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July 29, 2011
The last two posts, I talked about overload, how it happened, and the effect on writers’ lives. Although certain Type A personalities seem to thrive on overloaded lives, most writers don’t.
Our best ideas – and energy to write about them – require some peace and quiet, some “down” time. To get that, we must rebuild margin into our lives.
What exactly is margin? According to Richard Swenson M.D. author of Margin, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for unanticipated situations. It is the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
You might wonder at what point you became overloaded. It’s not always easy to see when it happens. We don’t have a shut off valve that clicks like when we put gasoline into our cars. Stop! Overload! Usually we don’t know that we are overextended until we feel the pain and frustration.
We would be smart to only commit 80% of our time and energy. Instead, we underestimate the demands on our life. We make promises and commit way more than 100% of our time and energy. Consequently, we have no margin left.
A Simple Formula
What exactly is margin? The formula for margin is straightforward: power – load = margin.
Your power is made up of things like your energy, your skills, how much time you have, your training, your finances, and social support.
Your load is what you carry and is made up of things like your job, problems you have, your commitments and obligations, expectations of others, expectations of yourself, your debt, your deadlines, and personal conflicts.
If your load is greater than your power, you have overload. This is not healthy, but it is where most people in our country live. If you stay in this overloaded state for a good length of time, you get burnout. (And burned out writers don’t write. I know–I’ve been there.)
So how do we increase margin? You can do it in one of two ways. You can increase your power – or you can decrease your load. If you’re smart, you’ll do both.
Many of us feel nostalgic for the charm of a slower life. Few of us miss things like outhouses or milking cows or having no running water. Usually what we long for is margin. When there was no electricity, people played table games and went to bed early, and few suffered sleep deprivation. Few people used daily planners or had watches with alarms, let alone computers that beeped with e-mail messages and tweets. People had time to read–and to think–and to write. It happened in the margins of their lives.
Progress devoured the margin. We want it back. And I firmly believe that writers must have it back. Next week we will talk about ways to do just that.
PLEASE SHARE: What do you think so far about this week’s discussion of margin and overload? Do you identify? What does that mean to you as a writer?
July 27, 2011
As I mentioned last time in “Overloaded Lives,” writers need margin in their lives in order to write. However, margin has disappeared for many people.
Frazzled mothers, office workers, retired grandparents, and other writers struggle to find both time and energy to write. Make no mistake: it is harder today than at any other time in history. It’s not your imagination.
It’s also not hopeless. It comes down to adding margin back into your lifestyle.
Before we talk about how to do that, let’s talk about how the overload happens and what it looks like.
Tipping the Scale
Overload in any area of your life happens slowly. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is having one more expectation of you at work or home, one more change, making one more commitment, making one more purchase that you must pay for, facing one more decision.
You can comfortably handle many details in your life. But when you exceed that level, it’s called overload.
Reaching My Limits
All people have limits, and overloading your system leads to breakdown. Some overloading is easy to spot. A physical limit can easily be recognized. For example, I know I can’t lift my car, so I never try.
Performance limits can be more difficult to recognize. If my will is strong enough, I will try to do things I can’t do for very long. I might try to work 80 hours per week every week or lift my refrigerator. The overload can result in sickness or stress fractures.
Reaching your emotional and mental limits can be the hardest to spot. Each person is unique. My overload might result in symptoms like migraines and ulcers; your overload might result in a heart attack or road rage.
Has overload always been with us? No.
Changes are happening faster and faster, and overload can appear almost overnight. Here are some ways you can become overloaded:
- Activity overload: We are busy people, we try to do three things at one time, and we are booked up in advance.
- Change overload: Change used to be slow, and now it comes at warp speed.
- Choice overload: In 1980 there were 12,000 items in the average supermarket; 10 years ago there were 30,000 items. Now there are many more.
- Commitment overload: We have trouble saying no. We take on too many responsibilities and too many relationships. We hold down too many jobs, volunteer for too many tasks, and serve on too many committees.
- Debt overload: Nearly every sector of society is in debt. Most are weighed down by consumer debt.
- Decision overload: Every year we have more decisions to make and less time to make them. They range from the minor decisions at the grocery store to major decisions about aging parents.
- Expectation overload: We believe that if we can think it, we can have it. We think we should have no boundaries placed on us.
- Fatigue overload: We are tired. Our batteries are drained. Most people are even more tired at the end of their vacation than they were at the beginning.
- Hurry overload: We walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and feel rushed all the time. Being in a constant hurry is a modern ailment.
- Information overload: We are buried by information on a daily basis-newspapers, magazines, online blogs and articles, TV and Internet news shows, and books.
- Media overload: Almost 100% of the American homes now have television, and shows are on 24/7. Images are flashing at us on screen many hours per day.
- Noise overload: True quiet is extremely rare. Noise pollution is the norm. It interferes with talking, thinking and sleeping.
- People overload: Each of us is exposed to a greater number of people than ever before. We need people, but not the crowding.
- Possession overload: We have more things per person than any other nation in history. Closets are full, storage space is used up, and cars can’t fit into garages anymore.
- Technology overload: It has been estimated that the average person must learn to operate at least 20,000 pieces of equipment.
- Traffic overload: Road rage is one byproduct of clogged roadways. Rush-hour is not a rush nor does it last an hour anymore.
- Work overload: Millions of exhausted workers are worn out by schedules demanding more than they can do without breaking down. The earlier predictions of shorter work weeks, long vacations, and higher incomes have backfired. [From Margin by Richard Swenson, M.D.]
Isn’t reading that list simply exhausting? No wonder we feel overloaded. No wonder we have a difficult time writing!
It’s not your imagination! We Americans are overloaded – but we don’t have to stay that way! [Stay tuned for Friday.]
July 25, 2011
Do you have any margins left in your life?
Or is your life marginless?
For a long time, I’ve known that something was wrong. People everywhere, of all ages and walks of life, are frazzled. People are anxious and depressed.
And why is that especially important to writers? Because tired, frazzled, anxious, depressed writers don’t write. Or when they do write, they can’t write well.
This weekend I read a book that spoke to me on every page. It came out several years ago, so many of you have probably already read it. It’s Margin, by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. In this book he talks about the fact that most of us live marginless lives now.
What’s “margin”? Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Margin is having something held in reserve for unexpected situations.
Bring It On!
Instead, most of us live overloaded lives. The cost of overload is seen in health problems, financial debt, family and friendships going by the wayside, and having very little or no time for solitude and renewal.
Because of exponential progress in technology and other areas, things in our culture are changing faster and faster. We have more and more choices. Along with all the progress comes increasing stress, change, complexity, speed, intensity, and overload.
However, despite all this speed and change, human beings have relatively fixed limits. We have physical limits, mental limits, emotional limits, and financial limits. Once the threshold of these limits is exceeded, overload displaces margin.
The book details how many conditions we have at play today that are different than at any other time in history. We have run out of room to breathe. We have run out of time to sit and think. And I think this overload – this living beyond our limits – makes writing extremely difficult.
Can anything be done about this? You can’t stop progress, can you? Maybe not, and maybe we don’t want to, but can we regain our emotional health and physical health and relational health? Is it possible to redirect our over-extended lives? Yes, it is, according to this author.
How About You?
I read this book with great excitement, and in the next several blogs, I will share some ideas with you. Does the description above ring any bells with you?
In the coming days, we will talk about some ways to regain margin so that you have more emotional energy, more physical energy, and more time-when you can write, if you choose to. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
July 22, 2011
During the 1988 Jamboree encampment of 32,000 Boy Scouts, one troop (38 Scouts) led the entire Jamboree in cuts treated at the medical tent.
The huge number of nicks from busy knives sounded negative until someone toured the camp and saw the unique artistic walking sticks each boy in that troop had made. They led the entire encampment in other kinds of games, too.
Wounds simply mean that you’re in the game. It’s true for Boy Scouts–and it’s true for writers as well.
I know an excellent writer who has revised a book for years–but won’t submit it, even though everyone who has read it feels the book is ready. What benefit does she get from that? She never has to face rejection. She never has to hear an editor say, “This is good–but it needs work.” She never has to read a bad review of her book, or do any speaking engagements to promote her work, or learn how to put together a website.
She will also never feel the exhilaration of holding her published book in her hands. She won’t get letters from children who tell her how much her book means to them and has helped them. She won’t get a starred review or win an award or do a book signing. She won’t move on and write a second (and third and fourth) book.
Paying the Price
If you want to be a writer, you have to get into the game and risk a few wounds. Figure out ways to bandage them and recover from them, but don’t be afraid of getting them. They’re simply a sign that you’re a writer. Wear the battle scars proudly!
What part(s) of the writing life make you want to stay on the sidelines and out of the line of fire?
July 20, 2011
Here you go! Seven ways to help you get the writing done–and sold!
July 18, 2011
What poverty! I can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t love words.
For So Many Reasons
How do I love words? Let me count the ways:
- When I’m happy or want a reward for a job well done, I pick up a good book and read for pleasure.
- If I want to know something—from how to be a better grandma to planning a trip to England—I read to learn.
- If I have a personal problem, I look to books where people have shared their struggles and ideas for overcoming.
- If I’m hurt or afraid, I turn to my journal to sort myself out and talk to God about things. By the time I’m all written out, I feel much better and often I’ve arrived at a solution to my problem.
- And I get to make a living by staying home and making up stories.
What wonderful gifts, to love to read and to love to write. Today, instead of focusing on the frustrations of revision or marketing my work, I’m just grateful for the God-given desire I have for words.
What does reading (or writing) mean to YOU?
July 15, 2011
Wednesday’s blog entitled “Unhappiness: A Positive Sign” sparked more private email than usual! Glad it got you to thinking about this.
The tension you feel at the beginning of a project–that itch to “go for it!”–seems like a positive sign to me. So what is the “unhappy” part those authors were talking about in their book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path? And, emailers asked me, why did I feel that tension after selling forty books?
Ignorance Was Bliss
During my student work for ICL, I told three of my class assignments. It was fun! I expected to sell them and kept submitting till I did. Thankfully, there was no Internet in those days, and I didn’t know any other writers who told me I couldn’t make a living at this.
I was naive, yes, but it helped! I just assumed that if I worked hard at the writing, I could have a paying career doing it. I saw setbacks and rejections as part of the process on the way to getting what I wanted. (And yes, it had to pay to make up for me not teaching anymore in the public schools.)
To answer one man’s email question, I think my excitement at the beginning is now tempered with reality. I’m not the naive writer I was at the beginning–and to be honest, I miss that phase at some points.
At this stage of my writing career, I realize that starting a new project IS exciting–but it brings other things along with the excitement:
- hard work, neck cramps, and back aches
- risks that may not pay off
- loneliness as I get closer to the deadline
- letting go of lunches, grandkid overnights, and other fun temporarily
- having the project misunderstood and/or criticized
But is this bad? NO!! It’s good to know this!
Now I have no surprises that derail me. I’m not shocked when I get bogged down in the middle. I’m not greatly disappointed by having to give up some social things so that I can get enough rest and write in the morning. I don’t expect everyone to be as excited by my idea as I am.
I know the harder aspects are just part and parcel of the writing life. You acknowledge them when they happen and move on. They’re no longer a big deal–and to me, that’s a very good thing.
July 13, 2011
Have you ever considered the fact that unhappiness is the first step along the writer’s path?
“Toddlers are bursting with the anxiety and helplessness of having feelings that they can’t get anybody around them to understand. They don’t even have the right words in their heads yet – it’s all emotion and frustration. That’s also an accurate description of writers in step one.” This is how Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott describe the first of their Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: the journey from frustration to fulfillment. [I highly recommend this book, by the way.]
This unhappiness may feel like an itchy feeling under your skin. It may feel like an urge to change something. Call it restlessness or discontent or creative tension. “Unhappiness,” say the authors, “to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”
Message in the Misery
If you’re starting to feel that itch to change something in your life, you’re moving into Step One. Maybe you don’t feel unhappy exactly. Maybe you’re just restless. But if this tension is trying to tell you that you’re a writer who should be writing, it can very quickly turn into discomfort and then misery if you don’t pay attention to it.
Even published writers in a long-time career can feel this unhappiness or tension when it’s time to make a change. “Every important turn on my writer’s path has been preceded by unhappiness,” Nancy Pickard admits. “The more major the turn, the worse the misery.” (I can certainly identify with that! I get bored first, then I itch to try something new or more difficult or different, and then I get fed up with whatever I’m currently doing.)
If you’ve been writing for a long time, this unhappy first step on the writer’s path may have more specific origins. It might be the misery of being in a day job you’d give anything to quit so you could write full-time. It might be the misery of a writer’s block that just won’t budge – perhaps for months. It might be the misery of when your proposal has been rejected by a dozen editors or agents-and your spouse has told you to get “a real job.”
What About You?
There are many signs, according to these authors, that you are in the first step along the writer’s path (the first of seven). Can you identify here? What does the beginning of a project – or the beginning of a writer’s life – feel like to you?
I had always assumed that the beginning (for other writers) was a time of great excitement, a happy eager time. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who felt just the opposite!
How about YOU? How do YOU know when it’s time to get creative?
July 11, 2011
Over the years, you might feel that I’ve given you conflicting advice. One week I might say, “Write every day!” Another time I might advise you to “get some rest and renewal.”
While it might appear to be conflicting advice, I think it has more to do with the fact that we’re all different–and at different points in our writing.
Here is a poem or saying from the book The Relief of Imperfection by Joan Webb that explains why this is true. I will adapt it to writers below.
Unique Personalities and Needs
- Some of us need to stop thinking and do, while others need to stop doing and think.
- Some need to stop asking and give, though others need to cease giving and ask.
- Some of us need to stop crying and smile, yet others need to stop smiling and cry.
- Some need to stop confronting and give in, while others need to quit compromising and confront.
- Some of us need to stop waiting and run, though others need to stop running and wait.
How would these ideas apply to writers? I think it might go something like this:
- Some of us need to stop researching and write, while others need to stop writing and think through their ideas.
- Some need to stop asking for free critiques, though others need to stop giving away their writing and ask for payment.
- Some writers need to stop crying over rejections, yet others need to stop pretending and admit that rejection hurts.
- Some writers need to stop arguing every point in their contract, while others need to quit compromising and ask for what’s fair.
- Some writers need to stop procrastinating and start writing, though other writers need to stop writing and rest a while.
Different Folks, Different Strokes
Only you can decide where you fall in this continuum. And it won’t always be the same place.
I’ve had years where I plunged ahead with a writing project, but I should have stopped and done more research and thinking. On the other hand, I’ve had projects where I’ve been too scared to start the writing. Rather than face the overwhelming fear, I procrastinated and called it “planning”.
There is an old saying in many churches designed to help people get unstuck. Someone may ask, “Are you waiting on God – or is God waiting on you?” Only you can know your own motives. Only you can know if you are putting off submitting your novel because it’s truly not ready – or if you’re a frightened perfectionist afraid to let it go.
The next time you’re stuck, examine why you are doing – or not doing – your next writing task. Journaling your feelings is a great way to discover your own motivation. What works for you today may not be what worked for you last year. Writing advice is not “one size fits all.”
July 8, 2011
If you’ve studied a market guide lately, you might have come away in total confusion.
These days you’re met with warnings like, “If you don’t like indies, don’t bother querying.” Or a company says it’s a “legacy” publisher.
What’s with all the new terminology?
When I started publishing thirty years ago, it was simple. You either went with a traditional publisher (they paid you, and they did 98% of the marketing) OR you got fooled into signing with a vanity press (you paid them to print your book, plus you had to do 98% of the marketing yourself.)
The choice was an easy one if you wanted to have a career where you made money.
It’s a New Ball Game
Today our choices are basically the same, in my opinion (except you have a few FREE self-publishing choices like Kindle). But the terminology has mushroomed as new companies tried to distinguish themselves with new titles. So you had independent publishers (“indies”) springing up, resentful of the old “vanity press” title. But for the most part, independent publishers require that YOU pay them and YOU do most of the marketing.
Are you confused by the terms e-pub, POD, Kindle, self-pub, Smashwords, and more? If so, Tracy Marchini has done a book called Pub Speak: a Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms to clear up the confusion. While I haven’t read the book personally, I have seen several very good reviews of it. If I were starting out in publishing, I think I’d need a copy.
Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms is a dictionary for both new and established authors that contains over 400 definitions, including:
- - contract and royalty terms
- ebooks and audiobooks
- fiction and non-fiction
- publishing terms
- retailers, book clubs, wholesalers and distributors
- social networking and collaborative publishing
- trade associations, events and publications
- writer’s organizations, awards and publications
This book just might bring an end to the confusion…for now, anyway!Newer Posts »