Nancy: The Intentional Writer

Life and Writing Are Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulty of finding time to write. More specifically, I wrote about my own inability to prioritize writing given my other obligations, particularly those of my day job, which had reached a zenith of stressfulness in January.  While I was ‘this close’ to just turning in my resignation, I don’t like to jump into something that life-altering without a plan. So I started working on something that I often do in my day job: a gap analysis. Where are we now, where do we want to be, and what is in that gap separating the two.

For my life purposes, the ‘where are we now’ was the over-stressed, exhausted, time-deprived state of my life. The ‘where do we want to be’…well, that was harder to pinpoint. I spent more time thinking about where I didn’t want to be. But just like starting with a negative character goal in a story, coming at this from a negative angle was making it hard to see how I could progress to a positive place. Then I read this post on the Reinventing Fabulous blog, and puzzle pieces started shifting into place.

My mind seems to work in terms of solving puzzles. Creating story and plot and character arc are all part of a great big brain puzzle for me. In fact, one of the things I learned when we worked on Discovery (that phase when you are exploring and learning about your story through songs, collages, and all sorts of non-writing tasks) was that physically putting together a jigsaw puzzle, especially one that could be representative of my story (the photo with this post shows part of the puzzle that got incorporated into my story collage), helped me solve a lot of plot issues. It also kept me immersed in my WIP as every time I sat down to put a few more pieces together, my mind instantly started cogitating on the story. Sometimes I’d see characters in action. Other times, I could hear whole passages of dialogue.

What’s good for the writing can also be good for life.  I started laying out the puzzle pieces I’d been collecting: a priority list, another list of what wasn’t working in my life, a rough outline of how I was spending my hours, a blog post that talked about the danger of mindless immersion in ‘comfort’ behaviors. And I came up with a new word to sum up my goal for this year: intention.

For me, mindless comfort foods and activities were ad-hoc decisions that were wasting my time and energy. But sticking to the healthy food that I pack for myself for each work day and avoiding the in-office temptations like donuts or birthday cake brought in by well-meaning co-workers, or the mid-afternoon siren song of the junk-food packed vending machine, makes me feel better physically and mentally. And turning on the TV only when there is something specific I want to watch, and stopping myself from blind channel flipping, allows me to get things done that I would have sworn I didn’t have the mental energy to accomplish at the end of a long workday.

But lest you think it’s all about avoiding negative stuff, there is also a positive aspect to all of this. That’s where the intention comes in. I am a list-maker by nature, so it only makes sense for me to employ that as part of my ‘get-well plan’ for myself. For instance, on Friday, I made a list of things I wanted and needed to accomplish this weekend, a list of my intentions. With that list in mind, I carved out specific time for some activities and made decisions about my remaining time for others. I started with intention, and by Sunday night, I had gotten to almost every item on my list.

The important question, for purposes of the 8LW blog, is how are these changes affecting the writing? Well, it’s difficult to tell whether I’m increasing word count output, as I am in revision mode. But I can tell you that I feel more enthused by and invested in my story now than I have for months. And just as importantly to me, I am writing guilt-free, not feeling guilty about things I’m not doing because I know there is a time and place elsewhere in my schedule (or they are not important enough to make the list, in which case, who cares?). These are steps toward a my positive goals of living and writing with intention.

Two caveats to this success story. First, this is not a panacea. I still work a high-stress, all-consuming job, and some days, things fall off my list not because I’m wasting time with mindless tasks, but because I my schedule is jam-packed with other obligations. I am still working on this balance, and if I can’t find a way to achieve it, I will have to make some tough choices, read: major life changes. Second, I am far from perfect, and as such, I still have days where I fall off the wagon and into the abyss of mindless comfort-seeking. Like writing, life is a process. Some days things work, some days they don’t. I am not big into self-punishing – the world tends to punish us enough – so when I have a bad day, a non-intentional day, I go to bed and get up the next with the intention to do better.

Do you feel you lead an ‘intentional life’? Or does that feel too regimented or rules-driven for your approach to life?

8 thoughts on “Nancy: The Intentional Writer

    • Sometimes a plan for the day is all I need to keep me on track. But writing it down is key for me. Otherwise, I have this jumble of stuff in my head that I want to get done and it can be overwhelming. And sometimes I can then see that there’s way too much for one day and I cross some stuff off the list, giving myself permission to not get to everything.

  1. My life is more of a scramble than an intentional life. And today I ate two bags of crisps at work when I was tired, so I failed the comfort eating test! My only rule is to do something (write/edit/rewrite/plan) on my story 6/7 days a week and this I usually achieve, even if just 30 mins.

    I love your plan Nancy and can’t wait to hear how it works out over the next few weeks ….

    • Being tired (as I usually am on Mondays!) is awful for careful eating. I had to have a cup of Earl Gray to keep myself away from the vending machine this afternoon. Then I really wanted a second cup, but figured that would preclude decent sleep, leading to being exhausted Tuesday…it’s a vicious circle.

      I will report back, maybe around the end of the month, to let you know whether the plan seems to be getting my WIP revision back on track.

      • I’m impressed that a cup of Earl Grey can keep you away from comfort food – I find it is the ideal accompaniment! I made the life changing discovery of decaf Earl Grey last year and so can swig away at as many cups as I fancy without fear of insomnia!

  2. So interesting that you find jigsaws beneficial, Nancy. I discovered them by accident last year (I bought a couple for my mum and they were too difficult for her, so I kept them and ended up doing them myself). I found they really complemented my writing and I’ve bought quite a collection since then. I’ve been meaning to do a blog post about it for ages.

    My life is intentional, but these days it’s not regimented or rules-driven. I still work hard towards my goals but in the way that I choose – for example, I almost always get up early because I’m awake and there are things I want to accomplish, not because I’ve set myself a timetable. I worked to a tight schedule for most of my life and now I’m consciously allowing myself a little more flexiblity.

  3. I love the idea of consciously allowing flexibility. That’s something to strive for – making intentional choices while allowing room for flexibility. Sounds like great balance, Jilly!

  4. When I’m juggling career and health and family and writing career and all that, my mind often turns to Chaucer. I don’t think anyone really knows what he did with his time, but he was a customs officer, a courtier, a philosopher, an alchemist, an astronomer, a translator AND an author. He never finished Canterbury Tales. Did he have to? He did the best he could with juggling his life, and he was remembered for ages.

    LOL, what chutzpah I have! But, I think we all do the best we can with what we’ve got — and a little reflection can go a long ways in identifying what we can do. I look forward to hearing how your plan goes!

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