A lesson learned: First things first

If you receive my monthly newsletters, you probably already know that my 2019 was full of disruptive changes. Last spring, my recently-retired hubby and I came to the difficult realization that Key Largo, where we’d planned to spend our golden years, wasn’t actually the best fit for us after all. Our place there is gorgeous and relaxing, but very isolated. Because I’m such an introvert, I can easily spend weeks at a time there without leaving the property or seeing anyone other than my husband. Sure, that can be good for writing, but it’s not terribly healthy. My hubby, on the other hand, is an extreme extrovert, so the isolation was really getting to him after a lifetime of interacting with coworkers and friends on a regular basis. Then there’s the issue of climate change and sea level rise, and the worry that in a dozen years or so, much of the Florida Keys could be underwater. 

These epiphanies sent us on a search for alternatives and in June we bought a house in The Villages, a thriving active retirement community (a city, really) in north-central Florida. There we have activities galore to choose from, which makes my outgoing hubby very happy. I’ve started venturing out of my shell, too, and discovering fun stuff I enjoy out of the house. Along the way, we spiffed up our longtime family home in Indiana and sold it, then moved wholesale from there to The Villages. Then, after spending one last extended-family holidays in Key Largo, we spiffed up that house for sale and headed back to The Villages after hiring a mover to bring along everything we wanted to keep.

Needless to say, all of this impacted my writing time in a big way. I found myself increasingly frustrated and torn between all the stuff I needed and/or wanted to do and the writing I love. How to fit everything into my increasingly busy life? 

Maybe you’ve seen or heard about the illustration where you have a jar, some rocks, some pebbles, and some sand. If you put the sand in first, then the pebbles, the rocks won’t all fit in the jar. But if you put the rocks in first, then let the pebbles work their way into the gaps between the rocks, then pour the sand in to fill the remaining space between pebbles, everything fits! The rocks, of course, represent your top priorities. The pebbles are things that need to be done at some point (laundry, errands) but are hardly life-changing. And the sand is all the other “stuff” that eats up time without any measurable benefit. 

I’d seen variations on this illustration numerous times over the years but had never really managed to apply it to my life. Somehow, things like email and social media, not to mention all the distractions mentioned above, continued crowding out what could be writing time.

But in the fall of 2019 I attended two different writer conferences and the same message kept hitting me at workshop after workshop: do the important stuff first. Then I read a book by Becca Syme (one of those presenters), Dear Writer, You Need to Quit. In it, she challenged writers like me to write first thing, before anything else could claim my time. 

Girding my loins, I decided to accept that challenge. I’d forego my years-long habit of eating breakfast in front of my laptop while checking my email and social media and would instead write before going online. It was a scary concept. I could barely remember the last time I’d eaten breakfast without my laptop, except once or twice when the internet was out. By now, though, I was desperate enough to make real progress on my book to try almost anything.

And guess what? It’s been working! Not only am I getting to my desk a full hour or two earlier than usual, I’m writing more pages, faster, than I had in many months. In fact, most days I’m meeting my daily page quota by noon, which gives me the whole rest of the day to do other stuff. Fun stuff, necessary stuff, all the stuff. And lo and behold, it all fits! One unexpected benefit: without the distraction of the internet, I’ve started eating breakfast with my husband, something we haven’t done together since….well, ever. (Partly because he’s an early bird and I’m…not.) Already I have a feeling this new schedule will improve my marriage along with my writing productivity. Wish me luck!

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