Writing Life

A Story of Setting Boundaries

If you are a writer, you probably work from home. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have an office, or maybe, like me, you spread out over the dining room table and pack up (or not) when you’re done for the day.

Regardless of where you work in your home, it’s going to be easier to get sidetracked by your house than if you worked in an office. For example, when your daughter walks up to you, her eyes filled with distress because the raisin she has pushed into her left nostril is proving to be stubbornly unretrievable. Or, if that has never happened to you, maybe loading the dishwasher seems just a little more exciting than pushing through a particularly difficult scene.

Conversely, when you work at home, work can distract you from being present at home when you’re not supposed to be working. E-mail is a powerful lure when your husband’s idea of quality time is watching that episode of Family Guy for the fourteenth time. (Of course, I’m not denigrating Seth MacFarlane and is team of talented writers, but it was never my life’s ambition to know the entire seventh season of American Dad by heart.)

Setting boundaries at home has been one of the biggest challenges of stepping out into this life that I’ve chosen, and I’ll admit that I am not always successful. Instead of existing separately, my work and my family life often bleed together into some strange amorphous fog that isn’t particularly productive or in anywhere near intentional. So I don’t actually have any tips about how to do that better, at least not now, when I’m still figuring it out myself.

Notes from a Blue Bike

When I read Notes from a Blue Bike, I eagerly anticipated the section on work, because I knew that Tsh would have something valuable to share about creating an atmosphere of simplicity and intentionality around working from home – it’s what she does after all – and I wasn’t disappointed. Tsh tells a story about a visit she made to Susan Wise Bauer, a historian and professor at William & Mary who has written a boatload of well-respected curricula – from home. When she visited her home office, she saw that she had set up a physical boundary stone between her work and her office:

Here stood a tangible symbol of the very meaning of working with intention—knowing both my gifts and my limits, my callings and my opportunities that need a “no,” and being at peace with understanding the difference. To give myself the time and freedom to create my best art, and to confidently turn down those roles and opportunities that aren’t the best fit.

Later, Tsh added her own small boundary stone to her home office as a reminder of what stayed in and what went out.

Notes from a Blue Bike is full of stories about setting boundaries, making decisions about when to say no and choosing to do what is most valuable to you when you need to do it in all areas of your life. It’s the perfect book for the season that I am in: trying to sort out what is important to my family and what isn’t, what is improving our quality of life and what is taking away from it, how to manage my own work without making it the work of everyone around me.

If the desire simplicity and intentionality is floating around in your life right now, or simply if, like me, you’re trying to figure out where to lay down the boundaries, this is a book where you’ll find encouragement for your journey.

This post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here.

Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.

Blue Bike Blog Tour

When You’re Finished

This morning, instead of sitting down to tap out four more pages of the novel that has taken five years so far, I snapped 161 typed pages into a binder with some index cards, two hundred blank sheets of loose leaf and a zipped pocket with a red pen tucked inside.

Yesterday morning, I finished my rough draft.

It isn’t very pretty.

It probably needs more work than I can comfortably imagine from my current cloud nine.

But it’s finished, and seeing it sitting there an inch thick in pages I can turn gives me a chance to sit back in this chair and think ‘look at what I’ve done.’

If you have been writing, when you press that last period and lean back in your chair, print out what you’ve done. Print out what you’ve spent days and weeks and months of your life uncovering, so you can hold all that work in your hands. Make all the early mornings, late nights, forgotten dishes, cups of coffee and Skype conversations with friends where you can talk of little else a tangible, real thing.

It doesn’t matter if no one will ever read the copy.

It doesn’t matter if it’s so terrible, you’ll never look at it again (though I strongly suspect that if you’ve spent this much time on your story, letting it go won’t be that easy).

Printed pages give all that work weight.

And you deserve it.

When You Have a Bad Day

Today was not a good day.

Yesterday I reached the NaNoWriMo goal of 50 000 words, but my novel isn’t done yet. I’ve got a couple weeks of writing left. I’m trying to get to the end of the second act by Tuesday and then I’m in the home stretch.

I don’t know if it was reaching the 50 000 word milestone, or that I started second guessing my work, but the words came hard today, and I’m not sure that any of the 1 700 words I wrote will make it into the rewrite. The dialogue was choppy, the scenes seemed unnatural, and I just wanted it all to be over. I’m sitting with the feeling that the police interrogation scenes will be my eternal Waterloo.

Bad days happen. Bad days are why it’s taken me five years to get this thing done in the first place, and my first instinct is and probably will always be to quit now, before I invest another second into this horrible, awful, no-good, very bad story. Or at least until I sit down with a police officer and get details on realistic interrogations. There is always that ever-present temptation to hide from the plot in research.

But that’s what the rewrite is for. What is important now is finding the end. I’m just now starting to give myself permission to just get there. Intellectually I know that decline in quality in this moment won’t even be evident after I’ve spent some time reworking it. After I’ve tracked down a cop willing to tell me what would happen if a person confessed to a murder he knew she didn’t commit. This is not a draft that a single eye will see. In my heart, my words matter already, and seeing them come out clunky and broken feels like I just pushed my daughter into a mud puddle. On purpose.

There are bad days. Really bad days. Just push the words out, close your computer, put down your pen, and steel yourself for tomorrow. Because you will get there. You will find the end. And so will I.

Why You Should Write Every Day

I think it’s probably fair to say that I will be blogging a little less frequently this month, since I am writing furiously trying to finish a novel in 30 days. I am beginning to think that this back-to-back-write-every-day-challenge thing may have been a lapse in good judgement.

At least it forces me into good writing habits.

the writing life

Because I really do think that you should write something every day. I think that applies even if you’re not a capital-W writer. There’s something neurological and science-y that happens in your brain when you actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards, but scientists – whose names escape me – will point out that it’s a different kind of science-y thing if you’re dealing with technology), and it’s got to be good for you to massage the ol’ myelin on the regular.

So whether you’re doing something crazy like writing a novel in thirty days, or writing about why your cat is hilarious, make this month about creating a habit of writing, just a few pages, every day.

PS: I once took a class on adolescent brain development, which is what makes me an expert on massaging myelin.