I Am My Own Boss, Part One

WORK            There are wonderful things about the freelance life and being my own boss. For instance, I set my own hours. In the winter, this usually means working early and late so that I can be outdoors during the relative warmth in the middle of the day. In the summer, it’s the reverse: I row my single scull early in the morning and don’t show up at my desk until ten. And then there’s the matter of dress code. Mine makes corporate America’s Friday Casual look like haute couture. But the hardest, by far, is the issue of just showing up.

This is easy when I have a deadline with a paycheck dangling behind it. But then, I’m not really my own boss – I’m the pen hired by a client, writing to specs. But showing up to write fiction? That’s when being my own boss can be tough.

For one, it’s lonely. There are neither co-workers to complain to or about. There’s no office gossip. And there’s no one to motivate me when DeskI’m in a slump or to reprimand me when I shirk my desk all together. This is especially true when it comes to writing a novel, which can take years to draft and more years before it’s published. I’ve never received a cold call from a perspective client saying, “I need an 80,000- word novel right away!”

But I’ve been writing novels – both published and unpublished – for a long time. Over the years I’ve developed different strategies for coping with the inevitable slump when I wonder, Why bother? One is to read the Help Wanted Ads. There are days when I think about going to work at a burger joint, or a bakery, or anywhere else but home.

Another strategy was to schedule a weekly lunch date with a fellow writer to set weekly goals, but that’s petered out. These days, I attend a weekly workshop, where I write with the delicious synergy of other writers, including poets and songsters, memoirists, and story-spinners like myself. It’s glorious, and it always picks me up, helps me keep writing along.

But during the recent and difficult process of finding my way into Ellen, the tentative title for the book I’m working on now, I’ve come up with a series of no-fail exercises that help me show up, sit down, and write.

The first I adapted from Joan Dempsey’s Literary Living. It goes like this: I show up at my desk and start the day with N.A.M.S.

N is for Narrate.

I’ve been journaling since I was nine, and keeping an electronic journal since Microsoft Word came out for the Mac, in 1984. Before that, I used to type – on a typewriting machine.  So narrating how I arrive at my desk is how I start my day. It’s a way of talking to myself about all the static of laundry, bills, spousal discord, unhappy kids, sick chickens, the weather. Whatever. It’s a license to kvetch, if necessary, as if I were talking to a co-worker about my existential despair. I spill it all out, typically in a few hundred words.

A is for Affirmation.

Next, I write affirmations. This doesn’t come easy. For years, my self-talk went something like, “Deb, self-pity is a character flaw. Get over it!” But that didn’t seem to help. So now I try to remember what I accomplished the previous day. I list every victory over turpitude and sloth, regardless how miniscule. Washed my face? Terrific! Sat down at my desk at 8? Fabulous! Worked through the temptation to eat lunch at ten? Excellent! Produced x-number of words, researched necessary information, advanced the plot? Another superlative day! Like any skill, I’m getting better at affirmations with practice. And I can tell you from my own experience: the carrot is much more effective than the stick. Also: it’s never too late to learn positive self-talk.

M is for Meditate.

I used to count my journaling as writing meditation, but recently, I’ve started sitting cross-legged on the floor and paying attention to my breath. I started doing this for five minutes (setting a timer), then six, seven, eight – until I could sit still for ten. Each day I added a minute, and each day I’ve been surprised by two things: the time seems to go by faster, and my mind is sharp and clear when time’s up.

S is for Single Task.

I’m now ready to Single Task: do one thing with my full attention. I’m amazed at how much I can get done when I set my mind to it. And when the first thing on my list is finished, I move on to the next.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

NAMS is one of several motivational techniques I’ve learned to use as my own boss. In my next post, I’ll explain another technique I’ve learned to nip procrastination in the bud.

Deborah Lee Luskin writes in southern Vermont and can be found on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com.

30 thoughts on “I Am My Own Boss, Part One

  1. So relatable. I find the “S” part most helpful especially when there is a list of a thousand things to do. Some days, I find it hard to write anything because of working the “day job” or because of whatever else is going on, but if I can manage a single task, no matter how small, I feel like I’ve accomplished something!
    That single task might be as simple as reading a piece for professional development, an article of inspiration, ten minutes of working on a character profile, or only jotting down ideas for a short story.
    One step at a time. But always moving forward…

    • It’s amazing how beneficial it is to focus on a single task at a time – especially in our current culture, which seems to prize multitasking.
      Thanks for your comment. – Deborah.

  2. what a great post! i needed this method back when i had my own accounting business! it’s amazing how much less motivated you are when the paycheck isn’t in quick view. and how much time you can waste in a week. great NAMS plan for motivation! i think i can even apply this to my employee life at the firm! thanks!

    • Please let me know if/how you apply this to corporate life. I’m very interested (and delivering a keynote address to the Vermont Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals tomorrow, so this is much on my mind).
      And thanks for taking the time to comment. Best – Deborah.

      • i’m sorry that i didn’t respond to this yet! i didn’t see the notification…

        i think it just helped me in my business to focus and structure my day. it’s challenging when you have full autonomy regarding your workday! nobody gets upset with me if i move things around, start late, work all night. none of my clients notice or care… but i do. it affects my ability to keep my personal life in tact. also, having the structure was important for when i moved back into the corporate world until my son graduates high school.
        it will definitely help me on my next big journey to defining my business and instead of this go round where it ate me alive… i will feel more in control. i will keep things balanced and keep my priorities in line with my goals.

        thanks again so much for your help! it’s not easy to lead but you’ve done it and maybe without even knowing! 🙂

  3. I just got back from Office Max and hung up a billboard with tasks and articles due each day. It’s color coded and I check off things as I get them done. It definitely keeps me focused on a “single task.”

    Great ideas.

    • Hi Jeff –
      Love your system!
      I had a friend who outlined all her paying tasks in green (for money) and all her creative ones in purple. She aimed for a balance each day and was able to support herself and complete a novel this way. How creative we are about managing our time is, I think, directly related to how productive we are – however we define productivity.
      Thanks for your comment. -Deborah.

  4. N.A.M.S. Love it! The A. & M. will be hardest for me but I love the idea of setting up a routine like this to – well, get into a routine! But better yet, a routine with a purpose. Looking forward to your advice on the big P word – procrastination. Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Gypsy –
      Often, what’s hardest is most rewarding – but you probably already know that!
      Part 2 posts next Tuesday – 4/23.
      Thanks for your comment – Deborah.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I’m feeling like I’m in one of those “slumps” at the moment, but I know things will pick up 🙂

    • Aerisa,
      I’ve decided that as frustrating as slumps can be, they also have some value: a lot of stuff is going on deep within while we’re wearily waiting for things to “pick up” – a kind of psychic gestation. This too shall pass.
      Thanks for your comment. Deborah.

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  8. Although at the time I was not writing I spent a long time working from home for my company. I would take the kids to school, walk the dog and then diligently work from 9 am to 1 pm. Then an hour’s walk with dog & lunch and back to work until 3:30 pm when I collected the kids. Back to the study until 5 pm and then to make dinner.I did occasionally put in or take out laundry and vacuum while the kettle was boiling or the phones were quiet. But in the most part I kept to my routine. I always dressed for ‘work’ though so I felt at work.
    Great post thanks for sharing.

  9. I have an inheritance of several million, so feel no motivation for hard work, though I would like to see my name in print, what can I do ?

    • If you have an inheritance of several million but have no motivation for hard work, you are SOL. Because writing IS hard work. 🙂

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