May 19, 2007

What I Learned in Bear Lake and Beyond

by Heather Horrocks

I’ve had an interesting few weeks. My family and I spent ten days on a cruise, drove to Phoenix to visit our three-year-old grandson (and his parents, too, of course), continued our trek up to Saint George, and then arrived home in Salt Lake by 10:00 p.m. on Monday, April 30th.

The very next day, before noon, I had to be packed and ready to leave for a week-long writer’s retreat with my generous writer friend, Kathleen.

Once at Bear Lake, I had a stretch of nearly a week before me. No kids. No husband. No pets. No cleaning. Not much cooking. Ahh. A week of just me, writing, sitting in the hot tub talking about writing, and walking on the beach (talking about writing, of course).

I prayed about what to work on while I was there. Should I finish the last half of How To Stuff A Wild Zucchini (a publishing house has requested the entire manuscript) or on the many smaller projects vying for my attention (much needed website update, mission book, contracts for illustrators and composers, etc)? A clear answer came--write to The End in Zucchini, first draft only (I knew if I stopped to polish, I didn't have time to complete the task).

Okay, so now I knew what I would be working on. Now to come up with a plan (I'm good at coming up with them--it's working them I have trouble with). I had six days to write and . . . 42 scenes left to write?!? That couldn’t be. Surely I’d gotten further into the book than that!

Oh, well. I would trust the answer that had come. And I still had a few vestiges of my high school math . . . Let's see--42 scenes divided by six full writing days was seven scenes per day. Still, they would be seven first-draft, puke-green-dreck scenes, and I already had a detailed outline and knew exactly what would be happening in each.

For those six days, with no children, husband, dogs, or tasks needing my attention, I had an endless vista of beautiful writing time. Even if (as on one day), I didn’t start writing until 4:00 in the afternoon, I could still get my writing done for the day.

So I put a laser focus on the goal of getting to The End, and I went for it . . . and finished Zucchini. I wrote first-draft, puke-green-dreck pages, just like I’d planned. And, in doing so, I broke through a huge block I’d had with that book. With my writing, in general.

But the real realization occurred on our two-hour drive home. As we drew closer to home, I could feel the weight of all the other writing-related tasks I still needed to do (website, etc) and I began to feel the stress of them like the weight of light blankets being piled on me, one after the other. Suddenly, I had the thought that I didn’t need to work on all of them at once. In fact, I knew I couldn’t, because I could already feel that the weight of them all together would keep me from doing any of them.

I’d already decided that, in order to have time for my family in the evenings and weekends and to keep on top of the household stuff (you know--laundry, dishes, basic cleaning), I need to write earlier in the day. In order to feel like I'm actually done writing, rather than having the feeling that 'I need to get back to that scene' I knew I had to assign myself a ‘shift’ to work and, once it’s over, I’m done for the day and can get on with other things. So I realized on the drive home that, after my three-hour shift was over, then I would spend another 30-60 minutes a day working on another writing-related project--but only one. I would decide beforehand which one was the top priority, and I would only work on that one, and take it to completion.

Ahh. What a relief that decision was. I could literally feel the weight of the blankets/tasks coming back off, and I was left with a manageable one task to work on, in addition to my regular writing.

A few miles down the road, I felt the weight of different blankets, this time my household-related tasks. The kitchen cabinet doors still needed painted and rehung. I had to find and buy something with which to organize (once and for all) my spices. General uncluttering. I started feeling mildly claustrophobic again--and stuck, held in place by the weight of these new, different blankets.

I realized that I needed to do the same with these household tasks that I'd done with the writing ones. Every day, after my shift and my writing-related task has been worked on, I would work for 30-60 minutes on one specific, large household task and take it to completion.

Things shifted back into perspective. All this time, when I’ve tried to do everything at once, I’ve moved forward only slowly on any of them and many times stopped, bewildered and overwhelmed, in my tracks.

This was a big ah-ha moment for me. One I’d had a few years ago--and then forgotten (how do I go that, anyway?). I’m praying I’ll remember this time. I’m hoping that my ah-ha moment might bring on a matching ah-ha moment of your own. Because surely I’m not the only woman in the world who has so much to do that she gets too overhelmed to do any of the myriad tasks facing her and she grinds to a halt.

The first thing I did, when I returned, was to sit down and come up with a plan for polishing the Zucchini scenes (after all, a publisher is waiting for them). I’m well on my way to having that done AND I’ve bought the containers and organized my spices AND I’m writing a story I promised my sister. I’m getting lots done AND spending time and attention on my family AND keeping my house clean. (Ha! That last one was a joke! It’s still so cluttered from having the kitchen not quite done that cleaning truly is a joke. But once the kitchen is put back together--which is the next priority--then I can get back on top of the housecleaning again.)

I hope you can look at your life with new eyes today, and perhaps pray for perspective to see how you can unclutter your tasks and put them in some kind of manageable order. It has worked wonders for me.

Oh, and if you can manage a week away with a writer friend, I highly recommend it. : ) Getting out of your regular routine lends marvelous perspective to your regular routine.

Here's to our regular routine--may it be a beautiful, nourishing one for us.


  1. I know the feeling, Heather. I always thought when I got to this age I'd be so carefree I could just sit and do only what I happened to feel like doing. But I still have blankets (loved that simile, thanks) piling up on me, leaving me either unwilling, or too overwhelmed to find a starting place. Thanks for the prod. It might even 'take'.

  2. Isn't it funny that this is something we have to learn and relearn all our lives? Thanks for the reminder.

    And, I'm looking forward to the week-end with writer friends at the retreat.


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