Thank you to those who reached out after my post last week: you people are something else, you know that? I appreciate hearing from sympathetic spirits, and friends, and others who just simply get that life is complicated and hard and say things like Ugh, …
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over this Pandemic Thanksgiving + start of Covid Christmastime:
On the Wednesday before your it’s-just-us-this-year Thanksgiving, it’s really nice to cook the big meal with your kids while also not stressing about cleaning the house for company. You’ll miss the family you won’t be seeing, of course, but you will absolutely appreciate the calm. And the discovery that your twelve-year-old likes to chop vegetables.
On Thanksgiving Day, have dinner late so you can make a charcuterie board for lunch. No one will be upset about this.
On that Friday, clean the house in the morning before you start pulling out all the decorations. Yes, you’re still going to have to vacuum up the needles after all is said and done, but you can’t beat decking the halls when they’re already sparkly. (Also, somebody spilled cranberry sauce on the floor yesterday. You have to get out the mop, anyway.)
On that Saturday, there’s no shame in counting a masked-up early-morning trip to Lowe’s with your spouse to buy Christmas lights as a date. Well, maybe a little shame, but run with it anyway. You don’t get out much anymore.
On the first Sunday of Advent, know that hunting for a Christmas tree is like finding the perfect wedding dress: just buy the first one you fall in love with. Even if, um, it ends up being a bit too small, it’s still pretty.
On that Monday, or any day this season, take some time to spend with each of your children individually. Saoirse and I went shopping early today, before the crowds descended, for a gift for her to give her sister and brother. We were out for a total of an hour and a half, but she loved it. I loved it. Granted, she’s been basically nowhere since the pandemic started and would’ve been happy to have gone with me to fill up the car with gas, but, just like Lowe’s dates with your spouse: take the quality time where you can get it.
Today is the last day of Thanksgiving break for the kids. As I type this, they’re playing together upstairs (actually, I think they’ve moved on to their devices now, which is probably why the house is so quiet). It’s rainy here, and the fireplace is going, and our Tiny Tree has lights on it but will get its ornaments another day (we have many, many unscheduled days to fill between now and Christmas, you guys).
We’re about to enter a month of uncertainty (are coronavirus cases going to continue to surge?…the kids are in school, but will they continue?…should we still shovel the driveway if it snows since we don’t really go anywhere anyway?), but I’m through worrying about it. Quinlan loves to bake and wants to learn how to separate an egg yolk from its white. Saoirse, my budding interior designer, says she’ll organize Cian’s room with him. David has a list of new recipes he wants to tackle, things that involve fenugreek and mustard seeds, because he has the time to try them.
We have time now. Especially because it won’t take us any of it at all to decorate that shrub we brought home from the tree farm.
It’s 7:15 on Sunday morning. I’ve just sat down on the couch with a newspaper and the first, and therefore most precious, cup of coffee of the day. Cian’s already here in the living room playing, and he abandons his toys when I sit to …
I haven’t talked a lot about my novel-writing lately here, largely because I’ve spent so much of my time this fall either being sad or writing about being sad instead (I’ve been fun!), but what I haven’t told you is this: I’m back to writing, regular fiction writing, and–outside a small hiccup due to my obsessive monitoring of the results of a certain election–I’m working toward a goal to finish the manuscript of the book I’m writing by the end of this calendar year.
I know. That’s a lot of words. But I’m a third of the way into this book and can see the rest of the way out. It’s exciting.
My issue now is scheduling. It’s easy for the pressures of regular life–the remote learning days for school and the ongoing settling of my mom’s estate, etc.–to edge in around a writer’s focus and subvert it, and I’ve always struggled with letting the concrete tasks of the day nudge the imaginative ones out of the way. But I’ve got work to do. I’ve got a few goals I want to hit, and soon. I happened upon an episode of a podcast called She Did it Her Way: with Amanda Boleyn where Boleyn, a consultant, talks about making the switch from paper planning to digital (it’s episode #422, if you’re interested). Boleyn details how she was always a paper scheduler before switching to an online platform, and goes into depth about how she basically schedules every single one of her tasks specifically over the course of a week or two. It reminded me a lot of a system called the Pomodoro Technique, which is a method developed by a man named Francesco Cirillo. Using this technique, you work on a specific task for 25 minutes, take a break, then start all over again. I’ve used it before for writing to success, but dropped it at one point because I let regular life sneak in and bump it out of the way, as regular life likes to do. And as much as I’d like to say that I’m a creative, man, and we don’t need no stinkin’ schedules, we do. We really, really do.
Here’s my plan:
Since I need to write 2,000 words a day to ensure I’ve hit my goal of 100,000 words by the end of 2020, I’ve scheduled my weekday mornings to include 6 writing sprints of 25 minutes each. My “task” during each sprint is to complete 350 words, and after each I take a five-minute break to grab more coffee, check social media, or run to the bathroom (considering I just bought this monstrosity to ensure I’m drinking enough water each day, you know where I’ll be). You know what’s funny, though? The first day I did this I got over 2,000 words down in two hours. On Saturday morning, I sat down to get a quick 25-minute sprint in before I started some chores, and dropped 750 new words into my manuscript. That’s almost three pages, written on the fly before I even dusted the living room. For a writer with a goal, it’s a victory. (That picture down there? That’s the face of a person who wrote seven pages like they were nothing and is back in it.)
You already know that once you get rolling, good stuff like this tends to leak out of the boxes we put it in: I’ve started noticing that if I set a twenty-five minute time limit on other, non-writing necessary tasks–responding to email, contacting contractors for my mother’s house, tidying a room, for instance–I get so much more accomplished. Twenty-five minutes is such a short period of time, but it can be a massive chunk of space to get good work completed. The trick is to be specific: know what you want to accomplish in those twenty-five minutes. It makes so much of a difference.
As I get back into writing, I’m happy to share odds and ends that help me along the way. If you try this–and it works for you!–let me know.
There goes my timer! I’ll see you soon.
You guys, I’m working through something here (aren’t I always, though? I KNOW). The house that Paul and I grew up in is under contract. This is a relief, but it’s also a little like, Oh, hi! You’re buying my youth! Here’s what goes through …
It’s Wednesday of last week, and I’m writing this to you from a pool deck along the ocean in North Carolina. We’ve turned an idea to get away over Columbus Day weekend into a week-long stay in an oceanfront home in Corolla. We took the …