WORK OR PLAY?
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” — Attributed to James M. Barrie
Last night, I was up later than usual trying to decide what my main character wanted. He’d been stubborn and not fit into the little place I thought so perfect for him in my story. As a writer, I sometimes feel like I have a personality disorder. Too many characters cooped up inside my brain, and many of them hiding when I finally need them. Other times they fight like small children angling for a place of prominence on the favorite aunt’s lap.
Time gets away from most of us when we are “in the zone.” Unless we’ve either paid someone else to do a job or at least considered having someone else do the dirty work, it probably doesn’t seem like work to us, but play.
Case in point is Tom Sawyer tricking his friends into whitewashing the fence for him. To him, the job was painting; the play was manipulating others into doing his work with a smile on their faces.
This morning, I turned down two jobs that I wished I could do. One was as a board member on a local organization that I truly enjoy. Unfortunately, the time constraints wouldn’t allow me to consider the position. (Especially since my daughter’s wedding is next year!)
At a meeting this morning, a writer friend asked if I knew another mystery writer who could read her manuscript. I wanted to say I’d do it – her writing is really good and I knew I’d enjoy the read, but again, my time was already booked.
I do occasionally read and critique for my friends and do so with abandon. Reading is a passion. But there just isn’t enough time.
On the Mystery Writers of America online group, several writers were discussing proper protocol when someone asked us to read and critique their manuscript. The advice ran from offering to read it for a professional fee to how to politely say “No” so that they understood No means No.
I’ve had a writer tell me it was in her contract that she could no longer read others’ work. I don’t doubt that was true, but even if it wasn’t, I never asked her again. I do miss her insight, but understand her schedule is busier now.
So many things that gobble our time isn’t fun. Laundry, grocery shopping and yard work top my list. The idea is to make the job become play. If we have to do something, at least enjoy getting to mark it off the To Do List.
My mom is probably the best imitation of Tom Sawyer you ever saw. When we were kids, right after Saturday breakfast and a smattering of cartoon time, Mom would perch on a bar stool in the kitchen. She’d made little nurses’ hats for each of us girls. We were playing “General Hospital,” she said. Somehow Mom always got to be the Head Nurse. We were to report to her for our duties. The duties included washing a load of the patient’s laundry or making the bed in Room 4-A or running the vaccum in the waiting area (our living room.)
We scrambled around like crazy trying to out-do the others. In hindsight, Mom was brilliant and maybe we weren’t the brightest girls in the world, but we all had a ton of fun and a clean house.
Non-writing people don’t understand when I’m writing, immersed in a life and death situation with characters cavorting inside my head, that I am having great fun. I wish I could make them understand.
Maybe I could get them to clean out the refrigerator, too.