She recently asked how the writing was going with my new contracted mysteries, the ones with firm deadlines that are longer than anything I’ve ever written before.
How many chapters had I written?
I was embarrassed to tell her how little writing I’d accomplished in August so far. It wasn’t my fault that my writing timetable got derailed. Yes, I had scheduled quite a few babysitting days for various events. But that isn’t what did it. They were planned for weeks ago and fully enjoyed.
“It’s other people’s emergencies that got me,” I confessed.
Tell Me More
“What emergencies?” she asked.
I gave her the last week’s list. It included things like cars over-heating when someone needed to get to work. I was glad to help out, taking people to work one day and loaning my car another day. (And doing my errands during rush hour instead, a time I usually avoided.) I watched a neighbor’s kids when she didn’t want to take them with her to the dog grooming place. I filled in for someone when I should probably have been home with my sore throat.
I didn’t feel resentful. No one’s “stuff” happened just to derail my writing or make me work late four nights in a row. I just felt tired by the time I got to my writing. Too tired to get much of it done, which made me sad. (And fearful that I might let this opportunity slip through my fingers.)
Some Hard Truths
“Yes,” my writer friend said, “emergencies DO happen. But everything you described to me is more of an inconvenience than an emergency. It’s stuff that happens to everyone: a sick child, a car needing repair, packing for a vacation, or a dog needing to go to the vet. They aren’t emergencies.”
I pondered that. Each phone call had sure sounded like an emergency.
“These people wanted you to drop everything and make their lives EASIER. They didn’t want to deal with the normal problems that everyone runs into who have children, cars, and pets. You stepped in so they didn’t have to cope. If you didn’t have some big deadlines, it might not matter. But if you don’t let others deal with their own normal problems, you’ll just fall further behind.” And maybe lose those contracts, I added silently.
Hmmm… It’s true that I often call other people’s problems “emergencies” that really aren’t. And it’s true that even if I still choose to help, often it could be done later, after I finish work. Just because someone wants it done now doesn’t mean it always NEEDS to be done now. Or, horror of horrors, when asked for help, I could have said, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t today.” Period.
Writing and making deadlines is a good thing. Helping someone truly in need is also a good thing. But choosing between them can be hard.
A Christian author who deals with the tough issue of choosing between one good thing and another good thing is Lysa TerKeurst in The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. If we use up our time and energy by saying “yes” to many unnecessary things, we won’t have any time or energy to say YES to the best things. As Lysa says, we don’t become Wonder Woman; we become worn-out woman.
If you find yourself also in the position of wanting to devote more time to writing opportunities—but so many people are wanting your time—you might enjoy this book too. I expect I’ll be blogging about it in the future.
Time for Change
In the meantime, today when you are asked to postpone your writing in order to assist someone else, stop first. Think about it.
- Does it really require your help?
- Does it have to be right now?
- If the person has to wait for your help, do they take care of it themselves? [This happens a lot!]
- Is this just a normal problem any person would have in that situation or season of life? In that case, you might be doing them more of a favor if you let them struggle and grow and mature in their role.
And while they do that, you can struggle and grow and mature in your writing. A win-win solution!
Sometimes we worry so much about being selfish that we go overboard the other way. It’s not wrong to say “no” or “not now.” And if you do it often enough, you might actually get some writing done!