Friday, January 6, 2012

2012: the year when no means yes

I’ve been forced to realise something about myself over the years — partly a fault of personality, partly a result of experience, especially the experience of motherhood: I am really bad at withdrawing from the hub of the action.

I should have understood this about myself long ago, being a kid who always did my homework on the loungeroom floor, wrote her uni essays at the kitchen table, then became a journalist who relished working amidst the noise and chaos of a bustling newsroom. Ever since those earliest working days spent seated next to the crime reporter, with his bloody wireless tuned in to the police CB all day, I have never been able to work in complete silence.

As a mother, though, this tendency seems to have has found its full expression. Anyone who has read The Divided Heart knows that I have found it exquisitely difficult to withdraw — physically and psychologically — from my family in order to focus on my own solitary work. And, whatever else it is, writing a book is usually a long and necessarily isolated slog.

I have never set up very effective boundaries between me and my kids, who know just how easily they can exploit my tendency to become easily distracted by their demands. It doesn’t help that I am a very slow writer, and one who easily loses confidence.

Where duty and distraction end and procrastination begins, I don't exactly know, but turning from my children, shutting myself away to write, never seems to get any easier. And when you're caught between a difficult sentence and a pile of dishes, a bit of hearty scrubbing can suddenly look so satisfyingly achieveable.

Admittedly, I have never really set up effective boundaries between me and the rest of the world either. Mothers and writers do have one thing in common. They are both constantly called upon to do things out of the goodness of their hearts. We endlessly volunteer our time to causes that, no matter how worthy or interesting, don’t pay, and don’t help us to remain focussed on the things we want and need to do for ourselves.

No matter how fast, or self-assured, any writer is, at the end of the day the words have to be put down on paper. And that requires focus. If I learned anything from writing The Divided Heart, it’s that there is no substitute for discipline — and this is probably truer for mothers than anyone.

So I have decided to make 2012 my Year of Saying No to all the fluff that can fill a life and lead to nothing. Which I hope will in fact make it the Year of Saying Yes to the things that count, as opposed to the things that just distract me from what's really important (including the kids, of course).

Anyone who wants to join me in Saying No this year, jump on board and I will take it upon myself to keep reminding you of your pledge. Happy New Year!


Elisabeth said...

I'm working on it, but even after many more years at motherhood than you, I expect - my oldest is 29, my youngest 18, I'm still having a hard time of it.

There's something compelling about motherhood, something that will not tolerate too many no's. Maybe it's the infant in all of us who wants that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, mum. And who can resist?

Rachel Power said...

Yes, it is compelling -- with good reason. I don't mean that I want to say 'no' to the kids. But because mothering (and working) means my time for other things is so limited, I need to learn to stop letting my energy and effort be so dispersed and dissipated that there's nothing left for my own creative work.

sister outlaws said...

I think we are hard wired to react to our child's needs and I too find it hard to find some reasonable space for my own work - the twins especially have me bouncing around like a tightly wound spring! There's ALWAYS something! But I even find my older children, 17 and 18 years old, still have needs I react to, even when they are old enough to do things myself. It's as if they need me to be doing things for them and that I somehow still need to be needed! I like your plan of saying no to the "fluff" that leads nowhere. It's been something on my mind too - I'm often too eager to help, as if it is more important than my own creative ventures (no wonder I never got ahead in the film world!). I think knowing what to say "no" to and being able to say "no" is something I'm learning as I get older. Prioritising your own work takes a certain bravery and I cringe a bit at the selfishness of it, even though I know it's so important to me. Why's that??? Creativity - my guilty secret!!!

simmone said...

Me too!
I read an article about a woman (mother of young kids) who took herself off to starbucks two nights a week to write ... so maybe not starbucks, but local library ... I don't know if you're like me, I'm usually wiped out by 4 but I think the thing of physically removing yourself is so important for writing. you need to be able to close the door...

Red Hen (dette) said...

I always end up working at the kitchen table too, I love a bit of noise about as I work. This was a bit tricky when I was a teen doing my final year sharing a room with my sister who liked to study in complete silence devoid of clutter!
With regard to saying no, as many people do I find it difficult to say. I can't remember who told me or if I read it somewhere but somewhere I came across a technique that I found helpful when saying no to someone. "I would love to help but I can't do so this time." It is a little like something I read about dealing with 3 year old tantrums. Saying no straight up sets up conflict so the book suggested 'Yes icecream would be nice but we can't buy some now.' Sometimes it works- 3 year olds are unpredictable. ;)
Good luck with saying NO to things that are not vitally important and YES to your writing. All the best for a fantastic productive 2012. I might even try to remember my own advice and use the no technique a little more often myself.

Damon Young said...

Very nice, Rachel. And true.

If it weren't for the local café, I'd get very little done. I can write some journalism at home, with the hullaballoo. But oftentimes I have to get out.

Saying 'NO' to free work is also important. I do a lot of broadcasting stuff, e.g. radio. I enjoy a lot of it, and it's good for publicity. But it eats hours, and writing takes hours. Lots of 'em, particularly books.

Best wishes for the new year.

Rose Wintergreen said...

I think most writers are creative people who love connecting with others and seeking new experiences when they can. This can grow to take up most of your writing time if you're not careful though! It can be so easy to say "yes", and then realise later that you really shouldn't have.

As for the home distractions, I've worked out that I can't write at home. There are too many other possibilities staring me in the face. The dishes. The internet. Other creative projects that have nothing to do with writing. I have to do my journalling and drafts at a cafe or library. Home is for research, typing up drafts and editing.

Best of luck for the new year Rachel! Really looking forward to reading your next book, when it's ready.

Sally Rippin said...

Good luck with this Rach - I'll be checking in with you every so often to see how you're going! xxx

Denis Wright said...

I've said several times - both on my blog and twitter - that I am in constant awe and admiration for people (women mostly) who juggle relationship, work, home, family, career and often education, and don't go off the deep end.

The times I was left alone to look after young children I found it impossible to do anything but tend their needs and fancies. Yet women manage it somehow.

It was only after this experience when my own little ones were growing up that I was fully sympathetic when mothers doing their uni assignments begged a few days more to finish an essay.

It's the old adage: every woman needs a wife!"

Frances said...

Rachel: as I understand it, repetitive and uninteresting noise engages the chattery, distracting part of one's brain, allowing undisturbed access to the deeper, more thoughtful and profound bits.

So, homework on the kitchen floor, uni essays at the kitchen table, your journalistic experiences, all leading to good output, are utterly logical.

Unfortunately, with children, this brain bit doesn't rest, but stays alert: the chatter is no longer meaningless, but fraught with possibilities. Your antennae is always up. Which means that your entree to the immense world of your own subconscious that you were accustomed to tapping is,if not blocked, at least only available via a detour.

It's not, as I can see you know, a matter of saying "no" to children: that's like rejecting your own life force.
I certainly can't suggest a solution. I can say that a social life turned out to be my biggest time waster. But, that's just me: not something that I would recommend.