Sometimes I feel like Hugh Grant. Well, not actually Hugh Grant. Lately I’ve been feeling a little like Hugh Grant’s character Will in About a Boy. Not in the lazing about, filling my life with meaningless tidbits of self-serving activities way. But the man had a good point. In About a Boy, Hugh Grant’s character has found that the best way to organize his decadent daily activities is in units of time.
My daily activities are anything but decadent, unfortunately. And I do tend to handle this business of being an adult pretty well most of the time. But this time of year definitely presents some challenges as far as time management. Somehow, we are all supposed to continue on with our regular work schedules, parenting and household responsibilities, friend and family commitments, and—I know I’m not alone here—after-school chauffeuring of children to guitar lessons, dance lessons, gymnastics, hair-cuts, and so on and so forth. If we’re being honest, let’s also add a modicum of time for our own individual sanity-maintaining activities: writing is mine. Now add to that the entire idea of the holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or another holiday I neglect to list, I believe most of us feel a bit of a crunch this time of year.
What I’ve been trying to figure out is how to juggle. I think we all strive for that sweet spot where all the balls are in the air, even if only for a moment. What I realize today, as I sit working on revisions for The Secret Remains amid my cluttered house, my gaze avoiding the dishes in the sink and the wrinkled mass of clean laundry waiting patiently for me, is that Will in About a Boy had a good system. It is the stuff his units of time are made of that is grossly flawed, at least until Marcus stumbles into his life and overhauls it for the better. But the units of time concept is a pretty genius one.
I learned today that I am much more productive when I take a stab at breaking my day into units of time. Now, I can’t say it works without a hitch. It takes me a while to settle into the units I’ve allotted for writing. There are several trips back and forth to the kitchen for coffee. Chocolate. Then minty gum. Then an adjustment in my current playlist. Maybe the dogs need to go out. But once I’ve rejoined my characters and fallen back into their lives, several units of time flit right by without me even noticing. Which is all the more reason I really need those extra couple units of time later on for the real life essentials.
After all of that, and my great realization today of how much I’ve learned from Will in About a Boy, I’ll readily admit that I’m not an incredibly organized person. I can’t swear that from here on in my life will be evenly divided into neat units of productive time. But right now, for the holiday season and all of the fun craziness that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I think I will be like Hugh Grant. Just a little.
So here is my question. What tricks have you learned to use this time of year, to squeeze every bit of time out of these even busier days and nights?
I can’t think of a single thing I want for Christmas this year. Honestly. In previous years, I’ve started to come up with answers to that oft asked question in my family: what would you like for Christmas? I try to think along the lines of things I need. A new toaster maybe. Or things I would like. New fuzzy socks. Dangly earrings. You know, those items you’d love but can’t bring yourself to indulge in and spend the money on just for yourself. This year, I am at a loss when asked this question.
In previous years, when my mother or sister or husband or kids have asked me the question, no matter what comes out of my mouth, there is always only one answer in my head. I want to publish my book. I want to see my words on the printed page. I want my characters and fictional world to be “out there,” I want my story to hit home with someone, make an impact. But of course this isn’t a gift anyone can give me.
Or is it? It’s a gift my mom or sister or husband or kids would have given me in a heartbeat if they had the power. It’s something I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to give myself for a long time. I am always undermined by my own yearning to get back to the story…any great effort I put forth to finally get the attention of an agent or publisher is always slowed by my own fiction. My characters are needy, they are loud at times, and they will not let me rest until I come back to them and let them go on with their lives. It’s quite a balancing act, managing the nuts and bolts of being a bona fide writer with actually doing the thing. And doing the writing always wins out.
This year, for the first time in many years, I have no answer to the question. I want nothing. There isn’t a single thing I can think of that I want. Because I have everything I want. I have a husband who loves me. Two kids I am proud of beyond words. A loving, caring extended circle of family and friends. A job I like, a roof over my head, food in my belly. I’ve had these things for a while now. I’m pretty good at seeing things from the big picture perspective. I know how lucky I am. But today I have something else, and this is why, when my family asks me what I want for Christmas, I can honestly say, “nothing.” Because I know, in six months’ time (or so), there’s a very good chance that I will have the immense pleasure of holding my very own book in my hands. With my words—my heart and soul and blood and tears and joy—inside. I can’t wait.