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Balancing work and inspiration

Ever feel like the horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm? He was a character involved in the barn yard revolution of animals against humans. When the revolution went sour because of the perfidy and despotism of the pigs, he famously vowed “I will work harder!”

Yeah, the poor sucker. He ended up in the glue pot, you know, even though he worked harder than anyone for his pink masters.

The uncertainty principle.

Today’s topic launches off the insight I had recently that too much work is bad for your writing and bad for your life. Okay, most of you know this. But for my fellow workaholics out there, let’s get in a circle and admit we are often powerless over this mindless and maybe pointless tendency to work all the time. Why do we work to the detriment of our peace of mind and even our families? Because we don’t know how much we need to work, or how much we’re supposed to. A decent career is hard to maintain (as well as launch.) So, because we’re not sure how to stay in (or get in) the game, we will work harder.

Because we’re not sure how many sales we’re supposed to make to editors, or how many books we’re supposed to sell once we have an editor, we will work harder.

Because we spend a year (or five) writing a novel and it tanks, and we’re not sure if it was our fault or the bad cover, or the lack of publisher support–so we touch our forelock to the pink pigs. “I will work harder.”

This approach to the uncertain universe of publishing is wrong. Well meant, but full of horse pucky. It can lead to ignoring friends, growing isolation, and not making it to the gym. Worse, it promotes stale writing, writers’ block and anxiety-driven rewrites.

To counter the work harder syndrome, we must turn to a higher power. Our inspiration list.

The inspiration list.

When you recognize that the beast has you in it’s jaws, you need a quick reminder of the things that will free you. We’re talking about those strategies that will bring you back to what life is really about. Your inspiration list.

It’s not enough to tell yourself to relax. (And TV is a bad idea–it may be mindless and fun, but it will not fill up your tank and make your life more real, nor you more present to the world.) You need a list of potential maneuvers–ready-made, cheap, reassuring, available and preferably mind-blowing.

To begin building your list (paste to wall or bulletin board, otherwise it gets covered in, you guessed it, work!) think about a few things that, if secretly filmed by God, would not be an embarrassing summation of your life.

Here is one possible list, but of course you have to build your own:

1. Take a walk and really see stuff.

2. Get moving in a way you love, whether it’s a sport or aerobics or yoga.

3. Put on some loud music and dance. Hit replay and do it again.

4. Cut flowers in garden, arrange. Give thanks if you still have some in October!

5. Brush the cat to hear cat purr. (If cat is glaring and not purring, this is work again, people!)

6. Call a friend or relative and give them your full attention. (Without  multi-tasking.)

7. Journal for 10 minutes apiece starting with: Today I reach toward. . .and then Today I release . . .

8.  Read out loud a random passage from a favorite novel. Mine would be Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. Keep this book out in plain view.

Proposal: Let’s do one from our list each day. And then get back to work, inspired.


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