Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Hours

Now that the craziness of deadline week is over, and I finished the novel (plus a set of revisions on another book, because yes, I am SuperWriter) I finally had a moment to sit back, catch my breath and recharge my batteries. It was a nice moment, too, and I'll cherish it forever once I clean the house, bathe the dogs, catch up on my blog writing, update the ledgers, do the filing, defrag and backup both computers, see the accountant, write all the promo posts I've promised, put together my May giveaways, answer about three hundred e-mails, pay the bills, write real letters to friends who probably think I've dropped off the edge of the earth . . . there's laundry in there somewhere, too. Lots and lots of dirty laundry.

And I have to do all this by tomorrow evening at the very latest because I know there will be more coming at me any second and I have to be ready for anything -- or so my overcaffeinated turbocharged laser-focused brain is telling me.

One of my most frequent dilemmas after turning in a book is shifting those mental gears from Get It Done to Knock It Off. Even now, as I sit and write this post, both of my legs are still joggling (it's what I call that jiggly thing people do with one leg when they're nervous; I do it with both legs when I'm writing for long periods of time to keep from getting charleyhorses, numb feet, sciatica flares, etc. That's how the family knows I've been on the computer all day -- they check on me and I'm joggling in my chair like a little windup writer.) Once I reach the finish line I always expect to collapse in an exhausted heap, but the truth is I can't; I'm too wired. Generally I'll crawl into bed after the 168 hour marathon that is deadline week ends and not sleep. No, I'll lay there and stare at the ceiling, thinking of all the things I haven't been doing, what I need to do right away and even plan what I'll do after I get that stuff done.

The sleepless night is a given; I've come to expect it. But on the day after I finish a book I have some rituals I follow throughout the next twelve hours that help engage my creative brakes and help me assimilate back into regular life mode:

Tea and Meditation hour -- first thing in the morning, usually spent with the dogs on the back porch. I have my tea and watch birds, the pups bark at squirrels, and we soak up the sunshine that I haven't seen for a week or better. When thoughts of the work and responsibilities waiting for me intrude, I fold them into mental origami cranes or lotuses and hang them from the back wall of my brain. I know there will always be stuff to do; I use this time to choose something fun that I haven't been able to do.

Something Fun Hour -- This always follows tea and meditation, and no matter how high that dirty laundry pile has grown, fun comes first. This time I finished a hand-written letter in progress to a very patient friend, packaged it up with some other neat stuff and got it ready to mail out that day. Yes, that's my idea of fun. In the letter I talked about Prom dresses and Shepherd's Pie and a little about the novel I'd just finished. I also wrote it with my new fountain pen that was my finish line reward for this book. While some people think hand writing anything is a waste of time, I think it's actually good mental therapy. After seven days of staring at a computer monitor it's quite restful, too.

Time with Family and Friends Hours -- I have imposed on all of them for the last week by locking myself in the office and working nonstop, so this is the time I use to thank them for that by giving them my attention. In addition to wrapping up that letter to my friend I talked to my guy about a well problem we're having and offered to help out with a related online errand; I checked on my mom and listened to her latest news; I got updates from the kids on impending events and priorities in their lives. It doesn't sound like a lot but it does matter to make that effort and reconnect with your crew.

Prioritizing with Limits Hour -- The amount of other-than-writing work I have to do after finishing a book is always pretty hefty, but trying to do it all at once doesn't help settle me down. I take an hour to look at everything, sort out what needs doing and pick a couple tasks to do that are high on the priority list but that won't exhaust me. Doing the online errand for my guy was #1; vaccuuming the rugs #2, mopping the floors #3; making a mail and market run #4, and cooking a real dinner for everyone #5. I could have done fifteen more things today, too, but I wouldn't have done any of them well. Nor would I have enjoyed them because I'd still be operating in Get It Done mode, this time with a super side order of mental exhaustion.

Forgiveness Hour -- after dinner, when everyone has gone off to do their own thing, I take some time to meditate again, but this time for the purpose of making peace with myself. While writing is my job, sometimes the actual doing of it can feel incredible selfish. During deadline week I block out everything but the book, and afterward, I always feel guilty about that. I remind myself that my guy doesn't apologize for working late when he has to put in overtime; nor do the kids say they're sorry when they're cramming for exams or finishing up an important paper. Even today my daughter locked herself in her room after school to practice a new piece of music for hours; she has a difficult solo to play for the Spring concert and she needed the time. It was a good reminder to me to adjust my attitude. I wasn't selfish this past week; I was working my ass off to get the job done.

Reading Hours -- This is how I wrap up the day after deadline week, a couple of hours which will commence right after I finish writing this post. I always save (okay, hoard) some new books to read after I finish writing one, and I can pick whatever one I want and read as long as I'd like. Shifting into reader mode more than anything helps settle down my overwired brain; it's relaxing and soothing and by the time I'm ready to go to bed I know I won't be staring at the ceiling for hours.

Tomorrow I'll repeat this whole process, slightly modified to include another task or two, some time outdoors in the garden and maybe a stroll in the park. I'll also do some writing again because not writing feels really weird (which is why I'm writing this post) but nothing too stressful. Shifting focus like this is a process, and it needs to be a calm and peaceful one, or it doesn't work.

How do you wind down after finishing up a book or another attention-intensive project? Let us know in comments.

Photo credit: David Hughes

14 comments:

  1. Ren Benton7:37 AM

    I bake. A lot. Enough that everyone I'm even remotely acquainted with gains 10 pounds. It's mindless busyness with high-yield, tangible productivity for which everyone cheers at me, as opposed to the brain-frying, nerve-shattering labor of writing, which no one believes amounts to anything until they see "a real, actual book" a long, long time later.

    I mentally convert the reason for the cheers to my real, actual achievement.

    And the brownie-butt epidemic sweeping the county is my petty revenge.

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    1. Thank you for making me aspirate my tea, Ren (I clean and bake, btw -- and both get me more accolades than the six months I spend locked in the office making a novel.)

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  2. I find "Forgiveness Hour" particularly interesting. I think this afflicts moms more than anyone else. It's as if guilt is hard-wired into us the moment we give birth, isn't it? I'm so glad that you could look at your wonderful family and get some perspective on it.

    And congrats on finishing the book!

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. Guilt is a tough one to overcome, but we women get in lots of practice, don't we?

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  3. Anonymous10:28 AM

    I haven't developed any rituls like these but I think I am going to print it out and start incorporating them into my life, ASAP! I thought of you this week when I snatched up Wrecked by Shiloh Walker. Awesomely great read! I read it in about 30 hours, couldn't put it down. I hope she writes about the rest of the family of Zach! :) Thanks so much for the inspiration of using art as an outlet, a release, a haven. I need that reminder a lot. Best wishes!

    Leslee

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    1. Excellent choice in books, Leslee -- Shiloh always delivers. And post-project rituals can be fun, especially if you tailor them to give you what makes you happiest.

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  4. Fran K4:20 PM

    I have just started sewing, lagging well behind all you quilters / crafters, and my very first tote bag was a massive attention intense activity. I did it out of my head, with no real pattern to follow just trialling stuff as I went along. I sewed, unpicked, trimmed, sewed and unpicked again, cursed and cried, but at the end of 4 hours I had a bag that, although not perfect, I could use as a shopper. I was absolutely delighted but completely pooped! I found that a cup of coffee and a good book for an hour really helped me unwind. I've been reading the Pepper Martin mysteries by Casey Daniels and they were a perfect break and mind cleanser. I've since made several more totes that have improved each time but that down time afterwards is a definite necessity.

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    1. Sewing is one of those things that is an ongoing skill-builder, Fran. The more you sew, the more you learn and the better you are when you tackle the next project.

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  5. I read, then I sleep. Boring, but for me it's the best thing I can do. I don't sleep much normally. Not out of choice, but because I sleep badly. But when I'm done with whatever I've solely focused on, the sleep is deep and long. And needed.

    And congrats again on finishing! Don't ever feel guilty though because you're working hard that last week. And though you're more fortunate than most in that you do for a living what you'd do for free, it's still a job. You focused to finish it and now it's down-time.

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    1. Let me borrow some of that sleep gene of yours, Theo. I always sleep poorly, but lately the insomnia has been killer.

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  6. For the first few months after I had finished all the edits to my debut and was doing the querying/submission thing, I turned my attention back to my blog.

    Blogging was the one thing that kept me occupied until I came with a new idea for a novel, or I should say, novels.

    Then I worked on the novels to keep myself occupied while I was going through the various stages of the querying/submissions process as well as the various stages of after landing a publisher.

    None of what I had worked on has panned out to my satisfaction, so now I'm back at square one again, turning back to blogging to keep myself occupied until I can figure out what to do next.

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    1. I'm with you on the blogging, G.B. PBW and my other blogs still require me to write, but it's fun instead of a job, so I can relax and have a good time with it.

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  7. Julia1:18 PM

    This was such a helpful post! Thank you. I've always struggled with the first few days after the completion of a major writing project, and go through a similar sense of being wound up, exhausted, and estranged from myself after the end of most semesters too. (I'm a professor and a writer.) I'm going to try out these ideas and see if I can figure out some rituals that work for me.

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    1. I think however you approach the rituals you want to definitely make peace with yourself. That's where we all seem to stumble as writers and professionals.

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