When I Slow Down…

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Knowing and understanding my limits is hard.

Sometimes I think I can write a novel in a weekend. When the weekend comes and I have written nothing, I think I can write a novel in a week. And when the week is over and I have written nothing, I think I can write a novel in a month.

Art often takes time I am not willing to give it.

My daughter is the same way. She does some of the most amazing pieces of artwork; doodles I want to frame. Then, when she goes after a full-blown project, just mind blowing. During student-teacher conferences with her art teacher, she has been told repeatedly that she needs to step back a bit, chew on smaller projects for the allotted time given for the assignment. I have taken somewhat of a similar approach to my writing class. I tell my students the course is doable, three 1600 word essays, and one giant 3500 word essay and their eyes roll back into their heads like I am the devil. I tell them, budget your time. So many of them still crank out essays at the eleventh hour right against the deadline to the minute. This is why I schedule my essay deadlines at midnight instead of seven in the morning: I want them to sleep. I also encourage backing up work. These are all lessons I’ve learned in graduate school.

Still, I eat more than I can handle and work past the last minute; take on one too many projects; sign up for just one more email notification, one more volunteer project. One more editing job, one more freelance writing gig, let’s teach just one more class because I can handle it. Everything I want to do is so light and crisp, so delicious, I don’t want to just eat one:

Eventually, I have to say no. And I have become comfortable with no, but saying no more often is still a continual learning curve.

Jill Alexander Essbaum over at I Miss You When I Blink talks specifically about reading reviews. She says, “I know my limits. And they are low. There’s little good that reviews can do me but desperately hurt my feelings. If a review is good my husband will tell me. I used to read them. But—yeah. You know?”

Actually, I like reading any kind of review. If you want to leave a scathing review of one of my novels, man, go for it. A review means you’ve actually read my stuff! But Essbaum has a point: know your limits. Realize it’s going to take a year or more for me to complete a novel. Short stories take months for me, not days. I can’t teach every writing class there is, I cannot keep adding students to my ever-growing roster.

When I slow down, that is when I am at the most productive. And that is very difficult to remember, something I must continue to remind myself every day.

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