It’s Labor Day as I write this. My weather radio has just screamed out a tornado warning and, for the fourth time, I had to cut power to my computer and head downstairs. I sat for a half-hour, impatiently watching it rain, and then returned to my desk to work until the next alarm.
I resent the storms’ disruption of my work, but it's only when I click on my iTunes playlist containing ten (!) different versions of Pachelbel’s Canon—my ultimate “go to” music when I’m stressed and sleep-deprived—that I finally realize how ridiculous it is to let a thunderstorm's delay get me out of sorts. Something’s gotta give.
I stand at the junction of a bunch of train tracks with several engines barreling toward me at top speed. The carnage will be ugly, and yet I can’t compel myself to pull the levers that will shift the tracks and avoid an epic derailment.
Since I realize I have to scale back, like any good obsessive-compulsive type who plots her novels with meticulous precision, I make a list of my ongoing commitments and their deadlines. What brings in money, and what doesn’t? What has tangible marketing benefits, and what doesn’t? What am I morally, if not contractually, obligated to continue? What do I enjoy, and what is a time-suck? What am I hanging onto out of sheer Scots-Irish stubbornness?
What can I get rid of that will free up time to, oh, I don’t know, write this new freakin’ book that’s due to my publisher on March 1? The one I haven’t started? That one.
Here’s the problem. I don’t want to let anything go. Every blog commitment, every book review, every volunteer op, every freelance gig—I love each and every one. I feel blessed to have the opportunities to do so many cool things. I mean, how many people get paid to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series over a two-year period and blog about it—how awesomely fun is that? How could I turn down the chance to copyedit paranormal romance novels for a new publisher, to watch these wonderful stories take shape and know I had a small part in it? How can I scale back on the book blog I’ve spent so much time and developing over the past year?
And yet there’s the new book. The deadline. The day job that, as much as I’d like to step away from it, is the least expendable of all (unless, of course, I want to write my next book on the back of a piece of cardboard while sitting in my new home under the I-85 overpass).
My first three books were written in a haze of innocence, for the fun of it, for the love of it. I wrote the first one to get rid of some residual Hurricane Katrina post-traumatic stress. I wrote the second because the first had been so much fun. The third? Well, it’s my problem child, and we won’t talk about it. I’ve locked it in the attic to deal with later, like the eccentric aunt the family wants no one to know about.
Now, suddenly, here’s number four. And for the first time, I have a deadline.
Here I am, metaphorical hat in hand, looking for ideas. How do you balance? How do you decide what to let go of, when you want to selfishly keep it all? What criteria do you use to decide what to take off your overloaded plate when you're hungry for every experience?