Prioritizing My Ambitions

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Being 66 and retired gives me a lot of free time, yet at the end of every day, I always wish I had more. My lifelong, no-so-secret ambition has been to write a book. I’ve had plenty of ideas, and I could have found the time, even during my nine-to-five years. Yet, I haven’t. Why? Because I fritter away my goddamn time. I have a personality that loves to do what I want when I want. Some people call that laziness, but it’s essentially poor time management. Somehow I need to learn how to prioritize my time to succeed.

Most people must achieve their ambitions before forty. Most big ambitions required the peak performance of youth. Generally, writers must also succeed in bloom, but there are a few outliers that give me hope. Writing is one endeavor where late bloomers have an outside chance. So, if I don’t want to go to my grave still fantasizing about the books I want to write, I need to conquer time management.

All that’s required is focusing, working diligently, and ignoring all the distractions. Of course, that’s easier declared than lived. I’ve mind mapped how I spend my time. What I need to, is Marie Kondo its branches.

Time Mind Map

I write best in the mornings, but to maintain my health I must exercise. My self-control wanes quickly during the day, so if I don’t do my exercises in the morning, there’s little chance I’ll do them at all. In fact, I’m skipping my morning bike ride to write this. That bike ride gives me vitality, something in short supply. And if I don’t do my physical therapy and Miranda Esmonde-White exercises, my back will go out. Maybe one reason people don’t succeed after forty is that we have to spend too much time on body maintenance.

I need to completely get over this ingrained habit. I need to write in the mornings and exercise later in the day. I doubt I have the mental and physical energy to write more than four hours a day, maybe only two, even if I give it my best hours. Somehow I need to make those writing hours the #1 activity in my day. After that, I have to make exercise #2.

I have a friend whose life-long ambition is to live abroad. She’s finally getting to do that because she’s getting rid of everything she owns here. Part of my time management problem is possession management. According to minimalists, owning less is more freeing. That’s true, For example, I’ve been spending a lot of time and mental energy researching buying a new television and computer, or what books and magazines to collect. I need to stop that. It would also help to get rid of all the stuff I must spend time maintaining.

If you study that mind map, you’ll notice I consume a great deal of fiction. Generally, I rationalize television and reading by claiming I only do it when I’m too tired to do anything else. I need to make sure that’s true.

Looking closer, I also realize I spend a great deal of time socializing. I’m not sure I can give friends up, but I need to make being with them more efficient. People are just as essential as food, but some of my social activities are junk food.

Many of the activities listed above are mostly ambitions I just piddle around with at best. Maybe it’s time I give up thinking I’m a programmer. I spent my work years programming, and I think of myself as a programmer, but I really don’t program anymore. I want to. If I gave up writing I’d want to program. But I can’t have two ambitions. There’s not enough time.

If I’m really serious about writing a book then I need to prune the crap out of that mind map above. Meditating on it is very revealing. I should print it out and study it first thing every morning when I wake up. I should reread this essay every morning to remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned writing it.

I find it most rewarding on waking up if I make two goals for the day. It used to be five, then three, and now two. They can’t be too big either. And sometimes I have to waste one on things like grocery shopping or seeing a movie.

If my mind map was smaller, with fewer branches, it would be easier to be ambitious with my limited resources. It’s going to be painful to give up so many possessions and activities. But if I really want to succeed with my goal, I can see from studying the mind map, that’s the price.

Afterward:

The two goals that came to mind this morning, were to write a new blog, and finish a scanning project and submit it to Internet Archive. This accomplishes one of them. I think of blogging as writing. I’ve always said blogging was piano practice for writers. Yet, I see it’s not working on a book. I’ve got to start blogging outside my morning writing hours. Blogging is essential to my my mental agility. It has to be #3 after morning writing and exercise. But I positively have to stop blogging in the morning.

If I can’t make writing in the morning my #1 activity every day, I should Marie Kondo my ambition to write a book. To be honest, I must prune my ambitions too.

Maybe I’m really doing what I want, and the desire to write is what I should give up.

Not yet.

JWH

 

 

7 thoughts on “Prioritizing My Ambitions”

  1. “Because I fritter away my goddamn time.” . . . Tick.
    “I have a personality that loves to do what I want when I want.” . . . Tick
    “Some people call that laziness, but it’s essentially poor time management.” With me it is just the former 🙂

    Why don’t you have Mon/Wed/Fri for writing first thing and Tue/Thurs/Sat for exercising first thing? Or some other randomization so that if you don’t have enough energy for whatever later on in the day it doesn’t become a cumulative problem.

  2. I think you’re a fine writer. I’ve enjoyed your blog posts for months after learning about you on BLACK GATE. You inspired me to go back and read those Bleiler & Dikty YEAR’S BEST SF anthologies (so your writing is having an effect). Writing a book takes time and discipline. You have both so I expect TOR or ACE or DAW to be publishing your finished product in a year or so.

  3. Yes, discipline – or simply making it a priority – is necessary to write a book. What works for me is writing everyday at the same time everyday – early morning. I don’t think this is very different from what you’re already doing. You could simply shift your focus from writing essays to writing your book, or perhaps, just work your book, chapter by chapter, into your essay writing regiment.

    In my case, I spend about two hours every morning writing, and, if I’m in the mood, an hour or so at night. I don’t set any word count goals, I just put in the time. I started a novel in January, finished the first draft of 120K words early in May and will finish first revision in a week or so. Hopefully the next revision will be the last. Of course, I just make things up. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you’d have to add all your research time to the writing time. But, hey, I’m 68, so I’m not buying age as an excuse.

  4. I had the exact same problem (exercising in the mornings when it’s writing time, scheduling, etc) and I blogged about it. But ultimately the problem is that you don’t want to write a book ENOUGH, or to give up other activities, which is obviously essential. And by the way, that’s OK, so why beat yourself up? I should know: it takes one to know one. But since then, I’ve been on a roll…

  5. I share the same dream. I wish to become a published novelist and actually did complete my first novel at the age of 16. Two years later and I’m glad no publisher showed any interest in the manuscript. I believe that what I am today is far better than what I was two years ago and that’s what keeps me going.
    Age, I believe, doesn’t matter. What matters is practice and the will to keep going. If you have the morale to write your book right now, I assure you that you’ll get somewhere. Better than sitting around and waiting for something to happen.
    You can check out my first blogpost that I posted today on the same topic. Hope you follow and fulfill your dream 🙂

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