A DRAMATISTíS TALE: To Write or Not to Write by Sally J. Walker
Ever heard the phrase ďThe hurrier I go, the behinder I get.Ē I think the first time I heard it was in grade school, probably with the reading of the Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare. The lesson remains relevant in our society of achieving as much as possible in the least amount of time. It can be a conflict between savoring the creation of art and the financial demands of the business world. Many a best-selling novelist and even in-demand screenwriter has encountered the pressure of time demands for the writing of the next project. And many a yet-to-sell novelist or screenwriter wishes they had that problem.
If a person is focused on making a living at writing, time constraints and pressures lurk in the shadows. No one is immune. The key is learning how to gain perspective on, cope with and manipulate that finite element in our lives. Prioritizing and planning are the two words that pop into my head. Those two concepts come into play for both beginner and experienced writers. And both concepts require perspective, coping and manipulation.
Iíve conducted writing business workshops where I ask participants to list the 10 most important roles in their lives that have regular tasks and time demands. Mine include wife, housewife, mother-grandmother, teacher-mentor, editor, writer, Episcopalian Christian, friend, Westie owner, dieting-exercising female. On any given day or even hour, the order of what needs attention drifts like a sea current. Some days OTHER roles intrude such as car owner, citizen, state legislative lobbyist (for film), etc. In the past I had to include R.N., Girl Scout leader, competitive Highland dancer, college student, etc. Roles and responsibilities change with life stages and choices, as well as with need vs. want.
The point in actually naming the roles is to acknowledge the specific needs of each, as well as the consequences of ignoring any role and accepting responsibility for those consequences. Blithely ignoring necessary obligations can create its own cascade of disasters, such as no groceries in the pantry, an empty checking account an angry spouse, or a debilitating health problem. When we choose to have people in our lives, sometimes THEIR roles and needs bleed over into our lives. We canít control the choices of others. All we can do is control our own attitudes and our choices in our own lives.
The point Iím making here is that we are not simple, single-minded human beings, therefore we need to practice perception of demands on that very finite thing called ďtime.Ē The seconds you just spent reading this are gone. Forever. They are past, relegated to memories and cannot be relived in a do-over.
No two people shift from perception to coping in the same manner because we each come from unique life experiences. Certainly, groups of people may have some common experiences, but the magic of humanity is that not all of us think alike. We rely on unique knowledge and awareness fed by previous experience and education. Though there can be similar coping mechanisms, every human remains unique in perception of how an event or experience fits into their life. Not everyone shares the same priority for their role in family, community or job. Not everyone is willing to invest the same amount of time and effort in a similar role. Anyone who expects uniformity is delusional, ignorant (meaning they can learn) or naÔve.
How each of us copes with stress, pressure or human expectations is another totally individual matter. Most people identify methods that make them feel calmer, more in control of their own lives, comfortable because the method worked before. Disruption in expected or logical evolution throws some people into turmoil. They feel threatened or inadequate and either strike out or withdraw to protect their mental integrity. If it works for them, fine. If the consequences create MORE disasters, then the coping method has to change.
The point Iím making here is that every person has MORE control if they understand what works and can adapt to changes.
When it comes to prioritizing the roles in our lives on any given day the game of manipulation is a necessity for survival, both the life-and-death kind and our creative well-being kind. When you can identify the tasks required of a role at the moment you have the power to make choices of what to do first and what to delay or even ignore (if you dare).
A key concept to manipulating priorities is HABITS. Hopefully you have nourished positive habits. These are the repeated acts or thought patterns that are performed without concentration. For example: healthcare professionals retraining again and again in CPR so their minds can note other important data as their body performs the chest compressions or a combat Marine disassembling and reassembling a weapon in seconds, even in the dark, because the lives of others rely on his/her ability to use that weapon. Consider the habits of your daily routine, what you actually THINK about and what you do with your mind considering other matters.
The point Iím making here is habits free your mind so you want to educate and train yourself to habits that allow you to manipulate time in your life to perform routine tasks yet allow your awareness and creative mind to latch onto images, words that flit across your day. Make the most of prioritizing the roles in your life with positive, productive habits that free your imagination. Manipulate time to work for you!
Where perception of priorities deals with concepts, perception in planning deals with realities. You have to accomplish 1-2-3 tasks today and they have to be parceled out to fall between the hours of X and Y.
I want to refer back to the best-selling novelist and in-demand screenwriter. These people function on deadlines. Do you? If you are an employee you have a job description and performance expectations. Writers on deadlines are no different. In the context of FINITE time, even if you are unpublished or a newbie screenwriter, you still have a deadline, albeit a self-imposed one.
My point here is every day you decide if you are going to write or not. You make a deliberate choice. You can make all the excuses in the world, but if you donít write the simple fact is your story, your words will not exist.
Life intrudes. All the time. Once you have your priority list it is a given that NOTHING will evolve the way you plan it. Here is where the concept of coping at the priority stage requires the reality of coping at the planning stage. Be willing and capable of shifting your schedule with an awareness of your finite time and your ultimate goal. Your hour of alone time disappears when a kid falls from a bike and suffers a broken arm. So you didnít finish those last two pages of a major scene when you wanted. Start your next writing session by focusing hard to get those pages written.
In all my years of teaching and mentoring I do believe I have heard just about every reason why people canít write, especially when it comes to other demands being made on their time. They all boil down to two things: prioritizing and choice. It is a truth in the creative world that when people donít just want to do something but NEED to do it, they focus and get it done. No matter what is thrown in their path. They HAVE to create.
My point here is deal with intrusions as needed, but return to your writing even MORE determined to accomplish your goal. The choice is yours.
Personality does play a big role in how effectively a person actually lives a plan. Poor self-concept can foul the most well-meaning plans. Easily distracted, under-educated or self-absorbed people all have different hurdles to overcome when actually living a plan. The perpetually subservient person who canít say ďNoĒ to family or at work may be doomed to creative frustration. This is where honesty and determination come into play.
My point is this question: How willing are you to identify your weaknesses, retrain your mind and focus your spirit on your task-by-task plan to achieve your goal . . . then to actually carry through with it?
To Write or Not to Write . . . that is the question you must answer every day.