Writing Saves Me

ceremony_002I have never missed a deadline in my life. Until this month.

When I used to hear published authors talk about being behind on a book, I judged them. How lucky were they? Didn’t they realize? What was their problem? Why risk losing a career most writers would do anything to get?

So, as happens when I judge just about anyone or anything, it happened to me so the universe could show me exactly how someone might miss a deadline. For the first time in my life, I took on too many work projects, including the third Blue Lake book. It happened because I have always been able to juggle everything. I taught emotionally impaired high school kids days, went to grad school at night, read every novel on the syllabus, including Ulysses (the James Joyce one!), labored over A+ essays on the weekends, wrote my Master’s Thesis, raised my sons, and had dinner on the table every night.

My time was squeezed so tight sometimes I couldn’t take a phone call or have a cup of coffee with family. But I still made homemade cookies every Christmas and gave away dozens of tins as gifts. That was then. This is now. And I can’t do it all anymore. Much to my surprise, I have slowed down. Must have been over the winter of ’13 when I wasn’t looking.

I knew the last thing I added to my schedule in September was too much, but I thought, you know, lie low in October and get it done. Power through. Except I couldn’t. I needed recuperation time between teaching and learning and writing and keeping house. And then I got it into my head that I needed my house to feel more like a home, and made a list of what that would take. If I just felt easy in my own space, all would be well, I thought.

It worked, sort of. I do feel more at home in my new place now that I’ve added some more Cindy to it. But this summer I got in a car accident, got an air bag concussion, and have had ongoing headaches, sleepless nights, and panic. So I had to add in therapy once a week to nip that. And therapy helped. Is helping. In fact, therapy, and talking to a spiritual counselor, helped me figure out why I couldn’t get it all done and what my priorities should be. So I dropped the least important items from my list and only kept my happy home, teaching and writing front and center.

I still will not make my October deadline and finally wrote and told my editor. She was really nice about it — I mean it’s better for her if I turn in the best book I can write, and it’s not there yet. But it will be and I have her blessing to take all the time I need. My publisher is a small boutique house and in that I am lucky. They do most of their sales in e-books and have flexibility that another, bigger publisher wouldn’t. And they treat their authors so well.

Yes, I missed my deadline, but it won’t be by much, and I hope to get this series rolling very soon. I have one “work” thing on my agenda in 2015: write. Because, in the end, writing is what saves me.

Tricks of the Sentence Trade

There are teachers who write and writers who teach; we are separate species. I’m a writer who teaches, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about my day job. It means it’s a job, not my life’s passion. It’s an interesting job for a writer, too, since I’m helping college freshmen learn tricks of the sentence trade.

I would not advise any writer who must make her own living to become a teacher. I’ve had many jobs (retail, restaurant, secretary) and every single one of them offered more free time to write than teaching does. Despite June, July & August. When I taught full time (and to support yourself, you must teach full time, probably summer, too) I wrote a book every summer. When I took time off teaching just to write, I read my summer books with horrified eyes before throwing them away. They weren’t even worth revising.

I know of a few full time teachers who manage to write decent books in their spare time. Top notch mystery writer Amanda Cross is the pseudonym of a (now deceased) professor. Then there’s Eloise James, who’s still raising children while writing Regency romances and teaching Shakespeare. So it can be done, just not by me.

So why do it? Except for writing, teaching is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I enjoy the challenge of it. But to do it well, I spend precious hours preparing lessons when I could be writing a novel. In fact, I didn’t write at all last week, the first week of classes. I am hoping things settle down and I’ll be able to work on an almost completed draft, but I’m not counting on it.

And that’s okay, because this winter I’ll  be writing instead of teaching. I am able to do this because my dean is very good to her adjunct faculty and because my husband has an excellent job. Also, both my kids are out of college and have really great jobs of their own.

If you’re a writer and you need a day job, I’d say choose anything but teaching. But if you’re a writer and you don’t have to foot all the bills yourself, becoming an adjunct at a college in your area is a nice option. And they are always hiring.

Writing & Working

There are only so many minutes in the day. In the past, I have been the kind of writer who, when teaching, can’t get much creative work done. All my energy goes into my classes. But through the years, I figured out that if I write first thing in the morning, I get so much more done.

Morning is not magic time for everybody. My friend Martha writes at night when her house is quiet. (She’s got two young boys.) But for me, as my day wears on, I get less creative. I watch Oprah or Barefoot Contessa, cook dinner, clean up the kitchen, maybe read a book or magazine or catch a new episode of Bones or Big Love or House. (How hilarious was Wilson’s proposal?!)

But in the late afternoon and evenings, I don’t write, I don’t plan lessons, I don’t practice yoga or walk on my treadmill. Those things I need to do early in the day, say before two o’clock, or I don’t do them at all. Usually morning is my best time for meditation, too, but since I’m doing the challenge, if I forget earlier, I will do that later in the day. And sometimes I have to do emergency schoolwork at night.

Today is my first day back to class. I have a bit of nervous energy around this semester in particular. I’m not working at night, (No creative writing, darn it!) and I’m working four days instead of the usual two. And in a switch I made last year, all of my classes are in the morning. Yep. My prime writing time turns out to also be my prime teaching time. My favorite yoga sessions are in this window too. Early morning meditation. Somehow, I have to fit a big huge thing like teaching into my morning routine.

It was fairly easy with just teaching two mornings. I wrote the other five days. I took yoga classes on Friday or the weekend. I didn’t meditate so much. But now, I want to fit it all in. And I think I can do it. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I only have one class, from 11-1. It’s a diffiuclt class to teach, a new text for me, and the students need a ton of individualized help with their writing, so I’m not saying it will be a snap.

But I get up early, by six most days, and this morning, it’s only 8:40 and I’ve already meditated (felt so great to do that first thing, even before writing!) and then wrote two scenes on the WIP. And it’s not even nine o’clock yet! So I think I can do this. I’m just making a minor adjustment to my usual morning routine.

However, I’ll be doing a lot more planning and paper checking this term. It’s one more class, but it’s double the work of most other classes. (Pays more too, so that’s a plus.) I absolutely know I can do it, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m determined not to spend my mornings before class rushing around getting the lesson together. I want to be more prepared than that, but who knows? I could get overwhelmed. 

One thing I know for sure: I WILL finish this WIP by mid-March. And I will send it to agents and editors. If nobody bites, I’m going to publish the romance trio in an alternative venue, just like I said I would last year. I’m not sure what, but something’s going to happen. Soon.