I Do Declare: Adjusting expectations and pace does wonders for productivity

This is my preferred pace for novel writing.

This time last year I did a mid-year check-in proclaiming that the year was half over and it wasn’t anything close to what I thought it would be.

That was mostly because I didn’t foresee a worldwide pandemic and shutdown, which threw all my carefully laid plans into a whirlwind state.

This year it’s different. Mostly because I lowered my expectations. No, that’s not right. My expectations weren’t lowered – that would imply that my standards were lessened, and that’s not happening – as much as adjusted.

I used to have a massive to-do list with calendar pages filled in and check boxes next to each item, all of which were color-coded according to media, genre, and due date. I threw everything I had into getting those boxes checked, and I got frustrated if I didn’t meet the goals I’d set. I then would spend time trying to figure out how to get back on track. Back in the fast lane.

But after spending a year in a forced slow-down, I decided to revise the way I do things. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t immediate. There were lots of fits and starts and some aggravation along the way. But I finally came to “new and improved” methods for productivity.

Nowadays, I set my big-picture goals and work my system (butt in chair every day; finish what I started; write first, then edit) in a way that will get things accomplished. I found out that if I work the system, I’ll reach the goals.

I adjusted my pace too. Last year the plan was to hit the ground running, go at full pace, and get stuff done. Yeah, and we know how that went, don’t we? Screeching halt followed by a reassessment of … well, just about everything.

Over the course of the year, I slowed down – there was no alternative, really – and worked at a more determined pace. More focused. More deliberate.

Instead of pedal to the metal all the time, with my motor running even when I took breaks, I stopped the vehicle and took time to look around and take stock of where I was, where I wanted to be, and what I needed to do to get there.

Instead of go-go-go, it was look-ponder-plan. And that felt good. So much better than the frantic pace I’d been on before.

All that said, what have this different pace and adjusted expectations helped me accomplish?

  • A book deal
  • A screenplay that tied for 1st runner up in a prestigious competition
  • A line of journal books into production
  • A line of crafts into production
  • More clarity in my work and my plans
  • A calmer mind and spirit
  • A consistently better mood

That last bullet point is reason enough to consider changing how to go about getting things done.

I’m glad I did.

I Do Declare: Summer is upon us and growth is everywhere

Tomato growth is a piece of cake compared to personal growth.

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice – the first day of Summer, the longest day (in daylight hours) of the year – and once again I’m reminded of the song “Turn” by the Byrds, which starts this way:

To everything
Turn, turn, turn
There is a season
Turn, turn, turn

I delved into this in a previous post, noting some of the eternal truths about the passing of time: namely, that it’s fleeting, that the current state (whether good or bad) shall pass eventually, that there’s a season for everything.

Seasons change. But while they’re here, they have something to teach us.

In the Summer season, it’s all about growth.

This season is when the corn stalks get taller, the watermelons get fatter, and most produce (the seasonal crop, anyway) is ready to be picked.

The seeds that were planted weeks or months ago have grown into the fruits and vegetables and flowers that we enjoy now.

Of course, it wasn’t instantaneous. A lot happens between seed in the ground and tomato on the vine. Cultivating. Planting. Fertilizing. Weeding. Some seeds don’t make it and you try again. Because the growth is worth it.

I love the Summer analogy applied to life. I find it fascinating to ponder the moments I’ve spent cultivating relationships and opportunities, watching seeds of ideas come to fruition, laboring over fertilizing the good and enduring the painful weeding out of the bad.

Just like the berries and cucumbers and roses and tomatoes and gardenias and squash and hydrangeas I’ve been tending lately, the meticulous efforts of growth in my life are a lot of work. But so worth it.

I Do Declare: Mother’s Day is a time to think about birthing things

As yesterday was Mother’s Day, I thought I’d share a story about learning that labor and delivery has many meanings.

Years ago, I was having some issues over what to do with my life. Now, it was nothing dramatic or weird. Nothing huge enough to be called an existential crisis (a term I dislike intensely: you already exist, just deal with it pretty much sums up my attitude), but it was a little more than a grumpy mood.

Conundrum is the word I’m looking for. I was in a conundrum because at the time I was a stay-at-home mom, up to my neck in diapers and formula and Sesame Street, and I wanted to be back doing a job and getting paid.

The trouble was I couldn’t find work making enough to clear daycare for three kids, and every time I thought about leaving them with someone else, I had major mom-guilt, plus going back to work meant I would miss Reading Rainbow and a day without LeVar Burton is a day without books and singing. (Butterfly in the sky … I can go twice as hiiiiigh … take a look … it’s in a book … Reading Rainbow!)

I wanted to stay at home with my kids. I loved it. I also wanted to go back to work. I loved it.

See the conundrum? Round and round I went.

I took my conundrum to my pastor, and she listened to me chase it round and round like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (“… but on the other hand … but on the other hand …”) and never once rolled her eyes at my blathering, not even when I blurted out, as I was championing the cause of “the other hand”:

“If I’m not being a mother and taking care of kids, what would I do? Who would I be?”

(Part of me cringes at those words. But they came from a place of truth. At that time and place, that’s what was in my heart.)

She thought for a moment and said, “There are many things to labor over.”

Which stopped the chase.

She was right. There are many things to labor over, many things to give birth to and love and care for. Ideas to generate. Things to create. Even the general notion of creating is a birthing process.

I’ve thought about that conversation many times. And I’ve given thanks for it many times.

Yes, I did eventually go back to work, after the kids were a little older (two of them in school, one in daycare). And then a few years later I came back home to be a freelancer – for two reasons: 1. Because the corporate world wasn’t the greener pasture thought it was (I’m glad the “other hand” didn’t win out years earlier, because then I would’ve had yet another conundrum, squared); and 2. Because there are many things to labor over and give birth to and those things, for me, include creative works.

It should come as no surprise that when I dream about having babies or being in labor – which I do quite often – it’s always about a creative work. A novel. A screenplay. A series of ebooks. Something I’m laboring over. Something I’m giving birth to.

I Do Declare: Gardening is a lot of work and a lot of reward, but mostly a lot of work

An herb garden out of an old chandelier.

I am one of the approximately 1 zillion people trying their hands at raised-bed gardening.

I happen to know it’s that many because when you google (or bing or duckduckgo) “raised bed gardens” you get a hillion-jillion links to articles and videos, and this, of course, is the best indicator of what’s going on at any given moment.

Squash and zucchini or possibly cucumbers. I’ll know in a few weeks.

We have a fairly sizable back yard, so we cleared out a patch of it and brought in various small containers and filled them with dirt.

And by we, I mean my husband. Because all this raking and clearing and hauling bags of dirt is hard work, and my job is writing about it.

(No, seriously, he’s much better at this whole “growing things” than I am.)

A few weeks ago, we did a day trip out to Mepkin Abbey for their plant sale and purchased some seedlings. Those monks really know what they’re doing when it comes to agriculture, and I like the idea of getting plants that have been prayed over.

Cucumbers are growing! I think they’re cucumbers. Maybe they’re squash. Hard to tell at the leaf stage.

We brought them home and popped them into the dirt. And now we wait – and mosey our way through the garden every day to see if anything is happening. (It is! Tomatoes are happening!)

When I thought about writing this blog post, I wondered whether I should do a tutorial or a photo spread or a short play.

And then I pulled on my background in journalism and considered how I would approach it if I were doing this article about someone else. In other words, what points would I want to go over, what insights would I want to reveal, what questions would I ask?

Here, then, is my interview with me on this topic:

Q: Why did I decide to do this garden?
A: Well, why not? Raised-bed gardening is all the rage, and plus I have this vision of me popping out to the garden and gathering all kinds of veggies for lunch.

Q: The plants might not all be ready at the same time.
A: Please don’t destroy my dreams.

Q: But why get into gardening now? It’s not as if I have lots of spare time on my hands. I already have a full plate, including a blog to keep up with.
A: Look, me, stop trying to make me feel guilty. I want home-grown veggies is all.

Q: What experience do I have?
A: Pretty much none. In fact, most plants that come under my care die an early death.

Q: What do I hope to gain from it?
A: A vast storehouse of tomatoes. Also cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and … um … what else did I plant? Lots of veggies.

Q: What is the actual return on investment (ROI)?
A: Okay, yes, we spent a lot on dirt and containers and plants to the tune of … let’s just say the tomatoes are going to be worth about $20 each. So what? I don’t like this line of questioning.

Q: What if it fails?
A: What if it doesn’t?

Q: Answer the question.
A: Fine. If it fails, I’ll have a cleared-out patch where I can build a labyrinth.

Q: Which will mean more money.
A: You’re judgmental for a former journalist, aren’t you?

p.s. This is all in fun. I do enjoy gardening very much. And, as I mentioned in last week’s Haiku to You Too, it truly is Holy ground.

Tomatoes are happening!
And more tomatoes are happening!