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Learning to Say No & Prioritizing Writing
Hi, Pub Crawl Readers! Let's talk sacrifice. mwahahahahaha It’s as much a theme throughout my characters’ lives and worlds as it is my own. Since my last post, on balancing (or not balancing) writing with a full time job—where I shared some general tips—I’ve been thinking a lot about—and struggling a lot with—what that means day-to-day and how I can make more time in my life for the things I want to do. A couple weeks ago, someone asked me what are the non-negotiable elements in my novel? They asked because we were discussing revisions as one does with people in their writer life and quite frankly there were too many elements on the page, some of it needed to be pulled back, and we were trying to figure out which ones. I laughed and said something like “everything is important” because of course everything I write is perfect so why would anything need to be cut (LOL). But then, I thought about it and said my characters, which was somewhat true. But the fact was, I didn’t know the real answer because I’d never seriously thought about it. Sometimes you’re so focused on writing and finishing (especially with first drafts) that you don’t stop to think about those details. You’ve got a war to wage, a love interest to kill, when do you have time in between all of that setup and worldbuilding and putting your heart and soul on the page to stop and think about which of these elements actually need to be there? You’re constantly going, going, going, much like you’re going through life, often without much intentional thought towards the heart of the story, or what to prioritize in your life. That’s what revisions are for. And maybe that’s also what mid-life, quarter-life, etc. crises are for. But that doesn’t have to always be the case— I’ve recently found in writing, much like life, sometimes knowing those non-negotiable elements upfront helps to better shape your story and give you much needed clarity. I’m one of those people who tend to say yes to everything. And I can’t even blame it on obligation. I just get really, really excited about things.* *About everything. My friends growing up called me the energizer bunny (is that bunny still a thing?). I get a big idea and I run headfirst into planning it (I get distracted easily to say the least…). Sometimes it works out great and everyone else I ramble about said idea to gets excited and an amazing thing happens (i.e. founding People of Color in Publishing) and it is absolutely worth my time. But other times that happens (read: more often than not) and I get really overwhelmed and realize I had five other things I already committed to. I then become an anxious ball, curled up bed with deadlines looming, trying to scrape together enough energy to just tackle one.
aka I’ve never been a say no-er.
But as of late, I’ve realized that if I truly do want to be an editor and a writer, which I do because I enjoy both a lot, I don’t have the time to say yes to even half of “the things.” Thinking about the non-negotiable elements in my writing, got me thinking about the non-negotiables in my life. As my best friend and my dad are always telling me, make a list. Write down everything you’re doing.
Non-negotiables. Everything else.
Things you have to do. Things you want to do. Everything else.
Whatever categories you want. And if it helps, mark how much time during the week you spend doing each thing. For me, I took a week to observe my daily habits before writing "the list." It was a simple process to make this list. That said, it was SHOCKING to realize how much I actually do…MIND-BLOWING to see where all my time was going. I’ve talked before about how I don’t regularly watch TV. Aside an episode of one of the many TV shows in my queue once, maybe, twice a week, the last show I binge-watched was Luke Cage and the Defenders shall be the next. I enjoy staying up to date on pop culture, yes, but that’s what five younger siblings + Teen Vogue are for, LOL. So I have no problem with cutting back on minor things like TV. When I made my lisr, I went into it expecting to have to reevaluate my Sephora shopping obsession. What I wasn’t ready for was having to say no to some very cool new opportunities AND having to step down from things I had already committed to. Because, guess what? I might think I spend a lot of time shopping at Sephora but I spend way more time speaking at various events and being on committees. When it came down to it, my actual non-negotiables were only a few things: me-time, friend-time, editing work, writing work, and a couple orgs. Because those already take up A LOT of time. Knowing this has helped me to really prioritize my life. When I’m at the office, I try to be highly focused so that I get as much done as I can during normal work hours (haha all the publishing people are laughing right now) so that when I leave the office my attention can be elsewhere. And as I shared in the last post, me + friend time is usually during the evenings with writing time on the weekends. This, of course, varies, but I’m trying to keep these things in focus. I’m practicing saying no. You can do it, I know you can. But you’re going to have to be honest with yourself. Really honest. If you’re constantly talking about how you never have time to write, it’s up to you to make that time. Even if it’s only 15-30 minutes a day. If seeing Game of Thrones and Shondaland is crucial, then something else has to give. Writers write. And having set time to do so helps. As my ever-wise father most recently said to me, during one of my frequent quarter-life crisis moments of despair, you only have so many hours in the day, you have to figure out what’s important to you. As for the rest, say no and cultivate the art of not giving a fuck. Think about the non-negotables. Make time for what’s important to you and write that book. I hope your week is off to a great start! <333 Patrice