Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Husband Leads But a Wife Commands

Balancing work and home life, do you work set hours, or do you find the writing work flow demands different time from you depending on where in the process you are?

From Frank

The title of this post is a line from the haunting Leonard Cohen song, "Nevermind." Cohen has a number of great songs that fit right into the gritty crime fiction arena (though he has some simply beautiful ones, too). This one was used as the theme for season two of True Detective (a great season of crime TV that was only maligned because it followed the stellar season one - fight me!).  As an aside, Cohen's "Everybody Knows" is another outstanding example of a noir song. 

What's Leonard Cohen got to do with this week's posed question?

Nothing, really. Except that this line, one of a slew of fascinating lines from this song, always struck me and made me think. As good songwriting does, it captures so much, so succinctly. Roles in society, relationshp dynamics, the nature of power... I mean, there's at least two rounds worth of bar conversation here that could easily go in several directions and spawn a whole evening of talk.

But I'll stick to the point (by now, you're probably asking, "Is there one?")

I used to be a very unscheduled writer. By that, I don't mean undisciplined. I've written over thirty books and four volumes worth of short stories. But most of my career, those words came when I had the time, not at any specific time. I wrote for large blocks of time when those blocks of time were open. I stole a snatch of time here and there. But there was rarely any set schedule. This was largely a result of my other career - policing, and then for four years after, teaching.

But that excuse reason excuse no longer exists. I'm in my fourth year of being a full-time writer. And yet, I found myself working at all different times of the day. Sometimes that was productive.  Other times, I went down one rabbit hole or another. 

I might start by watching an interesting YouTube video about a different take on character development, which might lead to sampling a recorded Stephen King event where he touches on that same topic, then decide to just watch the entire event beause SK is pretty entertaining and knows his stuff, and before you know it, it's Watch Mojo's top ten best Stephen King movie adaptations... which inevitably requires looking up the top ten worst Stephen King movie adaptations, too... and then we're gone, gone, gone over the rise.

I discussed this bad habit with my buddy Colin Conway during one of our virtual coffee chats. I was letting this tendency take up too much time. My productivity was diminished due to these rabbit holes and also some cat vacuuming (a term I believe coined by SFWA members in their long-standing discussion group, this is loosely defined a largely unnecessary task that you do instead of writing with the purpose of avoiding writing while convincing yourself the task isn't unnecessary at all but actually crucial to your success.... like creating sophisticated spreadsheets for all the writing projects you're going to work on instead of writing them).

Colin gave me some advice that I'll simplify here - he essentially joined the 5 A.M. Writer's Club. Not a revelation - a lot of writers go this route - but what he said that really motivated me was this:  that your creative energy is at its peak in those early hours (after that first cup of coffee, at least). It gets whittled down during the day. You may still have some in the later stages of the day or even at night, but he contended that the cream of that creative energy is what you get in those early hours.

So why not give the best of your creative energy to yourself? Your work-in-progress needs it the most and more to the point - you deserve it!

I thought it sounded like a great idea. And I already got up early. Ish. I mean, between six and seven is early, right? It's not Army early but still. (If you're wondering how early that is, if it starts with a zero-five or zero-four, it's Army early). I didn't really need to change my habits to implement this idea.

Did I?

Fortunately, it became a moot point very quickly. My amazing wife has, over the past six months, slowly instituted a number of healthy habits into her own lifestyle. Better eating and exercise, for example. Her actions have motivated me to do the same. It's made a big difference in my physical and mental health. 

One change she made right around the same time I had that Zoom coffee conversation with Colin was her sleep schedule. A little earlier to bed but more to the point of this post, an earlier rise. See, my wife is a sleeper. She needs her sleep, she likes her sleep. For years, her habit was to get up at the last possible moment, savoring all the sleep she could eke out of each morning. The downside to that route is obvious - hustling to get ready, a harried morning, harder to make a good breakfast choice, and so on. By setting the clock just a little earlier and denying her decades-long tendency to hit the snooze button repeatedly, she now enjoys a cup of coffee and some news for a half hour, has time to get ready without having to rush, and generally has a calmer morning that starts her day off right.

The problem was, she was getting up early. Like, Army early. 

Now, I don't need as much sleep as she does. Nor am I as enamored with it as she is. But early is still early, and somehow the difference between 6:30 and 5:00 seemed more like four hours than ninety minutes.

I started getting up with her anyway. Well, not with her. To avoid a potential murder at the Keurig machine (hers or mine - it could honestly go either way), I asked her if she'd be kind enough to let me know when she was done making her first cup of coffee. Because she's awesome, she said okay, and that's how it goes these days. She's up early without hitting snooze, gets her java, gives me a "hey, baby" and I'm up, too. I spend a little time sipping my own first cup of coffee and reading some news (okay, it's hockey news but I avoid rabbit holes entirely) and then I'm at it.

I give myself a target - word count or a time on the clock, depending on what else is going on that day - and put my head down and plow forward on my WIP, whatever it is.

And you know what? It works. My decades-old habit of writing whenever, in blocks and bursts, has been largely shed. Five or six days a week, my early morning is spent in whatever new world I'm in. Everything else comes later - editing, social media, podcast work, blogs, marketing, or all of those tasks outside of the writing world.

Now, I didn't even address the other element of this question - do I work set hours? The short answer is no. Once my morning session ends, whenever that is, I move on to other tasks. I work a lot. I work long. I work weekends. But I allow a lot of leeway. Need to take a walk? Run an errand? Just tired or need a day off? That's okay. Today might be six hours, tomorrow might be twelve. It's all good. 

But I'll get that morning cream, either way.

So back to Cohen's song. Now that I'm done with this admittedly long post, the fit isn't so perfect, is it? Kristi didn't command at all. In fact, she was really cool about all of her lifestyle choices, making it clear that they were her choices. She didn't pressure me or suggest any failure to join in on my part was a lack of support for her efforts. She's a strong person and entirely comfortable going her own way for her own reasons.

But lead? I think you could easily argue that she led by example. For my part, I looked and listened. And my works-in-progress are pretty happy about that.

People often say how grateful they are for the support of their spouse or partner. My thought on that? We probably don't say it often enough.

******************BSP ALERT**********BSP ALERT*************

With such a long post this week, I was tempted to skip any BSP. But I can't, because today is the release date for the Colin Conway-edited anthololgy, The Eviction of Hope. Will you look at that roster? 

It’s eviction day for The Hope Apartments. The residents have known about it for over a year. It’s too bad they ignored all the warning signs.

More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.

Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.

But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.

Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.

Many stayed until the bitter end.

These are their stories.

My contribution to this Colin Conway-edited anthology is “The Rumor in 411,” a story of loyalty and the power of rumors.


Brenda Chapman said...

So I read your post and put off writing ... I think I should follow your example and get an earlier start on the day!

Josh Stallings said...

Thank you! Tons of good advice here. I agree early mornings are when my head is fullest of stories. I think it has to do with proximity to my dreams.

And, Leonard Cohen, hell YES.

Frank Zafiro said...

@BRENDA, sorry to contribute to the delay! :-)

@JOSH, that's an interesting theory - I hadn't thought of it, but it makes sense to me.

Susan C Shea said...

Mornings for me are 1) coffee; 2) news online; 3) feeding cats; 4) shower; 5) more coffee. Only then am I awake enough to contemplate the keyboard, preferably while munching a croissant. More power to you, Frank!