In writing and podcasting about habits this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between what the world sees as success, and our internal motivation for writing.
Welcome to Week One!
This weeks’s theme: Limits
I know you’re excited. I know you want to get started on your great masterpiece. But setting that kind of pressure on yourself is the fastest way I know to a crippling case of writers block.
This week I’m going to impose limits on your writing that will make it almost impossible for you to write something great. This is my gift to you.
Make sure that your definition of ‘success’ for your writing is really YOUR definition of writing success. Don’t allow anyone else to tell you what success looks like!
Also covering: fifth grade failures; epic wins; a look forward to December 31.
There’s a scene towards the end of the movie WALL-E when the captain of the only remaining human ark-in-space realizes it’s time to go home to Earth. They’ve been away for generations. By any reasonable measure, he’s been successful. His ship is still flying. His people are still alive and procreating. Everything is running smoothly.
But, in his research, the captain falls down a hyperlinked-rabbit-hole of cultural practices that humanity has simply forgotten.
“Computer,” he says, prompted by the previous entry. “Define: dancing.”
Imagine an existence where we’ve forgotten about dancing! Would you consider that kind of existence ‘successful’?
When my children were tiny I didn’t do a lot of writing. But there would come a day when I simply HAD to write. With a toddler in two, however, it became almost impossible to get through a full sentence without hearing that darling little voice yap,
“Mama? Mama! MAMA!!!”
I got to the stage where it was quite a relief when my boy unexpectedly ditched “Mum” and started calling me by my given name. At least it took a while for that to start to grate on my nerves!
The Delegation Revalation
One fateful afternoon, when my son — previously happily playing with toy cars at my feet — suddenly popped up and asked for a drink. For the third time that hour. I groaned and tore myself away from my half-finished sentence to fetch him a drink.
Then it hit me. My job as a parent was not to raise him to be helpless. My job as a parent was to teach him self-sufficiency. So what if he was only 3?
I started delegating.
That day I moved some plastic tumblers onto a low shelf in an under-the-counter cabinet and made a big deal of at last unlocking the water dispenser on the fridge. Sure, I had to clean up a few spills, but it was a price I was willing to pay to get a few uninterrupted minutes.
We quickly moved on to solo hand-washing, using a stool to get the toothbrush and toothpaste (creating a few precious extra minutes before bedtime). Then I packed away any trousers that didn’t have an elasticated waist and presto! I was freed from having to accompany him to the bathroom!
How Much Can You Give Away?
As the kids have grown, so has my hunger for writing time.
I now delegate all kinds of things.
- Where I used to be in charge of bath-time and bedtime, my husband and I now share bedtime duty.
- When I was deep in the crunch of StoryADay last May my seven year old, a-hem, learned how to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
- While I toiled on my novel last November, my husband taught the boys how to fold their school clothes and put them away neatly.
I could feel guilty about deserting my family when I feel the need to write. Or I can celebrate my awesomeness as a mother who cares enough about them to teach them the life skills they will need when I eventually kick them out of my house. (Ten more years, Eldest. I’m counting.)
Delegation can be fun!
It’s not always, easy of course. Things go wrong. There is often a learning curve for the people you’re delegating tasks to. There might be occasional tears.
But stick with it. You CAN find ways to nudge the people around you become more independent, while also clawing back some of your precious writing time.
What about you? What one task will you try to offload this week? What poor helpless soul will you set on the road to independence?
StoryADay alumnus Mart Pelrine-Bacon shares her submission success story: how she worked on the story, how she found the market and how it feels to be published.
StoryADay May alumnus Marta Pelrine-Bacon shared some fabulous news yesterday: one of her StoryADay stories has been accepted for the May 2011 issue of Cabinet Des Fees, a journal of Fairy Tales (and a paying market, at that).
I got in touch to ask Marta to tell us about how she worked on the story, how she found the market and how it feels to have a submission accepted — hint: there was a lot of ‘all-caps’ on Twitter yesterday 😉
What is the story & when did you write it?
The story is titled The Fear of Apples and I wrote it fairly early during Story-A-Day May.
Have you written others like it?
I thought writing a story a day would be easier if I had a overall idea–in this case, fairy tales. Every story that month was a modern fairy tale.
Did you do much revision after StoryaDay?
That particular story I went over about three times–though I did not make any major changes. Most of my edits were attempts to fix an awkward sentence or add (or delete!) a detail for the plot.
Hw did you find the market?
I found the market when I friend told me about Duotrope. I’ve always been intimidated by figuring out the marketplace, and duotrope made the process seem manageable.
How did you feel when you heard?
Shocked–because I’d gotten so many rejections for other stories. And I almost cried I was so happy, and then I danced into work and told everybody. I am not a cool character.
Are you submitting more stories now?
I will be. This has certainly spurred me to realize publication can happen and not to give up.
Thanks for sharing Marta!
Have you had success submitting any stories the past year? Drop me a line: julie at storyaday dot org or leave a link to your ‘bragging page’ in the comments. Everybody loves to hear how other writers ‘just like us’ are making things happen!
If this has inspired you to write more, or maybe sign up for Story A Day May, take a look at my free, downloadable workbook The Creative Writing Challenge Handbook – 31 Days to A Writer’s Life. It’ll help prepare you for this year’s challenge.