Making it happen, one paradigm shift at a time

Last time I wrote about my decision to switch my schedule around–a rather drastic decision driven by my need to be productive and avoid the Netflix-trap. For those of you who aren’t aware (or are made of stronger stuff than I), Netflix is ridiculously addictive. I’ve actually contemplated cancelling our Netflix subscription. Not because we don’t love it. But because we do. Too much. We love love love love love Netflix. We heart Netflix. It’s a problem, though, when the next episode begins playing before I can dig up enough will power to turn the damn TV off. This reality, in combination with a general lack of will power at night, meant that I needed to make a big change. I needed to go to bed early, right after dinner, and get up early enough to write before the baby wakes up. The baby has yet to come to turns with Daddy being a Writer, and what that means for his general availability for playing and reeeaaading. As in, when she’s awake she will absolutely assault you if you don’t give her your undivided attention. I understand it, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I’m her Daddy, and as a toddler it’s a scary thing to have my attention directed with great focus and interest elsewhere. I’m sure she’ll gradually grow out of it–particularly when her own interests and independence assert themselves. I’ve heard from other parents further down the track that this super-dependent phase doesn’t last as long as they wish it did in retrospect. Before we know it (supposedly) she’ll be wanting to do everything herself, and show little interest in our contributions as parents. It’s tricky because I also want to foster a close family dynamic–where we do lots of stuff together and enjoy this journey of life as a family unit. I don’t want to cultivate the Cat’s Cradle riff of how Daddy was never there for his son and then one day his son was never there for his Daddy. Eeeek. She actually had her first screaming, crying, nightmare a night that I had to work late for my consulting gig. She wasn’t too thrilled with her Daddy and completely rebuffed my attempts to soothe her.

It’s a tricky thing balancing my need to become a full-time working writer with all the other conflicting desires and demands in life. I hope as long as I do my best to give her what time and attention I can that it’ll all work out in the end. It’s a poor excuse, but my hope, too, is that this time of working a full-time job, a part-time consulting gig, and writing every morning for two hours won’t always be the way it is…that someday–hopefully sooner than later–I’ll be a full-time writer making an equivalent income or more, with no other work-related demands on my time. Oh, yes, I’ll work very hard as a writer–I know that is what it takes–but the idea is that rather than spending 55 hours a week working, and 15 hours a week writing (for a total of roughly 70+ hours a week), I’ll spend 45 hours a week writing (6-7 hours a day, 7 days a week) and be able to fully participate in family life for the remainder. The dream (what I keep in mind) is to, one day, get up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., make my coffee and sit down to write until 7 a.m. when the kids get up. Then make breakfast, connect with them for a couple hours, and get back to it at 9 a.m.. Then write until about 1 p.m. and take a lunch. And after lunch do some Business-of-Writing stuff: collaborating with my wife on editing, marketing, distribution, etc. until we finally call it a day at around 2-3 p.m.. Then free-time for dinner and hanging out with the family until bedtime at 8 p.m.. THAT is the life I want. The life I am working toward. On second thought. Maybe I write till Noon then lunch then business stuff and be done by 2 p.m.. After all, the only other main thing I value in life, other than making a living as a writer, is having lots of time to spend with the people I care most about: my family. Done 7 days a week, that’s still 42 hours of writing and 7 hours of business stuff–which equals 49 hours of work. Even if I wrote a bit less (say one less hour a day, in order to give a bit more time to business), it’d still be a very respectable work week. In anyone’s book I’d still be applying myself diligently. Even my Dad’s.

But back to paradigm shifts…the how this is going to happen part of the equation.

I decided I needed to shift schedules. Even after deciding, it took me weeks–months even–to actually make the change. A very big part of me didn’t want to give up my Netflix addiction. But finally, a couple weeks ago, I did. After dinner one night, I brush my teeth, did the dishes, and climbed into bed. I tossed and turned and felt like my legs wanted to go run a marathon. Eventually I fell asleep…hours later. I woke at 4:30 a.m. and set on the steps of our spiral staircase–merely trying to stay up right and fend off the need to sleeeeeeeepppp. And I did. I made coffee. I read. But I stayed awake. I may have even written a little. But the point wasn’t to write initially. It was just to make the all-important shift. I think I even fell off the horse right away, a morning or two later, when the baby woke up with us at 5 a.m.. I took her back to bed and slept until 7 a.m.. But I didn’t give up. I kept at it. Now, I do it. I get up every day, every morning, closer to 5 a.m. than 6 a.m.. Some mornings are harder than others, but I’m always writing by 6 a.m.. That’s progress. That’s getting somewhere. That’s something to build on. The longer I do this, the better I’ll get at simply being awake at 5 a.m.. And then, if I’ve become sufficiently skilled at being asleep by 8 pm the prior night, I’ll move it slightly back to 4:30.

Already, my routine is paying off. I’ve written pages and pages of notes and story searching stuff (that’s what Larry Brooks calls it in Story Physics). I’m well on my way to having my story well-searched and designed and ready for the next step in another few weeks: actually writing the book.

That’s another paradigm shift I’ve come to terms with. I have always believed in the value of story search and story design. Especially because I come from screenwriting–having written five pretty banal full-length scripts, and several shorts (all of which received A’s or B+’s in an undergraduate screenwriting class). I believe in the value of a beat sheet, of the Three Act Structure, and all that. But I never really felt like I was “writing” when I was engaged in the planning/designing/architecting phase.

The silly thing is that I realized today that it’s all nuance and split hairs. When we plan we are writing. We are putting words on a page, all over a page. We are scribbling and typing–creating. In fact, we are writing. We’re just writing in an unstructured way. Is it not writing if it’s unstructured? That’s silly. Writing is simply putting words on a page, anywhere, to tell a story. When we’re doing so as we search and discover and design our story, it’s every bit the same thing. Like I said, a paradigm shift. And I’m happy to report that I now actually feel like I am writing…even when I’m searching for and exploring my story in an unstructured way. It’s an essential part of the process, without which I wouldn’t be able to productively get to the part where I constructively write the structured story down.

The lesson is this: challenge your paradigms. Give it a shot. Do whatever it takes to make the dream a reality. Oh, and remember, if you want to make this your job, you have to really really really work at it. Otherwise you’re just playing the odds that your measly book a year will be the next Harry Potter. The harder you work, the more likely you are to at least make a living. And that is the goal–not the many millions that some might make. Plus, you dramatically increase your odds of getting to that level the harder you work. Make your own luck.


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