Events in the last half of 2012 changed my life forever. Losing my father, splitting up with my partner of twelve years, becoming a published author, picking up two new titles at the day job, moving to a smaller house and other changes disrupted my comfortable patterns and routines. I focused on the positive and, though I wasn’t always sure where the road would take me, kept moving forward.
As a creature of habit, the collective changes to my daily rhythms stressed me out at least as much as any single event. With my system for keeping up with stuff in shambles, things fell through the canyon-sized cracks in my routines. So I’d make an adjustment, vow to do better next time, and move on.
Being on my own for the first time in a very long time, maybe ever, meant new duties and responsibilities. Demands at the day job escalated. Throw in all the time invested in my field research on the dating habits of contemporary gay men, and something had to give.
So I quit writing and going to Athens Writers Workshop meetings. Though I called it a break, I feared I’d never find time to work on another novel. Each gleeful post from my writer pals about new contracts and finished works in progress stoked the engine of my despair. The time had come to re-examine my priorities and expectations.
Having it all just isn’t an option — for anyone. If for no other reason than the number of hours in a day, certain choices preclude others. With time being the primary constraint, I looked at how I’d been spending mine. Work and sleep, given my inability to function without them, are non-negotiable. But everything else warranted a closer look. Did the way I spend my time line up with my priorities?
Of course not. My field research was eating up the biggest chunk, but dating didn’t even make my top-ten list of priorities. Frankly, I don’t have time for a relationship — never mind all the courting and whatnot involved in finding the right person. At least for now, I’ve got more important things to do.
Blogging ate up too much time as well. My expectation — three original posts every week — was outdated and out of sync with my new reality. I couldn’t keep up, much less work ahead. But two a week, one I write and one by a guest, has worked well, enabling me to stay a month or two ahead and freeing up a lot of time.
Expectations around my exercise regimen had to change too. I’d love to run, hit a Zumba class, and lift weights — all three — three times every week. But I can’t, and hanging onto the expectation makes me feel like a failure. Though I’d still like to hit all three activities three times a week, my new expectation is to do one of them every day. Anything more is a bonus. Don’t worry, I miss at least one day every week, so I’m not overdoing anything.
Now the way I use my time lines up more closely with my priorities. I’m writing again. The third novel in the holiday series, tentatively titled, Happy Independence Day, has progressed from outline to a forty-plus page, 18,500 word draft of the first fifteen chapters. I’m real excited about the way the story is coming together.
The comments I get from my writers group are beyond helpful. But I feel the need to wean myself off the rich milk of their constructive criticism. I want to see how I do without them holding my hand every step of the way. So with my current work in progress, I’m trying to keep the story to myself until the first draft is finished.
Normally, half a dozen people would have read at least one draft by now. Until this past weekend, I’d only let a cousin — the only person other than me and my editors to have read After Christmas Eve — to read the first few chapters because I wanted to know if the set up made sense. I sent one chapter to a member of my writers group to see if I’d overdone something — I had, which tells me I need to trust my instincts.
My third novel in the holiday series doesn’t revolve around a serial killer — a device I used in my first two books to keep the reader interested in what happens to the characters. I sent an early draft to a writer friend to find out if I’d created enough tension without a killer to keep the reader interested. After finishing an especially difficult chapter, I broke down Friday and sent the first fifteen chapters to my beta readers.
To help me resist the temptation of starting Happy Independence Day through the critique process with my writers group, I’ve been submitting little chunks of the first person narrative I abandoned a few months back. As always, the comments and suggestions I’m getting from the other writers in the group have been tremendously helpful. Who knows, I might even figure out how to finish it.
Adjusting routines to accommodate all the changes in my life has taken some doing. For now, I’m back in the groove. On this wild and crazy ride that’s so far been my life, I’ve learned at least one thing. If I make it a priority and keep moving forward, anything is possible.