Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Enchanted 15: Doing Other Things

Part 4 in an ongoing series based on Jen's Enchanted 15 workshop.

The freedom of college can get to one's head a bit. There is really very little external motivation to do things. If you are late for class, your professor isn't going to march up to your room and order you to get dressed and get down to the classroom. (Maybe this difference is specific to homeschoolers, though--when your teacher is your mom you don't get away with much.) Nobody is going to tell you to study. Nobody is going to tell you to make your bed or do your laundry or empty the trash before it draws rats.

Now, thanks to my academic perfectionism I am very internally motivated to go to class and do my homework. I'm not really motivated to make my bed; I don't think I made it up pretty for the entirety of my sophomore year. But that's beside the point.

Another thing about college is that you can keep your own schedule. You have a great deal of freedom in deciding when your classes are (unless you're a Comm Arts upperclassman, in which case you're stuck with the one session there is of each class). You can decide whether you want to eat dinner now or later. You can decide whether you want to do your homework before dinner or not. You can decide whether to stay up till 2 a.m. talking to your boyfriend.

Then you come home for the summer, and suddenly you're expected to eat dinner with the family and do your chores when your mother says to do them and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

What does all this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, it has to do with Doing Other Things, and how often (at least in my world, and almost certainly in Jen's since she has two little ones) the Other Things are often decided for you. Unless you're living by yourself out by Walden Pond you can't just think to yourself, "Oh, I've written enough today, now I shall take a turn about the pond and allow the exercise to clear my head." You think to yourself, "The child is being suspiciously quiet; I don't think I can afford to ignore her any more." Or you think, "My mother is using that tone she uses when she means business; I'd better stop putting her off and go see what she wants."

We writers can be egotistical little beasts, and that's kind of understandable (of course, I say that because I'm a writer). We have this deep burning internal motivation to write, but all our external motivators (a.k.a. family members) are telling us to do other things. Not only that, but these things are so mundane. They are distracting us from our Great and Lofty Endeavors. Very frustrating, don't you know?

I think the secret of Doing Other Things is becoming internally motivated to...well, to Do Other Things. You see, if you view your time as your own you resent anyone who infringes on it. You wash the dishes to within an inch of their lives all the while fuming that you could be writing right now. You do whatever's necessary to make people stop bugging you and then scurry back to your lair until somebody comes along needing you again.

This is a bad way to operate for two reasons:

1) If you are frustrated and resentful all the time your brain can't loosen up to let the Source in, and anything you write is probably not going to be your best work.

2) I've found that you actually get surprising amounts of free time when you accept that your time is not your own. Maybe it's just the shift in attitude. When you expect to be busy for the entire day and fifteen minutes suddenly open up after lunch you view them as a wonderful and exciting gift. If you constantly think about getting time to yourself, then you view the same time slot as "Only fifteen minutes?! I swear, this house would fall apart without me!"

It's also a bad way to operate for the two reasons Jen lists in her post, which you should all read.

So, my writing assignment for this week is to keep repeating a personal mantra I recently adopted for myself: Service is joy. I don't do things around the house because my mother makes me. I do them because I love the people who live here and doing something to make their lives more pleasant causes me joy. Or should. I figure if I fake it long enough I'll start internalizing it. If not, at least my family will have somebody who's more pleasant to be around than usual.

4 comments:

The Nimba-Jimbian said...

See, I find that I always start thinking to myself (kind of subconsciously, or else I'd realize how dumb it really was, I expect), "I was doing this, and I do not have time to do this." (the first this generally being something extremely time-wasting, like sleeping or watching something, and the second being washing the dishes, generally.)

It's pretty stupid how selfish we can be... And I say that mostly about myself. *g* Wouldn't it be nice if we could keep all the lessons God teaches us in our heads, instead of having to learn them over and over and over again?

Wonderful post, as usual. I find your posts like a train of thought. And I usually find thoughtful trains of thought very interesting. *g* (okay, that sounded a bit strange, but oh well.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Megan. :D

Erin said...

I think that anonymous was me.
And I meant "Thank you for reminding me of that"

The Sojourner said...

@The Nimba-Jimbian:

I find your posts like a train of thought. And I usually find thoughtful trains of thought very interesting.

That could be because they are trains of thought. I'm glad they come across as thoughtful rather than stream-of-consciousness rambling.

@Erin: You're welcome.