I used to thrive under pressure. I worked a ten-hour day, ran errands on my lunch hour, picked up dinner before catching the bus home and did some freelance writing on the side. My house was clean and tidy, my pets were well taken care of and I threw dinner parties that involved recipes from Gourmet Magazine. When I left my job for a six-month sabbatical, three people took over my various responsibilities. Even when I started freelancing from home as a software developer, I became so engrossed in my projects that I would forget to eat or even get up to pee until I was in dire pain. And I was never more productive than when I was under a deadline, particularly if I'd put off something until the last minute. Case in point: I took on a fairly large programming job when I was seven months pregnant. It would have been impossible for me to finish it in two months, so I just figured I'd keep cranking it out after Grace was born. Hahahahahah!
I started working on Soft Landing (you know, my NOVEL?) before I had Grace, and tinkered around with it for years. Only when Grace was around two did I find the inspiration to quit messing around and get to work. (Until Grace was two, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom. Grace had a part-time nanny (hi, Sandi!), ostensibly because I was still finishing the aforementioned project, along with tweaking programs for some past clients. When Sandi was there, however, I usually napped or went grocery shopping.) So I was the mother of a toddler, still working, and I managed to write a book in my free time.
These days, it can take me a whole day (while Grace is at pre-school, mind you) to do the things I used to do on my lunch hour or after work. Even then, it's never done. Chaos reigns here in The Cave, and in my oddly dysfunctional brain, I can't convince myself to spend any significant time writing unless everything is in order. Which is absurd, because everything will never be in order. It's a problem. I know it's not a terribly original problem, that even writers who love to write will find countless reasons to not write. But I have a limited window to finish my current novel, and it's getting smaller and smaller.
We live in the midst of unpacked boxes, dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, toys strewn everywhere and tumbleweeds of dog hair floating about. My own personal nemeses are stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills; missed appointments and unanswered emails; half-finished paperwork and neglected correspondence that taunt me every time I glance at my desk. I know women who manage to keep up with life's chores while working full-time and raising kids. I am no longer one of those women. I try to blame part of it on being a single mom, but that's just weak. I have plenty of time to take care of business; I simply choose to spend (waste?) my time on other things. I've become that flaky woman who always seems to be spinning her wheels, complaining about all there is to do.
A few weeks ago, I had dinner with an old friend and he asked me what I do all day. I was completely stumped. I could have lied and said I write, but it's been so long since I've done any serious writing, I've lost track of the characters in my novel. This is not a good sign. I have days of spectacular productivity, days where I am so disgusted by the state of the apartment that I do everything at once: laundry, dishes, paperwork, grocery shopping, etc. I feel good about it afterwards, but then, rather than taking advantage of my freedom from household tedium to write, I reward myself by hanging out with friends, spending too much time online and, of course, blogging.
I'm realizing that waiting until my life is in order to get serious about writing doesn't encourage me to keep chaos at bay. Because I'm not one of those women anymore. I need to get comfortable with that fact, to learn that I can do what's necessary and let the rest wait. I need to make writing a bigger priority than worrying about unpacked boxes and unfolded laundry. In fact, writing should be at the top of the list, along with keeping Grace alive and nurturing relationships that nourish me and keep me sane. (Okay, almost sane.)
I've joined a writing group. We meet once a week to share our projects and provide/receive feedback. My objective was purely selfish: to light a fire under my ass that will help me finish my novel. But it turns out I've stumbled into a group of writers who are not only smart, fun and funny, they are also intimidatingly good at what they do. I've been inspired by what I've heard of their work, and I've received feedback on my novel that surprised me by its insight and, well, total awesomeness. I got lucky, and I'm going to take advantage of this chance, and challenge, to stay focused on writing and, I hope, make some great friends in the process.
The dishes are washed. The laundry is (mostly) done. Grace is happy and healthy and with her father for the next few days. I'm going to pretend to not notice the boxes stacked around the apartment, and the mess on my desk. (Except for Grace's kindergarten enrollment, which I need to complete and deliver to the school — which starts NEXT WEEK. Last-minute Laurel prevails!) Other than that, I'm going to plant my ass on the couch (which smells faintly of pee due to an ill-timed nap by Gigi), and get to know my characters again. I'm pretty excited about this.
My new mantra: I love to write. I love to write. I love to write.