Thursday, January 19, 2012

Handling the Crush

by Michelle Gagnon

I'll be keeping this short and sweet today, because as you can probably tell by the title of my post, I'm feeling overwhelmed. In fact, I had to drag myself away from the paper bag I was busy hyperventilating in to compose this post.

I finished a book yesterday, only to find out that the deadline for the next one is just a few months away. And I have yet to write the first page of that one (argh!)

Somewhere in there are two week-long school vacations and a slew of long weekends, plus the editing of the book I just turned in (which I suspect-no, know-will require a major overhaul), plus the line edits of a third book.

I realize that this might come across as ungrateful. Believe me when I say that I am incredibly thankful to be under contract at the moment, when so many other people are having a tough time. A year ago, I was worried about selling one more book, and I ended up with two contracts for four. So this is a classic example of be careful what you wish for. Because now, I'm utterly swamped.

On top of everything else, chances are that I'll be selling my house, finding a new place to live, and moving there in the same four month time period. With a five year-old and a cantankerous cat (and of course, said cat makes finding a pet-friendly place in San Francisco even more of a challenge).

So I'm actively soliciting advice on how to manage all this without losing my proverbial marbles.
My question to you all is...how do you handle it when life comes at you all at once?

22 comments:

  1. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. The only way.

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  3. Wow, Michelle,
    Nothing like being in the HOT SEAT!

    I like what S. Dotson said.

    When I was in grad school (and it sounds like you have monumental tasks like that to purge through) my syllabus always helped me. Write one for yourself.

    I used a Time-Line Board, (a large dry-erase calendar) posted where I could see it with each deadline in a calendar format. Somehow that got me through all those responsibilities. I'm visual, and it made things clear to me.

    Do one thing at a time. Check it off your list. Oh, and inspirational quotes help (call Kathleen), and prayer never hurts either.

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  4. I find that I write well under pressure, after a moment of panic and throwing a Temper tantrum. I find it helps.
    Good luck with your projects. Now go write.

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  5. All I can say is handle one thing at a time.

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  6. I don't have any secrets for keeping it all together, but I'm confident you'll pull it off.

    One thing about being hit with all of that at once--when you do get to sit down and write it'll probably come fast and furious.

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  7. Michelle, what wonderful problems to have for a writer. There are thousands of other writers out there who would change places with you in heartbeat.

    Time management is tough. One technique I used when I worked back in the real world was similar to what Paula mentioned--a big white board (or something like it) that covered a chunk of my office wall. I would list EVERYTHING I had to do and review it often. I'm a visual person and must "see" my tasks. Writing them down and check them off always helped me. And it kept me from missing or forgetting an important item. But in the end, it's whatever works for you. Like I said, time management is tough.

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  8. Michelle, first of all good luck with your new book and best wishes on the writing of your next one.

    I use my google calendar to keep on track. I allocate twice the amount of time I normally need to do a specific task (for example, 30 minutes for something that normally takes me 10 or a5 minutes) and just keep moving down the list. This has a two-fold effect: 1)I feel like I'm really chipping away at things and 2) it allows for extra time when life comes up and bites you with something else (like fixing the toilet). Another thing: once I set everything down on screen it doesn't always look quite so bad. I feel overwhelmed because I think of all the things I need to do and feel like I need to do them all at once. I (normally) don't. If I do, I practice triage: the task that has a gun to my head gets priority. Everything else can wait. Anyway, good luck!

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  9. Michelle,

    I feel for you. I mean living in San Francisco and all.

    All I can tell you is do the best you can. My publisher always offered to give me more time if I was going to miss a deadline. I never did, but knowing I could helped me work.

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  10. Oh my gosh, you poor baby. I've done the move under deadline dance and it's the WORST. I have no doubt about you & the writing thing, but moves add a new level of challenge.

    I suspect you are keeping stoic with your publisher by not mentioning your move, but you might clue your editor in, if you haven't. I find editors can be extremely supportive when it comes to understanding how hard the creative process can be in the face of personal challenges. They can squeeze extra days out of their production dates or maybe allow you to turn in the front part of the book while you're still writing the last half.

    The main advice I have comes from doing MANY moves. Don't forget to take care of you. Moves are highly stressful. Ask for help & let the unimportant things slide.

    *hug*

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  12. I think it's really hard for many people (including myself) to ask for help. I don't know why I often think I have to do it all myself, but I don't. S. Dotson said delegate, and Jordan said ask for help. I'm working on a presentation for college kids about the same kind of thing and for me time management is hard but re-framing it as self-management is an easier concept for me to grasp. All the best as you tackle this project.

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  13. Have you considered hiring a ghost writer? :)

    Come up with your outline, hire a ghostwriter to punch out 200,000 words, heavily modify to your own style, and submit.

    Ta Da!!

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  14. Thanks, everyone- the white eras board is a great idea. I used to be better about making lists and checking things off, but haven't done that lately. I think it'll help.

    I'm hopeful that this book will write itself quickly. The last one was a tremendous struggle, where I felt like I was wrestling the keyboard into submission every day. I could use another easy one after that...

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  15. I'd give advice, or assistance, but alas having a day job, writing books, running a recording studio, running with Boy Scouts and directing a church Sunday School all with an apparent hole in my marble bag has rendered me incapable of offering decent direction. IE. I feel like I've got a basket of meth-addicted squirrels running my daily calendar.

    If you come up with a solution Michelle, let me know.

    Well, actually call my squirrels, they'll write it down on the doorpost which relays the note via a series of blackbirds, sparrows, a bluejay named Zeke and a mouse named Phil until it actually reaches me in the recording studio via messages typed by Cedric the dust mite who lives in my microphone into my computer using his feet to tap out a frequency that translates to the letter "k" (the only letter frequency he knows apparently) in morse code sequences that are then translated into a form of English by the seven gnomes in my PC. Of course I say a form of English because what they speak is not quite right English, as is obvious if you are a regular user of MS Spellchecker, which they and their peers directly created in their underground cave cities.

    Phil the mouse has an assistant named Ip who fills in for him from time to time. Ip the fill in eats a lot more than an average mouse, and is therefore kinda large for a mouse, but not quite as large as a rat. The other mice say he eats so much that he's like a vegetable crate. His nickname among the yard creatures is of course... Fill Ip the Crate.

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  16. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Zeke the Bluejay doesn't have an assistant...cuz he's too cool to need one.

    cue Fonzi-type "Heeeeyyyyyyy!"

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  17. Thanks, Basil. I will heretofore delegate to squirrels.

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  18. I second all the recommendations on writing out a time line that helps you put the task ahead into manageable chunks. I find my outline really helps with this but then I am an outliner! Also give yourself room/time to decompress so you don't go demented - sometimes knowing you have scheduled time out helps keep the panic at bay as you can use that time to let your brain sort out what might be going wrong with the manuscript. I walk my dog but walking the cat is probably not a good idea. The move will be another stress point so make sure you have some supportive people around you who can help out. Good luck!

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  19. Ask for an extension. By nature, writers run late, and editors know this. Better to get a planned extension than have to rush through it.

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  20. Well, Michelle, when the pressure is on with the first shot of tequila, I make my to-do list . . .

    LOL!! Kidding aside. While each responsibility you cited sounds like a monemental task in itself, the scenario sounds like you've stoked the fire that's going to forge your Excaliber. I don't even know you and I can see you're made of strong stuff. So, in your shoes, (which actually while harried sounds exciting as all get-out to me!) what I'd do first, is make that list. Prioritizing your Son first, the rest how you see fit.

    Then, I'd put as much of your list on a time-line as possible, with the willingness to ruthlessly slice any self-criticism that arises when you've missed a goal. Simply, move it to the next available spot.

    Then, feeling comfortable that the impossible is actually possible with a little juggling and a little less sleep, at the risk of sounding new age-ish,I'd give it all up to the Universe with the solid belief that everything will work out exactly as it should. Because . . . it will.

    Michelle, I completely admire and honor the fact that you are raising a child while creating what sounds like a wonderful writing career--and now planning a move. All HUGE!!

    I can't wait to meet you one day, and shake your hand . . . then buy you that drink. You're gonna be fine. Better than that . . . you are already amazing.

    Now, breathe . . .
    xox, K.

    January 19, 2012 8:12 PM

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  21. Thanks for the words of support everyone- I needed that, and really appreciate it.

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  22. Michelle - I understand. I work three jobs, hack around as a writer and suddenly have to produce a fully fledged summary judgment motion in two weeks.

    So, I am blog surfing . . .

    Seriously, other than the awesome practical advice offered by everyone here, I can only add a bit of dubious wisdom that I gleaned from a stupid joke (yes, this is on my bulletin board).

    "How do you eat an elephant?"

    "One bite at a time."

    If you look at the big picture, it will paralyze you. Take off a chunk, put it on your plate, chew it thoroughly, and when your plate is empty, go back for seconds.

    Lather, rinse, repeat. Before you know it,there is nothing but a stripped carcass on the buffet.

    And then you have a new problem - how to get rid of a day-old elephant carcass . . . eww . . ., but that one's doable.

    Keep us posted! You have friends and fans here who think you rock!

    Terri

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