In keeping with the maritime metaphor (at least for a sentence or two), getting serious about my writing has also involved a lot of mental, emotional and organizational clearing of the decks. I knew when I retired two years ago that I would have to transition to writing gradually. Mostly because the profession I retired from (I was a career scientist and lab director) was not one that would “shut off” the moment I walked out the door. There were projects and research papers that would need to be finished with colleagues. This was not a legal obligation or anything of the sort, but rather a professional, and I’ll even say ethical obligation. My colleagues and the institution I was part of were enormously helpful to me over my career, and I owed them a smooth phase out and help where they needed it or wanted it on things we had been collaborating on.
But I have to admit that, for me at least, the deck clearing at first also involved a lot of deck furniture rearranging and redecorating. Initially, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure how I would react to the unstructured time vacuum I was stepping into. So, beyond lining up some writing workshops and related “events” in my life, I also took on an overdue house remodeling project and registered to take some classes at the local community college. In addition to a creative writing course, they included courses I’d been wanting to take my whole life and could never rationalize doing when the science career was steaming along “All Ahead Full.”
My fragile ego also wanted to prove to myself that the person I had become could ace these classes (my early initial college years... back in the ice ages... were not stellar. Although, when I got to grad school, that greatly improved. Still, I wanted to show myself that the me of 2008 could score A’s in these humanity, social science and foreign language courses). Mission accomplished.
All that planned stuff ended in October of 2009, though. And it turns out that my last planned activity was the most challenging writing workshop I have ever experienced. It left me with a huge inner challenge to finally get off my duff and start living up to the expectations I had for myself as a writer. The airborne-ranger-school / take-no-prisoners feeling of the workshop showed me I could no longer use any of my old pet excuses not to produce as a writer.
Everything since the 18th of October 2009 has been the real deck clearing in my transition toward a life to write. Real deck clearing is a lot harder than ceremonial deck clearing. It involves things that can in themselves be distracting, as much as focusing activities. I had an office to set up at home, and, at long last one to really and truly close out at my former work site (they had kept it for me as a courtesy to help with the phase out and finish up work I mentioned earlier). The latter activity has proved the hardest thing I’ve done in recent years. A 35 year accumulation of what was once an all important focus had to be sorted through, and about 80% discarded. Oof, talk about identity trauma.
And deck clearing also involved and is still involving reaching a new understanding with my family and the other people in my life about what it takes to focus on this new thing. Getting them to see that facet of my existence and acknowledge and accomodate it fairly has also been a challenge. The fairness aspect runs both ways. Me wanting them to embrace my new committment and them wanting me to understand and respect their continued needs from me, both in my family role and in my attitudes.
Well, I’m just about there. Down to a few boxes of clutter left to remove from the old office, and a lot of hard but productive communication with the family about what the heck I am thinking and doing.
In the meantime. Since October 18th, I’ve ramped up my marketing of existing story inventory and finally made a credible start on one of three or four novels that have been sitting with legs dangling over the edge of my frontal lobe for years now.
SOoo. The decks are nearly cleared. And I am at least a bit self-satisfied about having been somewhat productive on the writing and marketing front while the clearing was/is going on.
But there is one other insight that is worth sharing about deck clearing. Once you do it, you have to work on your sea legs. The ship is underway, and you’ve removed all the stuff you used to be able to hold on to in order to steady yourself when the deck rolls and pitches. You’re committed. That’s both a little terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
But it’s a lot easier to see the horizon without all that excess cargo lashed to the decks obscuring your vision. Wish me bon voyage.