Tripping over the Rug Monsters

Cedar’s post the other day about choosing attainable goals started me thinking about things I’ve been trying to sweep under the rug for a while. By now the rug is all lumpy and it keeps bubbling as the Rug Monsters fight for freedom. So I guess it’s time to let them have their say…

I doubt that I’m the only one around here who cherishes a beautiful vision of sitting in my perfectly appointed study while the words flow from my fingertips by the thousands, resulting in multiple books a year, all (of course) impeccably proofread, polished to a high gloss, with attractive covers, superb formatting, and tempting blurbs.

And I’m darned sure I’m not the only one here who has tripped over some manifestation or other of Real Life as I strode confidently towards this vision, head held so high that I didn’t notice the Rug Monsters underfoot. (If anybody reading this is really living the dream, just don’t tell me about it, okay?)

Toddlers are extremely efficient Rug Monsters. So are school-age children, particularly during the current craziness. Teenagers add their own Satanic touches – at least my teens did; I kept expecting to see their pretty little heads rotate 360 degrees while they vomited green bile. In mercy to those of you still think it gets easier after they’re 18, I shall refrain from detailing the ways in which grown kids can generate even more challenging manifestations of Real Life.

And then there are the interruptions generated by spouse, day job, day job during Covid-19, aging parents, family crises, surprise expenses, cross-country moves, disintegrating houses… need I continue?

Having outlived most of these problems, I feel like a total wimp for letting my own Rug Monsters derail me. But age, multiple surgeries, and the peculiar exhaustion generated by chronic pain are also quite effective Rug Monsters. And so I’m making some adjustments that I don’t much like.

All my life I’ve been driven by so much overflowing creativity and energy that it wasn’t enough just to keep writing books; in my “off hours,” even while coping with family issues, I had to design quilts and cover things with beads, paint furniture and concoct complex Chinese dishes. And I needed to be outside in nature so much that I wore my own ruts in the hiding trails around Austin, even in the dog days of Austin.

No longer. When I take my fingers off the keyboard, they don’t twitch to pick up an embroidery or beadwork project. The quilt pieces I cut out before the round of surgeries started are neatly folded in a drawer, because I haven’t the energy to clean out a sewing room that has become a dumping place for junk and unused furniture. Hiking trails are a thing of the past now that I need a cane to hobble from the back door to the patio at the back of the yard.

And writing?…

I’ve spent the last year and a half restarting a book, losing weeks to some stupid minor illness that knocks me for a loop, restarting again… Apart from the pain issues I’m basically healthy again now, and I want to get back to a regular writing schedule. Just clenching my fists and screaming, “I want to be the way I used to be!” hasn’t worked out, so it’s time to make some changes.

  1. Actually writing the books is the main thing; many of the surrounding tasks can be outsourced, and I’m going to do that. I’m swapping proofreading services with other writers, because I no longer trust my unaided eyes to catch the small stuff. Formatting? It is irrelevant that up to a few years ago, formatting books for Kindle and print would have been a trivial task that I could do in a matter of hours. I’m not as quick as I used to be and trying to fiddle with all the details is draining. Pay somebody to do it. I’m even experimenting with paying someone to write a blurb for Tangled Magic; I don’t need to spend days yanking my hair out over that task, either. A couple of weeks will tell if I can actually outsource blurb writing to a professional who pinkie pinkie promises to read the book first.
  2. I usually spend as much time on research/plotting as on actual writing; if I’ve done the first part well, words flow easily during the second phase. Unfortunately, research/plotting doesn’t make me happy the way writing does, plus it’s harder to quantify, so I’m continually tempted to start writing before I’m ready. Since we’re going back to the beach for another week – I’ll be there when you read this – I plan to spend the indoor part of the vacation working out some quantifiable goals for that phase, whether in terms of books read, pages of notes taken, time spent, or chapters adequately plotted. It’s worth a little thinking time.
  3. Writing goals are not going to be what they were when I had the energy to dive into a book and not resurface for hours. Taking a leaf from Cedar’s book, I’m going to start by setting word-count goals I am sure I can meet, then – with luck – raising them until I find the sweet spot where I both meet the goal and feel satisfied with progress.

Come September, I’ll be back with a report on how the inchoate New Plan is shaping.

24 comments

  1. The area rug in my living room gets lumpy. The cats keep hiding things under it: fake mice, balls, bottle caps, socks, coins, mail…

  2. I’ve been praying for you, so I am very glad to see a next thought.

    And I have some idea what pain does to processes.

    1. Prayers are always good! Maybe I have you to thank for the voice in my head that keeps saying, “You Can Deal With It. Do So.”

  3. Obviously obey your physical therapist and doctors first. But that Bob and Brad physical therapists YouTube channel has all kinds of useful tips about aches and pains, and how to deal with them, as well.as exercises that are easy, fast, and helpful. Just listen to all their caveats, and stop right away if it hurts instead of feeling better.

  4. “hiding trails”?

    Are they trails where you can hide or are they trails that are hidden? [Crazy Grin]

    1. Well, in the Golden Age before cell phones, they were places where nobody could get ahold of me, so “hiding trails” was probably a Freudian slip.

      1. There’s a reason I refer to my phone as the iLeash. I have to have it for Day Job. I do my best to leave it at home all the rest of the time.

        1. I won’t use my personal phone for work-related things. Last time, I made them provide one, which I used only for things related to the job. They seemed to have some idea that it was a leash they could yank 24/7, and acted upset when I turned it off evenings and weekends.

          An occasional call, sure, no problem. But 19 out of 20 calls on my phone were work-related, and they were calling me in the evenings for trivial things that could have waited until morning. The final straw was one Saturday when they demanded that I drop everything and run down to the office *right now* to fix something. I pointed out that I was 175 miles away, sitting on the grid at the race track, and even if I dropped everything, it would take at least four hours to load the car back on its trailer and drive to the office… apparently, that particular middle manager had the idea I should have asked her permission before “making myself unavailable.”

          Uh, no. And it wound up costing them a fair chunk of money in the end.

  5. You guys have writing goals? [incredulous look] Like, you can -plan- when and how much to write? And maybe even follow an outline?

    Wow. That’s amazing. ~:D

    1. I can plan to sit down and write. I can say I am not going to stop until I get X words, minimum. Outlines? Those are things you do to track what you’ve already done.

    2. Sometimes I can when I am trolling.

      But so far I’ve yet to break Art and Analysis to the yoke.

  6. *Looks around office, looks at stuff on top of bookcases in office* Um, yeah, about that . . .

    2020 has been a banner year for ” . . . unless Life happens” or “Ooh, dude, bad life roll there.” The more I look at what Day Job is going to entail, the faster I see my writing time vanishing into a fond memory. Ah well. Semper Gumbi [always flexible]. One bite at a time, as they say about eating an elephant.

  7. > outsource blurb writing to a professional

    It strikes me you might need *two* blurbs; one for your fans, who just need to know what’s new and different, and one for random browsers who have never read any of your stuff before. The “fan” subset doesn’t necessarily overlap “proofreader”; they’ll be looking for much different things.

  8. Concerning word-count goals: They can be spurs to productivity, but sometimes it proves to be productivity of the wrong kind. When I last tried to march to that beat, it made me do things I cringe to recall. I would replace short, elegant phrases with longer ones that lacked rhythm. I’d add modifiers, absolutes, and sometimes subordinate clauses whose function in the sentence was dubious. I’d even add “he said” and “she said” where I’d structured the dialogue to make them unnecessary. Beware!

    These days, my productivity spur is the scene. If I can produce one coherent scene per day, I’ll be satisfied. It seems less vulnerable to corruption of the sort that can afflict a word-count quota. At any rate, so far, so good.

  9. In mercy to those of you still think it gets easier after they’re 18, I shall refrain from detailing the ways in which grown kids can generate even more challenging manifestations of Real Life.

    Per mom, you still have all the same impulses, but none of the authority, and if you’re a GOOD parent you’re trying to not TRY to control the kid!

    1. Because it doesn’t work, and that’s mostly a good thing.

      Besides, I can worry enough about my husband and my knees to use up most of my worry energy.

  10. I don’t do word count goals, but I do keep track so I can see the progress.

    I usually have multiple books in progress at any given time, so days when the words just won’t flow I can research, edit, back-outline and analyze, do covers, think of clever blurbs . . .

    But it’s the writing that makes me happy–I think being creative is good for the brain and balances all the brain chemicals toward the happy side–so I try to do some every day.

    1. Same here! This month I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just plot, but after that I hope to get back to a schedule where I write in the mornings and plot/research the next book in the afternoons. I really need that creative candy.

  11. Age has been creeping up on me…every time I look behind me, it’s a little closer. Except that it isn’t even behind me anymore…Naps are obligatory, and daily maintenance chores are more frequent and onerous. So far, attempts at actual fiction writing are only producing snippets that convince me I need to do moar research, which isn’t the goal I had in mind.

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