But first ...

Monday, October 29, 2018
A writer-friend thanked me recently for my quick and thorough response to her request for book cover suggestions. She was impressed at how organized and efficient I was in responding within her limited time frame. How did I do it? Well, it was easy. I was supposed to be doing something else!

Right now, I'm composing this blog post because I should be grading papers and editing a short story to read at my critique group. And when I have a deadline for a poetry or short story submission, I usually write my blog post, read a book chapter, empty the dishwasher, or throw in a load of laundry. I call this the "But, first ... " syndrome. I developed it in college, and as a writer, teacher and mother with more due dates than an obstetrician's office, I have perfected the technique through years of practice.

I always have something to do, and it's never just one, two, or three things. My to-do list seems to grow and grow, and although I do manage to get through it eventually, I often organize it so I can accomplish the most in the least amount of time.

When I'm writing, I might think, But first, I can throw in a load of laundry while I'm working. What happens sometimes is that on my way to the laundry room, I see dirty dishes in the sink, and believe it will only take a minute to load them. When I open the dishwasher, I realize these dishes are clean, But first, I need to empty it. After I empty it, the dog wants to go out, and I can defrost some meat for dinner, But first, I need to pay some bills. By this time, I've forgotten about my original task.

I recently read an article about a writer who decided to focus on writing. He said he stopped practicing his elevator pitch and marketing to anyone who would listen because he didn't enjoy it. He would live his life his life as a writer because that's what he loved. The other stuff might come later. For now, he would focus on writing. That's all.

Sounds so simple, almost to the point of being ridiculous. But it struck a chord with me. To combat these never-ending distractions, I decided to turn the process upside down and change my priorities. Now, when I need to clean something, buy groceries or cook dinner, I think, But first, I need to write.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--This post made me chuckle because I was writing something this weekend--something that was NOT necessary--and I knew that the only reason why I was writing it was because I should have been doing something else. Too often (for me) this is the case. I write something so I can avoid some other task.

As a writer, there are so many things clamoring to get done... and so little writing time. Good luck with keeping your priorities straightened out. (When you're able to do it, you can hire yourself out as an expensive consultant and presenter, because we all will want to hear how we too can keep writing as a #1 goal. ;)

Margo Dill said...

This is great advice. I believe in the power of thinking and so I think :) that this would really change habits. I think we also waste so much time feeling guilty for not getting writing done. I wonder if we did the writing first and then worried about the dishes and laundry if we would feel the same guilt. :) Let's try it!

Mary Horner said...

Thanks for your comments, Sioux and Margo! I'll take all the luck I can get trying to keep my priorities straight, Sioux, and Margo, changing habits is difficult, but I'm going to keep trying!

Marcia Peterson said...

It's so hard to let that stuff go. I guess it's about priorities, as you say. We make a decision to write vs. do other things (and let that be ok!).

Mary Horner said...

Thanks, MP! You are right, we need to make our own decisions about what (and when) is right for us!

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