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Secret Life of an Expat: Working at Home, Alone

In August, I set myself a firm deadline to finish the rewrite of my novel, Annie’s Fish, by the end of the month. The first draft was so rough that it wasn’t so much a rewrite, where you take your chapters and rework them, as a write-the-whole-thing-again-almost-from-scratch because the first version is too far from where it needs to be. I lost a week in the middle of August because of family vacation, and in the last two weeks I really had to put my nose to the grindstone.

By the last week, I was writing, actually writing, for four or five hours a day. When I wanted to stop, I said, no, this is your job, and you don’t get to stop. A few times, my body actually stood up and walked away from the computer, without asking permission. I had to scold myself, like a child: “That’s not how we do things. We don’t just get up and look for something else to do when it gets hard, we keep working. So sit down and pound on your forehead until you figure out what sentence to write next.”

It was fantastic. I felt like I was really onto something. Writing like a professional. Using my time well. But I still didn’t make my deadline.

When I told a friend this she said, “So what’s your new deadline?” I was like, oh, I can do that? I haven’t failed, I’m just a day or two behind.

I used to have the mentality that if I blew a self-imposed deadline, it was proof that I wasn’t committed enough to do the project, or even be the writer or artist I claimed to be. The whole project was a failure, and I would never succeed at anything.

Maybe this is why I went to grad school. I have no problem with meeting other people’s deadlines. Teachers especially. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but apparently I don’t care about disappointing myself.

Yeah, I don’t care except it eats away at me in the middle of the night.

As I forced myself through the last few chapters last week, I also made lists of all the other creative things I wished I could be doing instead of rewriting Annie’s Fish. Now that the draft is printed out and simmering in a drawer, it’s time to start one of those new things. But… self discipline is an incredibly difficult thing to master. A new project is especially challenging, it’s scary and experimental, and a lot easier to give up on. Suffice to say, I don’t have the same energy this week that I had last week.

I’m trying to set up a support network for the next project. Having an email writing exchange partner who expects to see my pages every day has gotten me through several drafts of novels that I would not have finished in a vacuum. Now that I want to start an artistic endeavor, I’ve asked the husband to faux-supervise an animated short. M will give me feedback on the script, will look at the designs, and help me set up a schedule. It’s not that he will be a guide, just someone who is expecting to see progress.

Maybe it’s because we are too close, or maybe because he’s not working on his own project, but I’m already behind. I was supposed to show M a script on Tuesday, and it’s already Thursday. While I know I need to finish the script, part of me believes that M will understand if it’s not finished. He’s my husband. I can tell him how I had a bad day, how I couldn’t think of a good ending, how I had to watch Mad Men instead.

But that’s not how we do things, if we want to finish them. As long as I claim to be a creative person, I need to produce work. M might understand that I was tired (or lazy), but I will still be disappointed in myself. So the biggest challenge (perhaps in life?) has got to be respecting myself enough to follow through with my commitments.

What do you do to meet your personal goals?

Featured Image Credit: betsyjean79