Eat dessert first!

Life is Uncertain

Paula’s Post #20 — One week to go!

Whether you’ve followed our exploits from the beginning or are just now tuning in to the saga of the 5writers journey, I know you’ll be watching this next week with interest. Five months ago, five unpublished aspiring authors threw down the gauntlet and challenged each other to write a new novel, from scratch, in just five months.

Now, just a mere seven days remain before the challenge ends. If you’ve followed along with us from the beginning, you’ll know that throughout these past 5 months, we’ve all faced challenges, we’ve all juggled commitments, we’ve all spent hours writing about why we were… well… not writing.

Which is pretty funny, when you think about it. Five writers, each committed to a marathon writing contest, each with the additional burden of having to blog about it one day a week and what have we done? By and large, we’ve spent the vast majority of this blog ‘splaining’ (to quote Ricky Ricardo) why we weren’t actually writing.

So today, when I sat down to write my penultimate post before the February 5th deadline, I knew I wanted to write something about ‘balancing acts’.

Balancing dogs

If you read Silk’s post from yesterday, you know she’s involved in her own epic struggle, heading into the home stretch while on vacation in Hawaii. For Silk, temptations lurk at every turn: a boogie board here, a mai tai there, a sunset sail, a soft ocean breeze, whales leaping in the distance.

How can I describe her agony, (if you can call it that) in such vivid detail? Because I was there! I spent nearly three weeks in Maui over Christmas, battling not only the above temptations but also the added joys and woes of travelling with grandchildren, my two gorgeous but energetic toddlers.

So I have more than a passing interest in solving the conundrum of what is oft referred to as the ‘work-life balance’. But I also have a little philosophy that has always been of help to me. Many years ago, I wandered into a New Age bookstore in Del Mar, California where I spotted a thin little volume on the remainder table. The title immediately caught my eye and piqued my interest:

Life is Uncertain…. Eat Dessert First!

By now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that this 5writer is a self-proclaimed ‘Tigger’ and the authors of this little self-help book were preaching to the converted. But that didn’t stop me from buying the book.

Remember, if you don’t buy the book, the author doesn’t get paid.

Buy books!

Later, I gave a copy of this book to my father who already embraced a positive life philosophy. But it gave him joy to read the book and to receive affirmation of what he already held true, just as it gave me great joy to see how he loved this little book and how, like a mantra,  he ‘quoted’ from the title many times over the ensuing years.

Today, twenty-five years later, the title of that book not only still inspires me but also inspired my post today. For the past five months, we 5writers have struggled with varying degrees of guilt as pleasure trumped productivity.

I say enough already!

How will we be able to find anything to write about if we do not experience life’s pleasures with all our five senses? How are we to create interesting and engaging characters if all we do is lock ourselves in our writing rooms and write? How are we to sharpen our ears for dialogue if we do not travel out of our home regions? How are we to understand the human condition if we do not sally forth and socialize with our fellow humans and live, laugh and love?

An excellent example of this philosophy is my 5writer colleague, Helga, who not only is a phenomenal cook but also has the talent to write about both cuisine and culinary techniques. We got to know one another when we met and penned Taste of the Past, a collaborative culinary mystery set in a Tuscan villa. I know that Helga experienced a few twinges of guilt when a much anticipated South American cruise took a big bite out of her 5writers calendar this past December, but to my mind, that ‘bite’ is a dessert that ought not be denied. Helga’s already shared some of her experiences in this blog and I know she not only had a fantastic time, she also visited many new and exotic locales, possible settings for future novels. And she met some intriguing people who may be able to provide technical assistance or inspire wonderful, complex fictional characters in future.

How can she regret eating dessert first?

I’m happy to say that after I gave my Dad that little gift of a book, twenty five years ago, he went on to enjoy several years of good health He played tennis, he travelled to distant lands, he enjoyed time with his grandchildren and met hundreds of interesting people from around the world. Sadly though, within a decade, ill-health not only restricted his activities, it greatly lessened his enjoyment and quality of life.

It made me sad to see my Dad end up like that, but at least he had the chance to get out in the world and enjoy life before his health problems curtailed his activities. My mother didn’t get that chance, she died at 56, exactly the same age I am now. Maybe that’s the reason I take so much time out to enjoy life. Some might say too much, but I honestly don’t care. It’s my balancing act. And if life has taught me anything, it’s that:

“Life is Uncertain, Eat Dessert First.”

Deserts Eaten This Week – 4

Houseguests Entertained this Week – 1

Trips to Airport this Week – 3

Parties Attended this Week – 2

Tennis Clinics this Week – 1

Golf Balls Lost this Week – 0

Target Word Count:    100,000

Progress to Date:         80,084

Words short of Target: 19,916

Target Page Count:       400

Pages Written to Date:  288

Pages short of Target.   112

Oh, and if you haven’t guessed yet, my last week of writing will be spent in the desert enjoying dessert and writing and writing and writing.

4 thoughts on “Eat dessert first!

  1. Paula, your reminder that life is to be lived with gusto and gratitude made my day! Like many, I’m a victim of early training to “eat your peas or no dessert”. Figuratively, anyway. I happen to like peas. But that “Protestant work ethic” that requires you to finish what’s difficult and perhaps unpleasant before rewarding yourself with any sort of (sinful) pleasure is still deeply embedded in our DNA. At least in mine. Punishment > Reward. Break this rule and the guilt alarm goes off in your head like a siren. Maybe this is all terribly productive, but sheesh – what a way to live!

  2. I so agree! I don’t think any of us intended this process to be painful or breed resentment, the idea was to see what we could accomplish in five months… to kick it up a notch and try to write under the kind of pressure we’d face if we had a book deal and a deadline. But I’m not going to stop enjoying life and worse yet, shun activities that are good for me and sit in a dark corner. The last thing I’d want is for any of us to come out of this challenge hating the process of writing. The last week will be what it will be. For me? Tomorrow I’ll be playing 18 holes of golf, feeling guilty about leaving my dogs home alone. But I won’t feel guilty about not writing, because my ‘balancing act’ means I’m writing today.

  3. “But that “Protestant work ethic” that requires you to finish what’s difficult and perhaps unpleasant before rewarding yourself with any sort of (sinful) pleasure is still deeply embedded in our DNA.”
    Thanks to both of you. Silk’s words helped me see Paula’s post in a clearer light, and made me see something in myself I hadn’t fully seen before.

    • Thanks Sofferciese. Interesting to see what motivates each of us. How much guilt some of us need to let “build up” before our most productive bursts of creativity. Few of us are robotic, though some seem to hit daily quotas so much more easily, than others. I wish I had that kind of discipline. In my past, I used to dwell on the difference between Barristers and Solicitors. Solicitors always seemed to have such neat, tidy desks. I marvelled how they worked diligently and methodically on each and every file, moving them forward. Most of the Barristers I knew (Litigators) were only happy with wolves snapping at their heels, an urgent injunction, a midnight call from a client in jail, a tricky argument to construct, the closing argument in a jury trial. For me, writing time is not ‘planned’ it mostly just happens. I need to be ready to start the next chapter, to immerse myself in my characters’ heads so the dialogue (hopefully) sounds like it comes from their mouths, not mine.

      By the way? How is your writing going?

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