Choice, or dilemma?
What a subject! Every day I am faced with choices about who, what, why, when and where—only I’m not talking about a manuscript, but how I choose to live my life as a writer.
-I have to decide who will get my time and energy—family and friends, my animal friends, and people I don’t even know who I have a strong social network connection with.
-What will I do with my time? Will I spend it writing, promoting my work, taking a break, taking care of my body and brain?
-I have to prioritize my activities—which means I have to think of why I’m doing what I choose to do. Will it be enriching for me and for others? Will it be time well spent? Will I retreat, having chosen to spend the day that way?
-I have to give a thought to when the day begins and ends. I do my best creative work first thing in the morning. When will I stop the creative work and start on other things I know have to be done?
-Where I work and play depends on a lot of things. If I’m in Berkeley, where I live, I can work at home or at a cafe. I can play lots of places. If I’m on a boat, which I am occasionally with my husband, “where” becomes a matter of whether we are docked or at anchor or under way. Choices are limited in boat life, even though boaters tend to think of themselves as freer to move around in the world.
When do choices become dilemmas? I think it’s when we are pulled too many ways at once—when what we need to do conflicts with what we want to do. Or when there are two or more things that must be done—a deadline that happens at the same time a child is sick or someone we love needs help, or we have committed to a promotion activity.
Most of the time I’m good at making choices in a way that avoids creating dilemmas. That’s because I’ve learned that in order to say yes, I have to be able to say no. “No” is an underutilized word because it’s hard to disappoint people. But better to disappoint someone up front than to say yes and then find yourself unable to follow through. I still have trouble saying no at times because I want to have the stamina, the time, the brain to do everything I want to do. And if I find that I have overextended myself, it doesn’t help me to fight it. If I find that I’m committed to doing something that I realize isn’t in the best interest of my writing life, I just give in to it and enjoy. I call it creative dilemma management—and it’s a choice, too.