Friday, December 21, 2012

Balancing Act

Balance.  That's the trick in any writer's life--how do I balance the need and urge to write and attempt to have some sort of career, with the rest of life?  Now that I've begun farming, that balancing act has gotten a little trickier.  In some ways, adding farming to my life makes sense precisely because it provides a counterpoint to hours spent at a desk staring at a computer screen, or in a dark theatre at rehearsal.  Most of my farming time is spent outside, engaged in physical labor, all while solving some very specific physical puzzles--how do I grow the most vegetables possible, in a specific plot of land, in the amount of time afforded by daylight and my energy and budget.  And even more important, it helps me more fully experience the world and meet new people (so I have more to write about).

But in adding this new avocation to my life, the question arose--would it crowd out writing and theatre?  In my ideal life, I would love to spend half of my year on farming and half of it writing.  Theoretically, farming has the potential to work this way, as long as I decide not to extend my growing season with greenhouses and other techniques.  I can get crops in the ground in April and stop farming in October, and spend the rest of the time on art.

This arrangement is not likely to pay a living wage.  Of course, neither writing plays or farming full time is likely to make that happen.  Theoretically splitting my time between writing and farming will slow my writing career.  I might write less and get less of my work published and produced.  That's a tradeoff I'd have to consciously choose, much as I knew that becoming a father would make me write less, but also lead to a more fulfilling life (I'm glad I made the choice I did).

I'm a numbers guy, as many of you know.  For a while, I've been trying to track the time I spend writing and marketing my work.  This year, I tracked my time even more closely than ever, trying to understand how this writing/farming split might work.  As the end of the year nears, here's how I've spent my time:

Writing (actual writing and research):  386 hours  (my goal was 400.  Just missed it!)

Rehearsals, Meetings & Productions of my work:  274 hours

Marketing (including submissions, networking, admin, blogging):  231 hours

For an entire writing career time of about 891 hours.

And for farming (including field work, planning, marketing, classes, etc.):  734 hours

Driving to our farm (which is about 45-60 minutes from home):  191 hours

For writing I did not track commuting time (but perhaps I should), but I went to about 100 meetings, mostly in town, and that would still add up to another 100 hours, by bike, T, and car.

So if I were to include commuting and travel time, I spent about 1,000 hours on my writing stuff, and about 925 on farming.  (All of these are under-reported a bit, especially marketing, e-mail, and web time.)

Oddly enough, last year, when I tracked actual writing time and rehearsal time together, I spent about 600 hours on both, and an additional 217 hours on marketing.   That means that this year, even though I added farming to the mix, I actually ended up writing a little bit more than I did before.  Which gets back to the old addage of, "if you want something done, ask a busy person."  Sometimes, if you want to do more, you just need to do more.  Obviously, there are a limited number of hours in the day, so I did cut things out, and I had a lot of help and forbearance from my family. 

The good news is that looking at these numbers makes me feel like I actually have a chance at finding this writing farm/balance that I'm searching for.  In 2013, I'll be farming twice as much land, but am hoping not to spend much more time doing it (I'm getting faster at doing stuff as I gain skills).

Do any of you track your writing time?  If so, how many hours to you spend actually writing?  Do you have time goals for the week, month, year?  I hope you'll comment and share.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Current Juggling Act

Pat juggling clubs
Juggling takes a lot of focus, whether it's clubs or writing projects.
Now that farming season has ended, my writing season has picked up full speed.  I've got a whole bunch of projects that I'm juggling at the moment, as well as upcoming productions.  Here is some of what I'm up to:
  • My latest novel, Moving (A Life in Boxes), will be coming out as an ebook in about two weeks.  I've got make sure people know about it and finish getting it proofread and formatted.
  • I'm about to do revisions on the book for a musical (a commissioned work) adaptation of Penny Noyce's novel, Lost In Lexicon.
  • I just finished a first draft of a new full-length play, Distant Neighbors, and am working on it in Rhombus and in the New Voices @ New Rep program.
  • We start rehearsals for Fire on Earth with Fresh Ink. on Monday, and I'll be making revisions fairly steadily until we open on February 1 at the Factory Theatre in Boston.
  • I have a couple short plays in the One-Minute Play Festival coming to Boston Playwrights Theatre. Rehearsals start soon, but revisions are quick on short plays.
  • I'm supposed to write a ten-minute play, set in a garden, for production this spring in London by a small company there.  (They performed Pumpkin Patch last year.)
  • If I can clear the decks a little, I'm ready to finish the next draft of an historical novel about Civil War hero Robert Smalls.
  • And I have two short plays in the upcoming New Works Festival at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport (but shouldn't have to do rewrites on them).
It's a good thing I'm not farming over the winter.  It seems like a lot of balls to have in the air, but I actually find myself more productive when I'm juggling a lot of projects at once.  It forces me to stay disciplined.  And one thing I've learned over my years writing is that I never know which project might suddenly catch fire and find the right people at the right time and have a chance to leap forward to find a larger audience.  Maybe it'll be one of these.  Maybe it'll be the next one.  Or the one after that.

And sometimes I miss a ball and they all come crashing down for a while.  But like in juggling, it's just a matter of picking them back up and starting over.
Pat picking up fallen clubs
Yep, every juggler drops the balls sometimes. There's nothing to do but pick them up and start over.