There has been a rhythm to my life these past several weeks that I haven’t had since I left morning radio. When you’re expected to be at work at a certain specific time, and you have a certain number of on-air shifts that must be met, you do things in a certain way, day after day. And while that sounds like it could be boring (and I will admit sometimes it was annoying), I really liked having a sense of what was expected of me, when it was expected and just how much I could get away with.
And, boy, there were times when I did try to get away with a lot of stuff! More than that, however, because I had a talk show – on top of all the other jobs I did as a morning show personality – I had a fairly free hand for at least part of the day. Finding guests was tough enough without the possibility of creative handcuffs on me. Although there were many, many reasons why I left radio, for 8 of the 11+ years I worked at CFOS, my work life was arranged in a way that, as it turns out, rather suits my style.
I need structure, as long as it’s not binding. I need a free hand, as long as someone helps remind me when I start to run amok. (I’m very good at occasional periods of amok.) Finding the balance between the two as I work at being a writer has been harder than I would like.
As has been noted, I am the Queen of Procrastination. But you know you’re carrying procrastination just a little too far when you volunteer to scrub the tub. Ick. So, for a big chunk of December (excluding Christmas card writing & party cooking time) and since January 2nd, I have been creating a pattern, a rhythm for my day that gives me time to do the haus frau thing but also lots of time to sit down and do the reading, researching and writing that is becoming my professional life.
I don’t write every day. Sometimes I’m reading or even cooking; if the focus of the day is the food & family memoir I want to pitch, then I need to get the background and the recipes right. But on those days when I do write, I aim for two thousand words. They’re not all golden words by any means, but the exercise of sitting down and making words show up on the screen is really important. I could wish that it always felt good to do this – because it doesn’t it. Sometimes it feels like I swallowed a second spoon of cod liver oil because if one’s good, two’s better, eh?
When I was young & stupid, I used to think that writing was a matter of grabbing that wisp of an idea, that moment when some bright and shiny creative thought floats across the brain, and then turning it in the The Great Novel of My Generation. As my generation has already turned out quite a large number of great novels – and even more really, really good ones – I’ve given up thinking that.
Now I know that creative spark has to nurtured by hard work. That wisp of an idea is probably pretty good, but to turn it into a good work to be a good writer, wispy is just not good enough. Actually, wispy is not good enough for me in just about every facet of my life now.
When I was in Stirling, running a little business there, I went down a path that I still believe was the right one to take but I did ignore other things which were also important. I fiercely believe that all arts and culture organizations are in grave danger of losing their audience to death; it’s an aging audience which is finding it harder and harder to go out to concert halls and theatres and other venues for live performance and display. What I failed to recognize in that job is the necessity for bridging what is and what needs to be. I chose the fun, the creative, the wispy (in a way – audience development, marketing and play production is damn hard work!!) stuff. The stuff that’s easier to get a handle on – financial reports, staff policy – got put aside. I regret I did that, especially without explanation why I was doing it, but there is something to be learned from this.
I can’t do the wispy as a stand alone any more. Being responsible for my own work life, knowing that I must come up with a “product” – as it were – and without a managing board of directors or unhappy colleagues to both encourage me and to stop the amok, I see that the more substantial stuff is what creates the base for the wispy things. So if I put in a week of two thousand words, when I go to edit I know that there will be some good things, some fun things, some wisp on top of the hard slogging of some ten thousand words.
To last Saturday (which was the end of my work week), I have about 4500 usable words and ideas for the food & family memoir, and have three more really good drafts to send to Cousin Dr David in the collection of short stories. I feel good about this. I feel substantial.
I also feel like I need a couple of cookies as a reward…
Hmmm. That was pretty wispy, wasn’t it?