Today we are starting an arc within our time management topic. For the next month, we're going to discuss author Ellen Sussman's article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, which appeared in the November/December issue of Poets and Writers. Thanks to those people who recommended it to me and to Jeannine Atkins, who sent it to me.
Sussman's article is subtitled Four Steps to Higher Productivity , but before she even gets started on the steps she makes it plain that she's one of those just-sit-down-and-do-it people. "...if you're a writer, figure out how to do your job." Sounds a little harsh, eh? She does, however, offer an interesting suggestion on how to do that--develop an identity as a writer. Commit to the idea (the fact?) that you are a writer, and that it is your job. "If you embrace that statement," she says, "then you can begin to develop the practice of writing."
What I think she's getting at in her introduction is that if you have a strong identity as a writer, it's easier to maintain that boundary between your professional and personal lives that we've discussed before so that you can develop the practice of writing. And I believe she's on to something with this whole identity thing.
Soon after I published my first book, I heard Jane Yolen speak at a book event. During the question period, I asked her how she had managed to juggle her work and childrearing when her children were young. She said that 1. Her husband was a professor, and because of his academic schedule, he'd been able to take on more childrearing responsibilities than many spouses can, and 2. She had started publishing before she started having children. She already had a career. This sounds to me now as if her pre-existing identity as a writer helped her to maintain a boundary so that she could work.
My first book was published when my children were in elementary school. I could not get past the fact that I was a mother. In fact, I'd been writing for years in the off and on chaotic way that I do everything and had little success until that book, which drew very heavily on my experiences as a mother, was accepted for publication. At the time, I believed it was accepted because I was a mother and that that was the only reason my publisher was interested in me. A family member, who was a professional woman and mother, encouraged me to stop volunteering at school and church because I needed to concentrate on my career now that I finally had my foot in the door. I insisted that if I gave up the suburban mom's world to live like a stereotypical writer, no one would want my work. Talk about having no boundaries between your professional and personal lives.
Last year another family member and I were responsible for dealing with an older relative's health crisis. The other family member took off six days from work in a five- or six-week period and was receiving or making medical calls off and on throughout most of her workdays during the same time. Her personal life was definitely bleeding into her professional life. However, she had fairly traditional work hours with regular income her family depended upon, and she'd been doing that kind of work for decades. Her professional identity was strong, and the boundary between work life and personal life held in the end. I, on the other hand, had no books under contract and had no books in print. My family wasn't depending on my income, because I had none. My identity as a writer was very weak at that point, and the boundary between my professional and personal lives crumbled. Except for a few hours in November, I didn't work for four and a half months. In fact, I just started working again yesterday. I ended up making or taking four quick family calls during work time yesterday, and I had to ignore an in-coming call this morning. It's going to be a struggle to maintain a boundary so I can work.
So, people, how do we feel about the whole identity thing? Can it help with time management? Is believing we're writers, no matter at what stage of our careers we find ourselves, enough to maintain the boundary we need between professional and personal time? Has it worked for you in the past? Do you think it would work for you in the future?