The Only Way Out Is Through

Since it's the last Tuesday of November, that means we're going to talk about NaNoWriMo and how far behind I am. 

Here's a screenshot of my progress: 

This is what the graph of a busy procrastinator looks like.
I think my favorite part of the month is the four days that just go straight across the top with zero progress, not coincidentally overlapping my monthly work deadline of November 20th. Also, I took this screen shot after writing over 5,000 words today, making the graph only slightly less bleak than it was mere hours ago. 

So I should feel stressed. Yesterday I was stressed, and also super bummed because I really love NaNoWriMo, for so many reasons. 

I love that an entire virtual community comes together every year to finally attempt the dream of writing a novel. Many are successful, many not, but all of them are thousands of words closer to that goal than they were on October 31st, and many of those for the first time ever. 

And I love the camaraderie, the feeling of everyone finally chucking the perfectionism we all heap on ourselves and focusing instead on tapping in to whatever stream of consciousness inspirational mecca is out there, the thing that you can't mistake for anything but divinity when it hits you and grabs you by the lapels and pulls you wherever it wants you to go. There is a fabulous TED talk on this concept of elusive genius, by the way.

I love boycotting the constant self-editing, both literal and figurative, that populates my life and so many other people's lives, writers or no, and instead just focusing on words on page. Pen to paper. (Okay, fingers to keyboard. You know what I mean.) Even if it's just for 30 days.

Because there are so many reasons not to follow through on your plans.

photo credit

Many of them valid. 

But the thing is, even if I don't get there-- even if I don't reach my 50,000 words-- as of this moment, I have put 29,816 words toward my own goals this month. That's nearly 30,000 words slammed out toward a future of my own making, without killing myself or staying up till midnight like I did last year (yet). And that feels amazing, whether or not I make it to 50,000. 

At the same time, I haven't had to sacrifice a huge amount of family time, and I managed to please my notoriously picky client-- who was so happy with my work this month he actually sent me an email thanking me, a huge turnaround from last month

Oh, and this nearly 30,000 words is of course in addition to the 65,663 words I wrote for work in November. So far. Not including lengthy emails or edits or rewrites. 

My 10 minute plan is working, my back is still unhappy but not impossible to work around, and I feel like I'm through the crunch. I feel like I won. I really do. Even with 20,000 words ahead of me over the next-- oh my god, only four freaking days, I have to finish this blog IMMEDIATELY and get back to work. 

Arrgh, no. I can't leave without a conclusion. DAMMIT.

Okay, so here it is. 

Sometimes the only way out is through. And the interim is impossible and murky and ridiculous in every respect. But then once you're out the other side, inevitably you look back at all the thorny, brambly nonsense and think "Huh, that wasn't so bad. I don't know why I was such a baby about this back on the other side." 

It's not because you were wrong about it being hard and sticky and scary. You were totally right. It was all of those things. But on the way through, you change. You grow. And by the time you reach the other side, you're someone who is less scared. Who is more capable. Because you know now that things that seemed impossible from one end are, in fact, possible. You know this because you just did it. And then you start to wonder what other things are possible that you always thought were impossible. 

And if anyone would know, it's Muhammad Ali.

And then life gets real amazing, real quick. Just as soon as you push through to the other side.


Making Time for Thanfulness

So, as you may remember from my last couple of posts, things have been absurdly nuts for me lately. Work was already crazy stressful, plus it's NaNo month, and you can see from my little word widget over there on the right that I'm way, way behind. Which sucks because NaNo is really (and totally disproportionately) important to me.

Miss G is flunking a class. Miss L has some weird skin rash exactly over her lymph nodes. Dan was laid off last week. Plus, this upcoming weekend is our family's Thanksgiving celebration, so I'm cooking a big vat of French onion soup for a crowd. You know, in all my spare time.

In short, much like every other day in life, there are many things happening all at the same time that all deserve priority and are all getting shortchanged.

As always, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by whatever. Work. NaNo. Family. Things. If not these things than other things.

Dan just shrugs and says "Well, honey, you've pulled bigger rabbits out of smaller hats before. I have no doubt everything will work out just fine."

This is both exasperating and sort of complimentary.

And dead on.

With Thankful French Onion Soup Day just 12 hours away, I find my thoughts turning toward thankfulness, despite everything. Because really, there are so many things to feel thankful for.
  • I'm thankful for my boss, who is all around awesome and who also hired some minions to ease up my workload. 
  • I'm thankful for my job; despite the current crunch, I do love what I do and I'm thankful to work from home.  
  • Dan's layoff came at the perfect time to spend the entire week at home while Miss L is here; they haven't seen each other since Labor Day. I'm thankful they can reconnect this week.
Most importantly, I'm thankful we're happy. Even if there's some graininess upon close examination, when we take a step back and look at the big picture, we're happy. And our lives are moving in the right direction, even if we feel all squished wiggling on through the current bottleneck. 

The stressful times are the hardest in which to be thankful. They're also the most important times in which to make thankfulness a priority.

When things keep piling up, step away. Just for a second. Take 10 minutes. Breathe.

Make time for thankfulness.


What Can You Do in 10 Minutes?

In an effort to alleviate at least the physical crux portion of my discomfort zone, I changed up my work schedule. Before, I'd force myself through two or three hours before talking a break. Only far too often, that "break" was still spent at the computer: paying bills, checking emails and whatnot. Always the damned whatnot.

And then I wonder why I'm so sore and miserable at the end of my 10-12 hour day.

My new schedule is to work for an hour, then leave the computer for at least 10 minutes before returning to work. In that 10 minutes, I have to find things to do. Things that are not computery things. And I set my timer so I don't get distracted; 10 minutes bloats out to an hour a lot faster than you'd expect.

I started small:
  • Dump out my clean laundry on the bed; start folding. 
  • Chop potatoes and onions to cook up in a big batch for breakfasts during the week. 
  • Sweep up gross dog hair. 
  • Clean the bathroom. 
And before I knew it, a bunch of stuff that regularly gets pushed to the back burner is actually taken care of. My kitchen is cleaner. My desk is more organized. Little nagging projects I never found time to take care of are getting completed. 

Slowly. In 10-minute segments. But getting there. 

The most interesting thing about this (besides the fact that my neck pain is actually tolerable now, even if not entirely resolved) is learning just how much I can accomplish in 10 minute chunks.

It's so easy to put stuff off until I have time for this or time for that. I keep wanting a week off to just write my own stuff and work on art projects. Catch up on movies. And I think society trains us to think this way, too-- how much more do you hear about planning for your retirement compared to making your life work for you right now? There's so much emphasis put on work first and other stuff later. But I don't want to wait till I'm 65 to do cool stuff.  

And I'm not getting a week off anytime soon to just indulge in the things I actually want to do. I have to make room for them right now. In among everything else. And these 10 minute breaks give me the perfect opportunity.

Life is never going to go on hold so you can live your "real" life. This is it. You're already living it. If you want your right-now life to evolve into your ideal life, you'll have to carve enough room out of your day for a good foothold, then launch yourself toward that ideal. Even 10 minutes can be enough.

  • First 10 minute break: Set up a canvas, some clean water, some brushes.
  • Next 10 minute break: Mix a glaze; brush a coat on.
  • 10 minute break after that: Work on NaNo outline... in longhand.
  • The following 10 minute break: Find my journal. Write until my timer goes off.

In the few days I've been doing this schedule, I can't believe how much more I'm getting done-- and how many more of the things I am doing are the exact things I am always irritated at not having enough time for.

Turns out, there is time. Even if it's only 10 minutes.

What can you do in 10 minutes?