One year ago today, I launched a thirty-day discipline to write for this blog every day during the month of April. I had hoped that after the month was over I would continue to write regularly, but life intervened! What started as a goal to continue to write a couple times a week faded to maybe a couple times a month, and a year later I find myself having posted only twice so far in 2014. One was a summary of 2013 and one was a rerun from five years ago, so they hardly count.
It’s not that I haven’t thought about writing. I’ve written stuff in my head, I’ve jotted down notes, and I’ve even started drafts. But they haven’t yet seen the light of day. I don’t have time to fine-tune the writing, or the idea I have doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, or I fear the topic is too controversial and I’m quite frankly scared to enter the fray (think commentaries on gun violence or health care or some other hot button topic…).
Probably the issue of time is at the heart of my inability to write regularly, despite my best intentions. In my life, there is always a new deadline; it’s an occupational hazard for editors of what are supposed to be regular publications. I struggle enough to keep up with all the deadlines for the seven publications I’m currently editing that adding another deadline for this blog looms large. If I’m going to write more regularly (which I really want to do!), I need more space in my life.
As I’ve thought about how to create space, I can’t help drawing an analogy from my life as a writer and editor. Of the seven publications I edit, only one does not have a page limit. Take the almost-monthly news update I produce for the Bureau of Children’s Behavioral Health Services. More than 20 years ago, when it was created, we decided that it should fit on one piece of paper – using both sides. Keep in mind that this was still in the days of hard copies and snail mail. Over the years that length limit has not changed, despite the fact that it is mostly online now and could easily be much longer. I continue to maintain the discipline of sticking to those two sides of one piece of paper (or, more accurately now, two Word document pages). Some months, there is barely enough to fill the two pages and so I space things out a little more, or add a seasonal graphic to fill an empty corner. But more often than not, there’s too much copy. I could decrease the margins on the page, or decrease the font size, or eliminate space between news items to gain a few extra lines, but beyond a couple small exceptions to the font size thing, I have disciplined myself not to do that. Instead, I’ve become really good at editing out unnecessary words or even sentences, taking what I or someone else thought needed two paragraphs and making it say the same thing in just one. It’s amazing how many words you can get rid of if you have to and still maintain the meaning! Sometimes I’ll decide that an item I thought was really important isn’t important after all, or it can easily wait until next month when there might be more space. In almost 22 years, I have never gone over the two-page limit!
Now if I could just apply the same discipline in my life… Sigh! I wrote awhile back about my “multi-tasking life,” referring to all the juggling I do to manage many different projects and volunteer assignments, in addition to my part-time job. In the months since, I really have been trying to decrease my responsibilities, to get control and create some space in my life – to get it down to “two pages,” so to speak. I’ve decided to step down from one responsibility this summer, and I’m decreasing my part-time hours from 12-15 a week to 6-10 a week starting July 1. Next year I’m looking forward to creating even more space when I step down from a couple other responsibilities. I’ve recently even had a little (although not enough) practice saying no when I’ve been asked to take on something new, although I’ve also ended up saying yes to a couple shorter-term things I really wanted to do.
To push the two-page analogy a little further, it might even be nice to get my extra-curricular responsibilities down to just one page, but to do that, I would have to do some serious editing and make some hard decisions about what’s really necessary. In the meantime, as I keep working on the discipline of creating space, here’s hoping some of those partly-written posts and/or thoughts rattling around in my head will eventually (perhaps even soon!) find themselves on the virtual pages of this blog!