Thursday, June 6, 2013

Me First: Downsizing as an Upgrade

i·ron·ic   /īˈränik/

Adjective: Happening in the opposite way to what is expected, thus typically causing wry amusement.

I’m in the process of editing a project on the topic of literary citizenship. In the past (and scheduled in the future again), one of my most requested guest talks touches on this very subject. It’s one I personally admire, and something I aim to live by, as well. How, exactly, can we put a little more of ourselves into the lit community, to not only grow from creatively and with zest, but more so to sustain and foster the community around us…. etc… etc… 

So, yes, I am working on this project I adore and feel so good about.

Meanwhile, and perhaps ironically, something has to give.

I go through this phase usually once, if not twice, each year. I come to a place and time where I feel like I might possibly be stretching myself too thin in some areas. Why? 

Confession: I am a hoarder when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities. I have such a hard time passing up even the most miniscule of opportunities that appeals to me. These are not necessarily gratuitous in fortune, or in praise, but they appeal to me. Whether adding a new review gig to my plate or a speaking engagement that’s so close down the road that it can’t possibly take much of my time and, oh, wouldn’t that just be a nice thing to do, and how great it is to encourage emerging writers and, okay, so the pay is barely existent, if there at all, but just imagine those gracious faces when they think about their writing dreams and… and… and… Sigh. I hoard opportunities.  

I enjoy working in the community. I enjoy reviewing books. When able to do so, I will help out another writer, whether that’s nudging a bit of promo/marketing his/her way or responding to emails from those just starting out.

Yet I have a few personal mantras that thankfully keep me in check:
Strive for balance.
Ensure quality of life.
Save yourself before you try to save others.

And it has come to that time, once again, where it’s downsizing season in this writer’s office.

So, how exactly do I go about keeping balance? How do I measure my commitments and weed down the to-do list?

There is nothing scientific to the process, but I do call on my love of spreadsheets to aid in the decision-making. I review what I have done in the past year (for my own writing, for journals and freelance publications, for workshops and other activities within the community—locally and more broadly). I list off the time needed to accomplish ‘external’ commitments, as well as assign any monetary or side-benefits that result from such contracts. Then, I more and more closely look at how, if at all, these ‘jobs’ distract from my own creative work. Because, really, at the end of the day, a writer needs to have written something. A writer writes, yes? And if the writing suffers from a lack of time or focus, no amount of community outreach will make up for that.

Not that long ago, writer pal Joe Ponepinto wrote a blog post about writing for pay, or, rather, that writers should be paid. I agree. But, admittedly, I do take on some projects that pay in ways other than cash. I take on projects that push me, move me, or otherwise propel me forward. But, yes, I seek the paying projects, too.

Yet when I tally my year’s activities and seek to find where to cut, it’s not always the least paying gigs that I unleash from my commitment list. Sometimes, actually, I cut the best paying sources. Why? Sometimes those come at another cost: time and energy.

Really, then, the be-all-end-all of my assessment is this:

_Does X still add something to my life/creative endeavors?

_Does X still contribute to my greater goals?

_Does X take up too much time that could better be spent writing?

And, in a very subjective question, I admit, I also consider whether my efforts are truly appreciated. That’s a tough one to ask and an even tougher one to answer. But it’s important, too, to not only feel good about one’s efforts, but to feel others benefit from and appreciate what you can offer. That’s half the ‘pay-off’ sometimes. That’s the seed of literary citizenship, to give something of one’s self to others in the community. 

Writers write. Balance. Quality of life. Save yourself before you try to save others. These are the thoughts that I keep in mind regardless of adding to or cutting something from my schedule. The result is sometimes temporary, as I continually add (hoard) things throughout the year. And even when I feel guilty about cutting something from my task list, I remind myself this: I am not downsizing. I am upgrading.

1 comment :