Open, But Not Available

 
photo credit: Aziz Acharki

photo credit: Aziz Acharki

 

“Are you open on Friday night from 6-9pm?”

How many of you have said ‘yes’ to this invite, simply because you were open?  I used to do that, and ended up paying a price by being overwhelmed or exhausted at the end of the week. This snowballed into me cannibalizing my family time and my writing time during the days following, because I was off-center from too much out-of-the-house time.

I wondered why simply saying yes to an open night could get me into hot water. I figured out it was because I didn’t use the ‘zoom out.’ Zooming out was a technique I came up with when being invited to attend things or asked to help/serve/volunteer.

It changed my outlook the first time I tried it.

Here’s how it works for me: when I’m asked if I’m available, I not only look at that day, but I zoom out and look at that week. Many times, I may see I’m booked Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights. If I agreed to the Friday invite, it would mean I’d be out five nights in a six-day period. Accepting the Friday invite would make me exhausted and irritable. By the time I made it to my Sunday event, which I was looking forward to, it had no chance. In addition, my family time or bills or home repairs or writing time suffered during the following week because I was recovering from a relentless tide of events. In addition, it not only took from my time, but also from my energy reservoir. Too much Yes put me in a time and energy deficit, taking away from any writing I planned afterwards.  

Zooming out led me to create a phrase call ‘boulder time.’ Picture a rushing river where you try to keep your head above water. Imagine being able to jump out and take a moment for a welcome rest upon the warm boulder, being able to reset and recombobulate like after a TSA pat-down, before heading back into the river again. When I used Friday as my boulder time (by saying “no” to the request,) it gave me a break to put away Wednesday and Thursday, and ramp up for Saturday and Sunday, which I then attended with a glad heart. This also helped my next week go smoothly because I wasn’t frazzled by the marathon of previous nights. Zooming out helped me to see where I needed boulder time, a time slot I labeled as open, but not available. There’s a difference.

And you can pan back ever farther; it works for the month, and even for an entire season. How many of us have been booked every weekend of a summer, except for one? Don’t fill that weekend. Mark it as boulder time and fill it with pajamas, family or writing. Protect it fiercely.

Photo credit: Aziz Ancharki

Know Your Place: It's Writing Day

 
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An accountant friend was approached for a huge volunteer commitment. She answered with three earth-shattering words: “It’s tax season.” For five months, everyone left her alone. She figured out how to protect her place, and became my private hero.  I wanted a phrase like that!

As writers, we’re frequently frustrated when our time or craft isn’t respected. This thing we do may appear as a hobby, a dabbling in the arts. Before blaming the world, I ask the hard question: what part am I playing in this?  Am I sending enough signals so the world knows I’m serious? If I don’t protect the physical and mental space to write, I can’t expect others to.   

“What are you doing this morning?” This is a common volunteer request asked of us first thing in the morning at school drop off, or places we’re completely caught off guard, (like the fish aisle at Costco.)

Many of us may have replied, “Nothing. Just Writing.”

In a single move, 67% of our three-word phrase diminished our craft. “Nothing.” “Just.” The requester didn’t minimize it; we did it for them. I used to give away my writing time simply because it wasn’t an official appointment. I’d spend those days being a resentful volunteer, which helped no one.

One day, my author friend was pressured on a request. Her reply was stunning: “It’s Writing Day.” She gave full eye contact, added no other words and everyone backed off. Here’s why it was so effective:

  • “Don’t” “Won’t” “Can’t” are absent, so it feels comfortable for those who have a hard time saying no.

  • It’s short, clear and easy to remember.

  • It doesn’t apologize or leave an opening for someone to get in and mess with it or shorten it.

  • It declares to the world and yourself that it exists. It comes across as non-negotiable.

As you start your writing day, picture that time as a block, or a cubicle where you actually report to work. If you are interrupted during your writing by an invite or non-urgent request, ask yourself: if this were my work cubicle in the city, would I leave it, get in my car and drive the fifty miles home for this? No one would expect you to, and neither should you. Form your writing time into a solid space. Have it front and center in your head for when you are ambushed in the parking lot with “hey, by the way, can you….?”

Your Power Phrase is ready to go. “It’s Writing Day.”

Congratulations, you’ve named it and claimed it.  

Sheri Hoffmann is a writer, public speaker, and creator of the “Contented Yes” workshop series. Sheri has presented her seminars to audiences in the East Bay and North Bay areas. In addition to performing in the 2015 production of Listen To Your Mother San Francisco, she also writes about the ridiculous, the mundane and a variety of social issues. She is a fierce advocate for writers’ voices and very protective of their writing time. She can be reached at wellandhere@gmail.com to consult with you or speak to your group about boundaries, whether you’re a writer and/or someone who is relentlessly tapped for their time and skills.

Imagine It Into Being: Making Time To Be the Brave One

I imagined my bravery into being.

I imagined my bravery into being.

A few years ago, a friend introduced me as a writer. I wouldn’t say it out loud myself because I ‘hadn’t published anything yet.’ I liked the sound, so I adopted the label and planted a flag which said “I’m As Ready As I’ll Never Be.” It was as if I dug a trench and things started flowing to me like water. Little writing opportunities found me. People began to seek me out for small things, and then big things. All because I imagined it into being.

It felt premature for my friend to call me a writer, but I found that I caught up to it.

As people expected it of me, I behaved like one. And when I behaved like one, I became one.

I found the same thing with ‘Brave.’ I used to avoid controversy and uncomfortable situations. These last two years have taught me the value of heading straight into the heat, but not in an outraged banshee, veins bulging, tobacco spewing way.

I imagined my friend saying, “Sheri, you need to write that because you’re the Brave One.” I tried on the label and adopted the persona. I discovered the courageous voice is somewhere in between avoidance and the banshee; it is firm, true, wry, diplomatic, compassionate, direct.

I began to speak up (verbally and in writing), pretending I had people who counted on it, who wouldn’t go away until they heard it, who hid behind me and pushed me forward so I would say it. I imagined them celebrating my words because “I was the brave one.” And I imagined my bravery into being. My inner monologue became I own this 9 sq. ft. of space where I stand; I own this collection of words I birthed, even if they’re ugly. Now, I even look different when I write or act bravely. One morning, I started out drained and beige. But after typing words that were going to give me hives, I did a double take as I walked by a mirror and thought, who’s THAT?  She looked very alive.

In 2019, your courageous words are needed, words that cause discomfort, inspiration, laughter, pondering, healing.

It is brave to aim yourself into new subject matter and different audiences, to submit your piece or opinion when it’s merely good enough and not perfect, to showcase your vulnerability or to query forums that haven’t established a reputation yet. Even if you don’t feel brave, say it out loud and build the suit ahead of time. Step into this fully formed outfit and see how quickly you walk and speak like the Brave One.

 
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Sheri Hoffmann is a writer, public speaker, and creator of the “Contented Yes” workshop series. Sheri has presented her seminars to audiences in the East Bay and North Bay areas. In addition to performing in the 2015 production of Listen To Your Mother San Francisco, she also writes about the ridiculous, the mundane and a variety of social issues. She is a fierce advocate for writers’ voices and very protective of their writing time. She can be reached at wellandhere@gmail.com to consult with you or speak to your group about boundaries, whether you’re a writer and/or one who is relentlessly tapped for their time and skills.

Time To Honor The Writing: Reining In December to Protect Your January Soul

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In October, I was already writing things in my December. I panicked at the pace of ‘Save the Date!’ invites. Our own holiday family traditions still needed to land somewhere, too.

If you’re like me, I don’t expect to do a lot of writing in December (especially if we’ve just NaNoWriMo’d.) However, when I overbook December, I seem to pay a price in January. My creative energy has a hard time ramping up; it takes several weeks to shake off December. This month’s frenzy has a long reach and can steal our creative life in the new year. Here’s something that helps me tame December, basically through the tough love of cushion building:

December has 14 days (Fri-Sun) which are “open,” plus one or two weekdays/nights. I spy 20 open days! (I swear I heard you gasp. Or maybe that was me.)  I can only manage one activity a day because I am not hardy enough for more. Since there’s no way I’ll do 20 activities, I slash 8 of those days, leaving only around 12 days open. The 8 days are my cushion. They’re not written anywhere yet; they’re merely off the table, and will become ‘blackout dates’ on my calendar to use as my mood sees fit, like stay-home-and-catch-our-breath days.

I then start a messy informal list with 12 empty spots, (you hardy ones can add more) in which I write:

  • activities I’ve been invited to already…that I enjoy,

  • invites I know are coming…that I’ll enjoy,

  • an enticing invite that could come out of nowhere but hasn’t appeared yet,

  • activities we traditionally do with our own family or close friends.  

You’ll be surprised at how fast that list fills up. It may frighten you. The reality will stare you in the face, much like thinking you have $500 in your account but your checkbook shows $12. Nothing stops the over-spending like the shock of $12. Choose well.  

This isn’t perfect science, but the whole point is to keep us from speeding into a hasty yes, so we can make thoughtful, realistic commitments. It turns down the volume on December so we can walk a bit more calmly into January. All those creative things have waited patiently for us and we’ll be in a tranquil mindset to find them.   

  

Time to Honor the Writing: Protecting Our Writerly Life

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Requests for our time and talent come from everywhere: work, family, friends, neighbors, school, faith corners, writing groups, etc. The scope ranges from the minor “can you walk my dog” all the way to the mind-numbing “will you please lead this committee for the rest of your natural life?” We need to be thoughtful about our Yes. Each one will take away from our family, home and work life, which then ultimately robs our writing life. Every yes has a cost. It behooves us to filter out the spam, and make sure we say yes to the right things.

As writers, we are seen by the outside world as available to be tapped for these requests. We are the 1-800-HELPER kiosk, or the shopping baskets where the world dumps in society’s work assignments. Everyone assumes it will get done merely because they asked. Non-writers simply don’t understand how we work.  We write at home, coffee shops, co-working spaces. We look SO AVAILABLE, ready to grant all wishes for our time. The better we are at a mindful ‘yes,’ the more we can devote to our writerly pursuits. 

The world needs our voices NOW. It needs our outrage, humor, activism, inspiration and the escape we provide. It needs our self-reflection and our connection. We contain valuable stories and we need to be mindful of where we give away our time to other requests.

Keep in mind this irony of society: when you say ‘yes’ frequently, there is strong, heady praise for you always stepping up; your sacrifices are cheered and then expected often. But society is also the first one to slice you a little if your life starts to show signs of neglect. Accept requests that matter to you, ones you’re good at, tasks you love, and truly have time for. But be clear on your boundaries and never apologize for them. Honor yourself and don’t let the Constant Yes bleed your writerly life dry.

To hear more, join Sheri at the following workshop:

Time to Honor the Writing with Sheri Hoffmann

Thursday, November 8, 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. 

The Marin Writers Nest

305 Montecito Dr. Suite A

Corte Madera

Tickets: $25 in advance; $30 at the door. Register at marinwritersnest@gmail.com  https://www.facebook.com/events/319335468894763/)

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Sheri Hoffmann is a writer, public speaker, and creator of the “Contented Yes” workshop series. Sheri has presented her seminars to audiences in Benicia, Napa, and Mill Valley. In addition to performing in the 2015 production of Listen To Your Mother San Francisco and at Lit Crawl 2016, she also writes about the ridiculous, the mundane and a variety of social issues. She is a fierce advocate for writers’ voices and very protective of their writing time.

Sheri is married with two children, and lives far away in Benicia. She can be reached at wellandhere@gmail.com to consult with you or speak to your group.