October 10, 2012

Taking the Pressure Off

Ever feel like you’re going at breakneck speed?

Like you can’t stop, won’t stop, but gotta stop or something’s gotta give?

That’s how I felt a week ago.

After attending the most amazing writers conference ever, I was on a high. I had goals. Plans. And I had to kick it in high gear to make it happen.

I laid out my plan: to write 12,000 words a week (that translates to about twelve hours of writing for me) so that I could finish my next book’s first draft by Thanksgiving.

I laid out exactly when I would write. I got very specific. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you create goals, right?

And then, lights, camera, action.

Except, the action wasn’t so hot as I’d imagined.

One reason after another—all legitimate—impeded my forward motion.

Things like working forty hours a week and being tired. Like getting a new puppy and being tired. Like teaching an online course and being tired. Like living life: trying to fit in exercise (training for 5K), cook healthy meals so we didn’t eat out every day, spend time with my husband so our marriage didn’t suffer.

And suddenly…I found myself PANICKING.

Because I’m a go-getter. A rule follower. A deadline queen. If I say I’m gonna do something, well, I’m gonna do it.

And it’s not okay to back down from something you said you’re going to do, right?

Wouldn’t that be lazy of me?

In the words of my husband, NO.

Where does he come into play? Well, last week he took me out for ice cream (which, as we all know, heals nearly any wound…or at least puts you temporarily in heaven) and we had a good chat. I really think God used him to speak truth to me and help me realize some things.

He asked me how much it would help to cut my goal down by a third: to 8,000 a week.

I thought about it. It would help relieve a lot of the pressure. I could write in smaller chunks here and there and still reach my goal.

Then he asked how much it would put me behind my original goal to do that.

I calculated. Only three weeks.

Isn’t that amazing? I was freaking out trying to get this done, when easing up a bit would make a big difference and not put me behind really that much at all.

Now understand…I don’t have an established deadline with a publisher. If I did, this would be different. What I’m talking about is self-imposed deadlines.

And I think there’s a fine line between pushing ourselves to achieve what we need to and self-imposed MADNESS.

For me, my husband helped to show me that line. He reminded me that I have a lot on my plate. I really hadn’t factored in how having a new puppy would change my schedule in the mornings and evenings. It does. No getting around it.

And he reminded me that the holidays are coming. Fall is my favorite time of year. Do I really want to put myself in a frenzy—an unnecessary frenzy—when instead I could be enjoying the season?

No.

No, I don’t.

Your Turn: Do you ever struggle to know where that line is between pushing yourself toward your goals at a reasonable, respectable pace and pushing too hard? Any tips for telling the difference?

35 comments:

  1. For me, it's that feeling in my chest that resembles an rhino in pointe shoes. Just a gigantic pressure all in one spot. On me. In me.
    Then I shut down.
    One thing about having dealt with depression and anxiety, and being 49, is learning how to say "Jennifer, what is reasonable and what is not?" and following the lead of my mind and body and learning a VERY important word...
    "No."

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    1. I love the word picture you painted of the rhino! Hehe.

      Yes, I'm learning that two-letter word...and how to use it more effectively.

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  2. I'm pretty good at creating "self-imposed MADNESS" too. I think those of us who are naturally driven tend to want to torture ourselves. It shows a lot of wisdom to be able to step back from a goal and re-evaluate it. And 8,000 a week is still awesome!

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    1. The wisdom definitely didn't come from myself...God and my husband both had hands in it, and I'm grateful.

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  3. I love that "Self-imposed madness". Yes, I am well acquainted with that! I agree with Julie, it shows so much wisdom to step back from a goal and re-evaluate. That act is a great example to other writers. When writing translates into stress and worry, it loses the inspired calling of God and its creativity. Thanks for a great reminder!

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    1. I thought of that too, Lisa...that if I'm stressing out, first, I'm probably not producing as good of a product, and second, I'm forgetting to feel the JOY that writing brings me.

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  4. We are such twins. I get this exact same way when I don't meet my goals. I really think for me, it boils down to wanting to be in control. I want to set goals and meet them. I want to make things happen. I want to be in charge!

    Funny enough, I just read not one, but two different devotionals on that very thing today! First was in Philippians...I'm using a Max Lucado Bible study book and he talks about how hard it must have been for Paul--who was an energetic, go-getter, missionary--to be imprisoned or under house arrest. Suddenly, his schedule and his goals are out of his control. Then, I love the book Jesus Calling and today's devotional touched on when things don't go our way or when we try to control things...and now I read your blog. Pretty sure God's getting a message across to me!

    The cool thing about Paul is, even when in jail, he did what he could. He rejoiced. He prayed. He witnessed through his actions and words. And he wrote letters. He did what he could with where he was and what he had.

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    1. Love everything you said. And love having you as a twin because YOU GET ME!

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  5. Much struggle with that here too, and no solutions. It helps me to sit back and take inventory of all that I have written (including all those blog posts!) as well as all the other necessities of life like homeschooling my children and having clean clothes that I've accomplished. And yes, writing is a necessity! Enjoying the wisdom in the comments today.

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    1. That's a great idea, Meghan. Focus on what you HAVE done, not on what you HAVEN'T. And I'm enjoying hearing everyone's perspectives too.

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  6. Like you and all of these lovely ladies,I walk the line between driven and overdrive. Between writing, marriage, and a full-time job, it's hard to push myself and not go overboard into that frenetic place.

    I have to agree with Melissa. The only thing that's worked for me is remembering who really is in control. It's not me, it's God. So when I work myself into frenzy mode and the pressure's about to win, I have to dial it back and rely on God.

    Sometimes I dial it back, too much and morph into a sloth. But hey, I'm still learning. Good thing God has more patience than I do. :)

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    1. Thanks for visiting today, Barbara. I tend to swing one way or the other as well. When I try to "step back," I tend to get overly lazy. Trying to find a balance...

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  7. Oh, girl, you hit it square in the face when you said, "there’s a fine line between pushing ourselves to achieve what we need to and self-imposed MADNESS." I can relate to that drive on every level. Even though I'm under a contracted Dec. 1st deadline, I still find myself pushing more than necessary. The trade-off? I've stepped away from worship team for the month of November so I can finish writing strong. That frees up Wednesday nights along with self-rehearsal throughout the week. Give and take, my friend. It's got to be add/subtract simultaneously or we'll go bonkers. Hugs!

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    1. This reminds me of what my manager has said at work. If there is too much on our plates, we need to ask, "What is the priority? What can we take off our plate in order to get the most important thing done?" Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

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  8. I am a pusher! I'm always pushing the limits. 1k in an hour, no I'll write 1500. I learned it messes with our mind (which is what we need most when writing) and our physical body as well as balancing husbands and family. So I write during particular hours. Some days I knock out a huge word count, but I write fast. Some days I don't. And I don't stress. I can't afford to. Enjoy Fall, girlfriend. It's my fave too. See you Friday. ;)

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    1. I'm a pusher too, but I need to learn to not stress when I don't achieve everything I want to.

      Yay for you being my guest on Friday!! :D

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  9. I struggle all the time to find the perfect balance. I'm a perfectionist by nature, but life is teaching me to be flexible.

    My goals are currently on hold as a family member battles cancer.

    So glad your hubby helped ease your pressure.

    God bless.

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    1. I'm so sorry about your family member! That's so rough. I think it's great that you have stepped back in order to focus on what's most important.

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  10. Not long ago, I took a weekend and pushed to see if I could do 20,000 wds. I sat for two days, and yes, I did it - but I didn't write for the next four days because I had such bad eye strain...lol. I think spreading ourselves too think makes for weaknesses in other places. Your hubby is a good guy and understands you well. His advice is priceless. I know, I have a good guy on my side too.

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    1. Wow, 20,000 words in a weekend!! That's amazing. Sometimes I wish I could do that, but I've found I'm only creative in spurts. After that, my brain just turns to mush.

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  11. Yes, I think there are times to push and times to relax. To everything a season, turn...turn..turn. Grin. Seriously, when those UN-self-imposed deadlines are upon us, we will have to knock ourselves out anyway, right? But I love being way ahead of time when I guest post or when edits are due. That way I can charge on ahead to the next project. So I totally GET you, girl. The key is keeping ourselves healthy and backing off when we know we've bitten off too much. Good for your supportive husband that he came alongside you on this!

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    1. I am soooo thankful for him! He made me feel better about backing off and reminded me that I have a lot going on, and it's okay to reassess goals based on circumstances.

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  12. This was perfect, Lindsay. I had my next book all calculated and calendared out to be finished by early December but then-- like you-- life happened. Good things. Hard things, too. And so I'm behind those penciled-in word count goals on my calendar, but they're no longer instilling me with shame. Just hope: that someday, hopefully not-too-far behind my original (self-imposed) deadline, I'll get there. And that right now, in this season, it's ok to plug away at it, to be diligent with what I have, not impossible with what I don't have.

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    1. I love that you've learned that, Amanda! I'm still waiting for the guilt to not attack me. But I know it will come! :P

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  13. Yes. I'm a self-imposed deadline person by nature, but after way too many times around the same mountain, I had to ease up on myself and let go of my time frame and submit to God's - it really is the better way to go. I'm learning that I'm not good with deadlines - I'd much rather do what I can, when I can, and leave the rest up to Him. The good thing is that I crave my writing time, so it's easy to make it happen - but on days that it's just too crazy, I put it aside and look forward to getting to it the next day...or the next. :)

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    1. I'm sure having kids will probably help me to "flex" a little more. :)

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  14. I blogged about this recently too :) Before ACFW I set myself some very um ambitious goals to get the first draft of my ms done that I was going to pitch.

    By August I was a stress monkey. Trying to be a pastor's wife and a mum and work a full-time job and churn out the words wasn't working. Tip: it's hard to write romantic comedy when (a) you no longer remember what romance since you're married to your laptop and (b) you're so stressed your sense of humour has disappeared!

    Some good friends forced me to face reality and accept my limitations. Funnily enough, once I gave myself a bit of grace, and admitted I wasn't superwoman, the words started flowing again and I finished my draft on the plane on the way to Dallas! :)

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    1. I'm having a hard time and I don't have any kids yet (though our new puppy keeps me on my toes!). I think it's great that your friends brought you back to reality. I'm grateful to my husband for doing the same.

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  15. Oh, I can so relate. I've found that if I keep pushing myself when my goals aren't realistic or healthy, I might reach my word count, but most of the words are crappy and I end up deleting them later anyway. So, all I've accomplished is creating extra work for myself. I think you're so wise to adjust your goals. And yeah, 8k a week is still awesome!

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    1. That's a great point, Susan. I want the time I do spend to be productive and not...well, crappy, like you said!

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  16. Lindsay, what a blessing to have a husband who knows you so well and can speak truth when you need it, coupled with wisdom and ice cream. I'm glad you're not going to drive yourself too hard. This writing journey isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. And you know very well how important steady progress is in that arena. If you train too hard and too fast, you risk injury. The same is true as a writer, although instead of injury, we risk burnout or loss of the joy that drew us to writing in the first place. Here's to having some fun!

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    1. I am very blessed indeed. And what a fabulous analogy!

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  17. Loved your comments about your goals and the weeks following the conference. I had much the same time ... and fall and family are too important to miss. So I join you in becoming sane and reasonable and in the prayer that it will come in his perfect timing. Great to meet you, by the way, at ACFW. All my kids are home from school today...so no more writing ... off for ice cream....

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Katherine! It was so great meeting you too. And you can't beat ice cream... :)

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  18. Good choice Lindsay. I've learned so much by living vicariously through you. I want to write a book, but it sure looks scary!!!!! Good luck and I hope things have gotten more manageable.

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