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When Does a Racecourse Become a Treadmill?

October 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I suppose that would be when the finish line keeps moving away from you.

It's a question much on my mind lately as I have found myself just about up to my eyebrows in work, with no strong sense of how or when I'll escape.  Granted, musings on the state of my workload do tend to veer into the mildly apocalyptic when I'm at the nadir of the sleeplessness cycle... but I've been aware of a gradual increase in my work-related stress level the past couple of weeks. 

Both day-job work and writing work.  Sometimes they do not play nicely together.

There is, of course, the day job.  And I like having a day job.  I like being employed.  I like having health insurance and a roof over my head and money with which to buy bananas and chocolate-covered almonds.  And I consider myself particularly fortunate (especially given my limited skillset) to have any employment at all given the current state of the economy.  Not to mention that my job isn't physically demanding—no heavy lifting, no breaking rocks, no hardhats.

But it does take almost 12 hours out of most days.  And, depending on the day, it can drain much of my mental reserves (which needless to say are very limited at the best of times).  I was recently reassigned from working on basically one project to three separate projects.  Multitasking isn't a natural talent for me.  It's a skill I've worked hard to acquire, but I find it draining and exhausting.  I'm not somebody who easily jumps from one train of thought to another and back again.  I work much better when I can focus on one thing until I've reached a natural stopping point.  It's far more difficult for me to arbitrarily flip from one project to another.  But, of course, I have no control over what needs to be done when, and for which project.

So these days I'm already running a considerable mental-energy deficit by the time I get home in the evening.  But then, of course, there's all this writing that needs to get done.  Most of which needs to get done soon, before the end of November. 

There is, of course, work on the new novel project.  That's a perpetual thing, a constant presence on the list of things I wish I could finish.  It's pretty far along; I'm deep into the first draft of the manuscript.  But it's a challenging project.  I believe in stretching myself (though whether the end result is successful remains to be seen), but doing that takes concentration and effort.  The sooner the first draft is finished, the better.  So this is a perpetual pressure at the back of my mind.

There is also, of course, editorial revisions on Necessary Evil.  That's a very good thing!  And exciting.  And something that deserves large blocks of time so that I can focus 100% of my concentration and energy on it.  But it's also extremely time consuming, at least the way I do it.  (The notes are very simple, but I'm taking the opportunity to carry out an end-to-end rewrite while I implement them.)  I want to do the best possible job on this... but I also want this done before the end of next month. 

Melinda Snodgrass and I are working on a project together.  We want that out the door ASAP.

And then, of course, there is Wild Cards.  The first draft for my next contribution is due November 15.  Wild Cards is rewarding when it's finished, but even the simplest contribution can be far more work than a normal short story.  Even non-mosaic novels are painfully complicated.  (But who knows?  Depending on how things come together, maybe my story will no longer fit and I'll be ejected into the outer darkness.  There's never any guarantee the work will make it into the final product until after this stage.  That would be a huge bummer, but it would also be fewer things on my tiny plate.)

And then there are interviews and guest blog posts and the usual fun things that I really enjoy.

So that's a bunch of stuff I want to finish in the next month and a half.  But the calendar isn't cooperating.  In addition to the World Fantasy Convention, which will eat up several days at the end of this month, I'll also be attending a conference for the day job that will devour—

*looks at calendar*

*sighs in despair*

—almost an entire week of November.

No wonder my DVR is full of television—going back months and months—that I'll probably never watch.  And let's agree to politely ignore those DVDs from Netflix. Yes, they are dusty.

Having done all this whining, I have to say that I can't begin to imagine how some people hold down a day job, and a prolific writing career, and raise kids all at the same time.  That's superhuman, as far as I'm concerned.

Me, I'm just a regular human.  And not much of one at that.  Hell, I don't even know how to sleep correctly.  So sometimes I get tired and overwhelmed.

But when things pile up like this I know it's temporary.  Workloads wax and wane... eventually.  Suffice it to say I'm really looking forward to Thanksgiving.


Alex Brown October 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm
I think fall is the season for work overload. Most of my year is pretty chill, with crunch times usually revolving around the 6 weeks up through the end of the quarter. But every year from September-Thanksgiving, my work and personal lives become chaotic and packed to the extreme. Between my 3 part-time jobs at the library, my 3 internships, applying for a real job, and what little writing I can fit in between, I'm stretched to the gills. I'm very much looking forward to taking off a few days over the Halloween weekend to stalk Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer up the California coast, but all the stuff around that vaca is soul-crushingly busy.
Jo Anderton October 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm
Careful mate, you've got to look after yourself too! I've been feeling work creep up and take my mental reserves (the ones usually used for writing!) for a while now too. But I know what you mean. Day job = able to eat and pay bills. This is a good thing. Once you've found the secret to balancing all of this, want to share? :)
Ian October 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm
Between my 3 part-time jobs at the library, my 3 internships, applying for a real job, and what little writing I can fit in between, I'm stretched to the gills. Holy mackerel. Well, of course you're stretched to the gills! (See what I did there? Mackerel, gills? I kill me.) 3 PT jobs AND 3 internships? You must tell me your secret. Once you've found the secret to balancing all of this, want to share? Well, I was planning to get a lesson from you. So we might be in trouble if we're depending on each other...
Adrienne October 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm
Step one: Stop sleeping. Step two: Develop an intense and probably incurable caffeine addiction. Step three: Stop watching TV. Step four: Remember to eat, take a jog, read a book and/or shower at odd hours if you feel like it. Step five: Make sure you have something to say before you sit down to write. If you're sitting and not writing, you're wasting time and you should probably fold that laundry while you decide what to put on the page. That's what works for me. Granted, I've never been much for regular sleep, so YMMV. But it's been valuable for me to kick TV out and realize that sometimes I need to keep my hands busy while my mind makes itself up (no really, brain, take all the time you need... tap tap tap... d'ja think of those words yet? No? Ok... tap tap tap).
Ian October 12, 2011 at 8:57 pm
I already do most of that, except the caffeine addiction and the exercise. Although I guess if I'm not sleeping I might as well go for a run. Problem solved! You're a closer. Another thing I find really helpful is to try to avoid closing out my writing sessions at a scene or chapter break. It's much easier for me to get into the flow the following day if I pick up right in mid-stream, sometimes even mid-sentence. And, of course, the blood sacrifices. Where would I be without those?!?
Melinda October 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm
It will get done. Have faith, and give yourself the occasional break to just have fun. Go fly a kite. :) And (p.s.) the new book is brilliant.
DMS October 13, 2011 at 11:05 am
"I was recently reassigned from working on basically one project to three separate projects." If you are successful at all three, you will be rewarded with 5 projects. And then 7. And then 9. Until one day, you’ll have a conversation with your boss where you point out that they've managed to allocate 175% of your time with projects that don't even include the two where you are PI. Their response will be that they have over 200% of their time allocated, so they understand that this may be challenging. If you ask them to prioritize your workload, they’ll say, with a straight face, “all of these projects are your top priority.” They will then be shocked when you hand them a resignation letter and spend about a week trying to convince you that this is simply a negotiation tactic for higher pay which they’ll be happy to give you if you take on just a little more responsibility. Ha. Best of luck with that.
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