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I have decided to add another commitment to my routine.

It’s not as if I have the time. I have my paid job as an articling student, my writing, my publishing projects, and my attempts to put myself “out there” in social media. I’m also in a long form writers’ group. We read each other’s full novels and critique them.

That’s only part of the story. I also strive to make time to be with my wonderful husband. And then there are my amazing friendships. Also under “personal” comes my health issues–the management required to keep my arthritis and endometriosis from taking over everything else, with the pain they cause and the toll they take on my energy levels.

A final set of roles tie into a wider community. I am a licensed officiant, and perform weddings, child welcomings, and other rites of passage for people by working with them to create ceremonies that resonate with who they are. My volunteer commitments also include co-teaching a course on comparative religions to a wonderful group of 11 and 12-year-olds–which means research and preparation (so far we’ve covered Hinduism, Judaism and are working our way through Christianity).

Cumulatively, this makes for a jam-packed existence. Amid all these commitments, which I take seriously–I already find myself gasping for time. Any additional commitment means carving time out of one of the others (or cutting down on sleep).

And yet, I’ve had a growing concern. It’s too easy to fall into a triage situation–working through the tasks as they come up, rather than slotting them into a larger picture that encompasses the longer term. And so, I’ve forced myself to step back and to ask whether I can start approaching these tasks in a more effective way.

Part of this has involved strategic visioning–where am I going with these commitments? What are the likely long-term outcomes? Is that the direction I want to take, or do I need to adjust some of my actions so I’m moving in a more appropriate direction? This process has been immensely helpful.

I’ve also been consulting books and related resources. See, my other concern is that I’m just churning things out–aiming for word counts and productivity like some Soviet-era shock worker in a dysfunctional factory.

The old adage, “the best way to become a better writer is to write every day” has some truth to it, but I’ve begun to fear that in focusing on word goals, my writing is either stagnating or possibly even getting worse. Sure, I’m plotting the stories consciously and enjoying my journey with the characters, but the writing itself has become mechanical–which doesn’t give rise to conditions that lead to improvement.

And so, I’ve decided to make the commitment and carve out some time to do something that frankly is far from a favourite activity: deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is about focusing on making the mechanical un-mechanical, with the aim of improvement. I’m trying to reframe it of course–calling it “professional development” sounds much sexier. But ultimately, it is still the unpleasantness of the tedious discipline of concentrating on technique, form, style, mechanics. All stuff that I’d rather not work on because I find it dull and unappealing, particularly when it’s set beside the joy of losing myself in story and character and narrative.

I truly resist this. But, when I took a step back and looked at my direction, I realised that in the long term, I wanted to be a better writer. And for me, “better writer” means better from the ground up–from mechanics, to character, to plot, to… everything. So, it’s back to the basics. I’ve pulled out my copy of Strunk and White (which I actually enjoy reading, so that’s not a chore). I’ve brainstormed a variety of dismally self-improving exercises that will hone in on mechanics and style. I’m committing to a small chunk of my time, every day, carved out of my fiction writing time–not because I want to lose that precious time, but because this longer-term goal of being a better writer is also precious. And I know all too well that if I don’t start chipping away at it, a little at a time every day, then it will not become a reality.

Wish me luck!

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