PhotobucketWhat are your natural rhythms–in life and in writing? How well does the reality of your life support those rhythms?

I am writing this from Breckenridge, a very small Colorado village in the Rockies.  It’s known for skiing, but I don’t ski and dislike the heavy crowds in the wintertime, so I come now, in mud season.  The trails are closed because everything is so muddy. There is no on one here except the odd day-trippers.  A lot of restaurants are closed, too, but I don’t mind because I have an apartment with a kitchen.

I’m here alone, after an insanely busy two months of promotion and publicity for my new book, The Garden of Happy Endings, complicated by two months of pinch-hitting with the new baby until full-time day care came through.  My last gig for Garden was on May 15, the same day I had to mail progress materials on the new book to my agent and editor.

Stick with me.  This is not about me, although I am using my particular life and work rhythms to help you think about yours.

Here’s the thing: right now, it’s not even 7 am.  I’m looking out on the most serenely quiet vista of half-melted snowy peaks and baby green aspen leaves. A raccoon trundled by, then a molting fox who was pretty sure I might toss him scraps. I was eating my breakfast out on the balcony, contemplating the day, what I will write, when I might get in a long walk along the river.  There’s no hiking because of the mud, which suits me just now–I don’t, actually, want to work that hard.

I was awake and working by 7 am yesterday, too, because I woke up naturally and cheerfully at 5:30 after falling asleep at 8.  Now I’m at the computer, working happily, and at home, I’d still be getting breakfast for myself and my beloved, then taking the dog for a walk.  Do I need to change my routines?  Maybe.

The other thing about this retreat is that it IS a retreat.  All of us want to do more now than we can possibly get done, a model heavily endorsed by American/Western culture.  You can never be successful enough to feed the yawning mouth of American expectation. You can never get far enough ahead to rest easy.

The demands of the machine on writers are higher than ever.  That two months of external demands on my time were non-negotiable. No one stood over me with a gun and said, “do this, or you are fired,” but the great flux of the market makes me feel like I cannot say no to any possibility of selling more books, and there are people who are working hard for me behind the scenes.  I don’t want to let them down

And that doesn’t touch the possibilities and potential available through the emerging markets.  I’m publishing traditionally with Bantam, and with Belle Bridge Books, a (once-small, emerging-force publisher) in June, and I have a lot o f backlist and coming frontlist for the electronic market.  And still, whatever I do, it doesn’t feel like quite enough.

I’m not alone. We’re all “running to stand still,” or so it seems.  A recent article in the New York Times addressed the pressure writers now feel to write more than one book a year.

But here I am, going to sleep at 8 and waking up at 5, getting to work by 7. I am relaxed.  I easily get the work done.  I am away from the dog and the cute cats and the man and the trainer and the pressure to go to the gym and the people I love in my life who all bring something rich to my life, but also take time away from the actual work.

That for me, is what has been lost in recent months–the work itself.  Writing is the thing, the source of satisfaction and a sense of productivity.   Writing is what gives shape to my days and, by extension, my life.  Writing, day in and day out, about whatever is on my mind, whatever has meaning, whatever questions are intriguing me at the moment (“what is wisdom?”, “how do women find their work and how does that give them better lives?” “why are the outdoors so nourishing?” “why do we travel?”) is what makes me feel whole.

In the past two crazy months, I did write, of course.  There were several articles and interviews I felt were good pieces of work.  I managed to snatch a few days of actual pages on the book in progress each week. Sometimes I managed to write something authentic on the planes or in hotel rooms.

Mostly, that’s all it was, however–snatched from the clutter of my days.  And that’s completely backwards.  It only took two days of sitting in the quiet here to recognize that, to see how I had allowed external things to shove writing out of the way.

Let me say that again: how *I* had allowed external things to shove writing out of the way.  I said yes to everything but the work–to publicity and going to the trainer at times that would interfere with writing, and babysitting at times that would interfere, and a couple of lunches with friends who needed me and have far less flexible schedules than I do.

Which all left me a grouchy, highly emotional, exhausted wreck.  I am a writer.  I need to write, a fact that has almost nothing to do with the market and everything to do with what makes me feel centered and right and whole.

This week, I am mostly alone.  I’ll read and polish a Sunday project that’s been waiting for several months, and let it fly into the world.  I’ll collage the book in progress and mull over the notes from my editor, who pinpointed a problem I do need to fix.  I’ll take long walks in the afternoons and nap to let the girls in the basement do their work. I expect I’ll feel a lot less scattered by the end of the week, and I suspect I will also have what I need to move forward on the book.

When I return home, I will put strong boundaries around my writing time again.  I’ll go to bed as early as I feel like going (I always feel embarrassed that I’m such a lark in a world that is full of vampires) and get up at four if I am so inclined, so I can do the work in the still quiet of the world before it roars in to grab my attention.  I’ll incorporate long walks back into the schedule, and tell the trainer mornings are my sacred writing time.

It’s so easy to get off track.  How do you get distracted from the work you want to do? What kind of natural rhythms do you find support the work best, and are you respecting them?

Photo courtesy Flickr’s ToniVC


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.