Last night, as my girlfriend and I munched on veggie burgers at our tiny kitchen table, I told her about an idea for a story I wanted to pitch to one of the local alt-weeklies. It was a sound enough idea, well-thought out and though not time-sensitive, relevant in light of the current global and local economic situation.
She listened to and processed my pitch. We finished eating. A little bit later, while just chilling on the couch after dinner, she turned to me and asked, “Is there some reason you want to do that story now?” I re-delivered my reasoning from earlier. She listened, again, surprisingly patiently, and then clarified: “If the story isn’t time sensitive, why can’t you just pitch it later and focus on getting your comic book script done?”
If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, I have the attention span of a hummingbird. It’s nothing new, though the internet age has certainly not helped. For about the last 15 years or so, I have always juggled multiple projects in the air at once. At one point a few years ago, I was working full-time as a web content editor, going to school full-time for not one but two bachelor’s degrees, doing regular freelance writing for multiple publications and editing a twice-weekly newspaper. All at once.
I have a terrible habit of starting new projects in the middle of current ones, and sometimes leaving old ones unfinished in their wake. I have in my files at least three unfinished books and/or proposals, an in-progress screenplay or two and who knows how many broken pieces of potential articles, reviews or columns. While in the midst of a freelance deadline last week, I was also creating promotional materials and editing videos and music for my band while scheduling meetings to discuss taking on more projects … and formulating plans for that story pitch that started this whole conversation.
The girlfriend was right. I need to focus. There’s no immediate timeliness or financial burden requiring me to pitch this story right now. On the other hand, as she so kindly reminded me, San Francisco WonderCon is little more than a month away, and if there is any imaginary deadline for me to have my comic proposal together, that would absolutely be it.
In the 2005 film Les poupées russes (an adequate sequel to one of my favorite films, L’Auberge espagnole), the protagonist, Xavier, is a writer who does ghostwriting and pens pulpy romance books because these gigs pay well, but he is unsatisfied with the work, instead wishing to write earnest novels. Xavier’s grandfather tells him that if he keeps letting them, these good-paying but temporary distractions will consume his life, leaving what he truly wants out of reach. In the context of the film, it’s an allegory for the way Xavier’s led his romantic life. But the advice stands up on its own.
So while the occasional 200-word story for Six Degrees or contribution to little things such as Quips and Tips for Freelance Writers aren’t terrible time-suckers, I really need to hold steady and focus on finishing existing projects before starting new ones. Especially small ones. Before it’s too late.