Many aspiring writers ask me, “How do you manage everything?” meaning the multiple roles I undertake in a day. I am also a physician and counseling professional working the evenings and two mornings a week. I also do freelance content writing work. I do not have a weekend, just Sundays. I have a 5 year old daughter, demanding, but I believe she is accommodating of me, too. I live with my in-laws who are lovely people and allow me to be, still I am a daughter-in-law in an Indian family.
However, when they ask me how I manage, my first answer is: I don’t. I am all over the place most of the time. I do not manage things at all. But somehow, I get things done. I am far from punctual. The only thing I do on time is to be on time for my kid’s school bus.
Most of the ‘not-getting-done’ in our lives is because of wrong prioritization and wrong zones. Writers have to introspect, brainstorm and do serious thinking to do their craft. Some people have learned to write in any kind of environment — I used to write in classrooms when the lectures were going on and now I have to write through the parenting din. Some need a quiet space, a room of one’s own (preferably without doors). This is entirely up to you although I believe it is best not to get too stringent about having a space. Because, there is nothing human brain cannot get used to. We are programmed to adapt and survive.
Writers are many people in one person — you all know that by now and have experienced that state of mind if you have dreamed of writing stories. It is not easy to conform and be silent when life situations are not exactly how you want them to be. But, we are humans. We are social animals and live in communities. We have families and friends. Few live in isolation. We have day jobs — very few are into writing full time.
So, when you experience dichotomy, when your heart is split between your passion and responsibility, what do you do? When you want to write when you have to be at a family event, when you have to do an errand for someone you love when you would rather sit in your room and type away, when someone expects you to put off writing for something they prioritize, how do you go about it?
I swear by the technique of dissociation and compartmentalization.
Dissociation is simply the act of separating. For a writer in the midst of a normal social life, it is crucial to separate your day-to-day life and writing. It is great if you can manage both without dissociation, but most people can’t.
Dissociation, in my experience, allows you to handle emotions and reactions separately. Writers are in general very sensitive and emotive people. This could undermine their personal life. If you drag your emotional baggage pertaining to your writer persona to your personal life, there is going to be unrest and lots of misunderstanding with whoever comes in contact with you. Further, a divided state of mind stumped with confusion is really not a blissful situation.
The best part is, this is all in the mind.
No hoodwinking there. You simply decide to have two parts to yourself. The pathological diagnosis of dissociative identity does not let you be in control. A voluntary dissociation helps you take your writing seriously and save your precious time. When you are in your writing persona, you do not have to heed about what your real life limitations are, at least mentally. Yet, you can maintain a certain amount of transparency.
There are a few ways to dissociate. Let’s list them out.
1. A pseudonym
Having a pen name (pseudonym) grants you a different name and some personal space needed to be that person. When you assume a name for the writer in you, you are giving him or her, a whole new personality with all its good and not so good aspects. It also helps you to channel your writer persona’s public life away from your personal life. A complicated person such as a writer might experience complicated situations and relationships at some point. A pseudonym lets you have an alter ego that can deal with those complications outside your personal life.
The slightly uncomfortable truth when using a pseudonym is, your writing will belong to that name and not to your actual self, which might be a total no for many writers. It works well for me though, and I even respond equally to both my names.
2. Dissociation by time
This is easier and more acceptable to those who are not so keen about attributing all your written work to an alter ego.
Dissociate your time instead of your personality.
Set aside a time exclusively for writing, preferably first thing in the morning. That way, you will not be immersed in guilt throughout the day that you did not write. Having fixed time periods throughout the day during which you will not attend to anything else helps you go forward with your writing projects. But this time can be different for different writers.
Make sure your family and friends are aware of this time. Tell your children that it is your working time. It can also contribute to them taking your writing seriously, which solves a lot of dilemma and disillusionment.
When Is The Best Time to Be Creative?
Passion and neuroplasticity v/s inspiration in creativity
3. Dissociation by space
Every job has a job space — an office or a particular field. Writing should, too. If you are someone who can write from anywhere and everywhere, you are doing great. But if you are someone with stringent requirements for brainstorming, it is likely that you will wait for the perfect moment and place to write. It can be a tad bit difficult to get things done in that case. But you can have an office.
Convert your table to a workplace. Pick up some habits that will program your brain into associating with your workplace and start writing. Don’t let other things clutter your space. Some writers convert their outhouses or attics or unused rooms to a writing office. Make it comfortable. Decorate it with motivating and uplifting things like potted plants, flowers, art and necessities like stationary and snacks.
It is not enough to dissociate yourselves into two. It is crucial to keep those two lives apart. The experiences, observations and perspectives can overlap because the writer in you will need to know what you go through. But the passions and actions can and will have to be kept separately.
Draw the lines clearly. Affirm to yourself often enough that the two persons in you are to remain apart. Writing is an act of non-conforming and your writer-persona will be a non-conformist. Don’t expect it to abide by the normal rules that your actual self does. Don’t expect it to agree with everything that is considered the norm. And that is okay. Don’t grill yourself about it because compartmentalizing means you put them in different compartments with all their associated thoughts, beliefs and emotions. They are not accountable for each other. Your writing persona is not accountable for your personal life and vice versa.
Compartmentalization helps you to deal with guilt if you were to disappoint anybody with regard to mundane social activities and societal expectations. It may not be possible for you to make them understand that it is a whole different person in you that caused it. But it is enough to forgive yourself and continue your pursuit of your writing goals.
Be protective of your time and space if you cannot function anywhere and anytime. The best thing I can tell you here is that, if you are serious about your writing, if you are protective and justified about your craft, if you facilitate yourself to make it happen, the world will, too. People adjust to all kinds of situations. People adjust to you, too. When something threatens your very essence, you must know whether to cling to it or to let go. Likewise, people will learn to give you your space and time once you commit to it. Hence, commitment and persistence is a prerequisite to dissociate and compartmentalize.