On Productivity and Golf Balls

Over the last week and a half, I’ve tried something new. I put writing first.

It was a busy few weeks. I’d been planning the workshop, and judging stories for a contest, on top of my usual writing-related (but never quite writing) commitments. Research, story planning, emails, critique group… you know how it goes. So it would have been really easy to let the writing slide.

Instead, I set word count goals for myself on my current project–a juvenile historical novel (2000 words most days, 1000 on the days when there was a lot going on). I had to meet my word count before I checked email, visited Twitter, or did anything else on my “to do” list.

After my workshop on Saturday (which went wonderfully, by the way!), I chatted about this with two of my writer friends who had attended the workshop. One of them, Susan Blakeney, said that “writing is a golf ball.”

After a statement like that, you can’t really answer. You just raise your eyebrows and hope the person will explain. Or maybe you laugh nervously and wonder what’s in her water bottle.

Luckily, Susan did explain. Her uncle had taught her that life was like a jar. And there are lots of things you want to put in the jar–sand and tiny rocks and shells and, for some reason, a few golf balls. (No, I don’t know why golf balls. The size?) Anyhow, if you fill the jar up with sand and rocks and the tiny things first, the golf balls won’t fit. But if you put the golf balls in first, you can add the tiny stuff later and it will find its way to where it fits. The trick, her uncle says, is figuring out what your golf balls are. For Susan, writing is a golf ball–and she does a good job of organizing her life accordingly.

(Susan’s blog can be found at www.seblakeney.com/blog/, and maybe if we all bug her enough she’ll do a better job of explaining the golf-balls-in-a-jar thing. I have a feeling I’ve muddled it.)

So anyhow. This week, I made my writing into a golf ball. And it worked well. Some other things fell behind, which tells me something about the amount of volunteer work I can take on and still maintain a productive writing life. Lesson learned. (Yeah, right. We’ll see about that the next time someone says “Hey, Erin, would you….?” Still, at least I like to think that I’ll be making a more informed answer than I would have a week ago.)

Everyone writes differently, and everyone is productive differently. Another writer friend and I talked about this recently, outside my daughter’s school. What worked for her was blocking off time to write in her day planner. And I suspect that what makes a person productive one month or for one project might not work for the next. Still, this is working right now, and I’m thrilled.

All that being said, I took today off. It was the first day I’ve done that in a long time. It was also my first day of supply teaching in quite a while; teaching uses up my brain in a way that little else does. But tomorrow, I will write two thousand words before I even think about tackling anything else.

Heck, maybe I’ll make it three.

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