I’ve also been busy with music.

I didn’t realize how much I’d been anticipating playing the New Year’s performance with the River City Swing Band.  It was your typical mixture of fear and excitement.  We played four sets, which wound up being almost every song in our book.

Performing in front of people doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I feel fantastic being on stage.  I once told someone that I’m quite comfortable performing, but I realize that’s not quite true.  I enjoy that particular flavor of discomfort.  When that extra pressure to focus and perform is placed on my shoulders, I shine.  I enjoy the energy of being in the moment.

We did a really great job.  The performance wasn’t perfect, but everyone had a really great time.

We had someone filling in for our usual second Alto, and he was absolutely amazing.  He was, quite honestly, a much stronger musician than I am.  He played really well, and it was great playing with him.

The experience of playing with him, and playing with the band, roused some of my inner demons of competition and feeling inadequate.  There was this quiet voice in the back of my head whispering, “This guy is so good.  Why don’t they ditch me and keep him?  It would make the band stronger.”

It’s a maddening voice, because it always sounds so reasonable.  It comes up with different words fitting the same theme with my writing.  It usually says something along the lines of, “You’re never going to go anywhere with this.  You’re not a strong enough writer.  Why are you wasting your time?”

Fortunately, I am getting better at not listening to it.  I’m not wasting my time with my writing.  If anything, it’s the best use of my time because it’s mine to spend, and I’m spending it in the pursuit of my dreams.  Whether my writing goes anywhere or not, I’m honoring the part of me that needs to write.  I’m feeding the part of myself that hungers for more than food.

As for the band?  They seem to be happy with me, and we’re making really fantastic music.  If they ever ask me to leave, then I’ll leave, but I don’t think it’s going to come to that.

I’m not going to spend too much of my time worrying over fears of inadequacy.  Instead, I’ll practice, and get better.  I’m a stronger musician than I was a few months ago.  I’m a stronger writer than I was a year ago.  And in a few more months, I’ll be stronger still.  I just have to be patient with myself, keep my head up, and keep playing and writing.

This is a new year, with new opportunities to get things right.  Let’s make this year awesome, and chase our dreams like we mean to catch them.