Most people think of me as a do-er. In my twenties, it never fazed me to work a full-time job in order to pursue my true love of acting and writing in the after hours. I wrote a screenplay and then thought, hey, I’m going to star in this. With no experience, I shot it over weekends, somehow convincing people to help out, pitch in. I’ve written first drafts of plays over three to four days. I wrote a draft of my first novel in six months. And even though I’m more creative than business minded, I dove into the start-up land and created BookHive in order to help other writers fine tune their work. It always fascinates me when I tell people about BookHive and the camps of people who mention something about it hitting it big and selling it for a good chunk of change. Anyone who truly knows me knows that money has never been a driving ambition of mine. My hope is to build BookHive and watch it grow. My heart is in creation, storytelling, and finding balance in the day to day.
I’ve never had writer’s block, but truth be told, I’m beginning to realize I’m in its throes. Now, that’s not totally truthful. And this goes hand in hand with my other block – psycho perfectionism. I’m seeing too that these two are intertwined codependent lovers. In the last seven months I have written a draft of a new play, and have done a deep revision as well. But it’s fascinating that I don’t count that. As I peer in on my psyche, it’s clear I need to shake things up. What’s nagging me is that I haven’t touched my YA novel since March. There are some vibrant reasons for that. The last 14 months have been rife with infertility woes as I enter my third plus year of trying (unsuccessfully) to have a child. In April we started our second round of IVF (failed) and this last September our third round (failed – but there’s another Bowen/Neergaard on ice near Columbus Circle at my fertility clinic.) The failure in April was met with a mild malaise. The most recent blow was just that, a physical and emotional sinkhole. It was actually in trying to process the loss that I came up with my idea to give up my to-do lists, but more for the practical reason of not quite knowing how to get from Monday to Tuesday.
Jennifer Bowen, person, writer, and CEO of BookHive Corp.
I love lists. And order. And deadlines. I recently leafed through a Martha Stewart magazine and marveled at her monthly to-do list calendar. Even with her white privilege decadent lifestyle, there was still a part of me oohing and aahing at her clean font outlining plans to polish silver, make pie crusts, and winterize her garden. Yet since the beginning of November, I’ve decided to go against my grain. My month of November will remain blank.
About half of my week is filled with managing a small group of clients in NYC doing a variety of things. The higher echelon need help and I’m there to provide it. For this work, I’m a willing slave to the online task master wunderlist and every email and response and follow-up is recorded there. So even in my desire for total abandon, it is impossible.
The other half of my week I am building BookHive – blogging, working with clients, recruiting beta readers, and the endless task of SEO-ing my website. Also, I theoretically could be writing, the very act that made me want to build BookHive in the first place. Yet, nothing draws me to sit down and work on my novel.
But two things have been happening, for awhile. First off, my compulsive do-er energy has gone into overdrive where no week goes by where I ever think I’ve accomplished enough. Perhaps anyone who has attempted a start-up, or maybe every person ever these days, can relate. My perfectionism gives me an impossible task list – let’s say – 100 items to do a week. A normal, healthy person could accomplish 70 items. But I strive for 100, pull off 80, and focus on the 20 things glaring back to me uncrossed. There is an emptiness to this kind of ambition. Where is the sweetness of gaining the goal? I’ve tried lots of things. Mostly it’s involved more lists and awareness (Write the list down! Cross the item off! Feel good? Not so much for me…). I’ve tried focusing on the intention of the goal (read that purple pink book, can’t remember the name) and I love the philosophy of it, but for me, it wasn’t a sustainable solution. I’ve had goal buddies, tried affirmations, tried to recruit other goal buddies, and mumbled some more affirmations.
Then life came scrambling up to my door, took my hand and sat me down on the couch, and whispered, you need to take a break. Partly it was the constant feeling of failure that drove me to stop my to-do lists. Others need motivation, lists, to get things done. I am probably in a unique camp that will always achieve, but my struggle is to acknowledge that I am doing enough, and the bright elusive wisdom that I shouldn’t value my worth by what I’m accomplishing, anyway.
My blank calendar for the month of November.
Grief will make you present, I will give you that. Or it can, if you allow it. In the first few days of no lists, I did find a new kind of relief from the ambiguous future of whether or not I will get pregnant. It also gave me a feeling of expansion when thinking of building my business. Oddly, in the first week I accomplished quite a lot. I even felt moments of ease and pride of doing a good job. In approaching building BookHive, I sense for longevity I need to give myself a pat on the back in order for it to sustain. I will always work hard. I’m not worried about that. Without my to-do lists, I’m slowly returning to having some part of my day unfolding totally naturally. Instead of a should, I am moved to act after taking a pause, by asking the question – what next? What sparks and pushes creativity is messy. Life is messy too, something I have felt fully as of late. To say my end goal is that I get back to my YA novel seems counterintuitive. My hope is that I pick it up again. Novelist and essayist Pico Iyer spoke on a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival and what he said has stuck with me. He spoke about writing and putting it down, letting life happen, not rushing for completion, waiting. I’m waiting now. When I pick it up again, I’ll let you know.
BookHive Corp. does beta reader editorial research for authors.
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