On Anxiety, Scheduling, and Making Specific Choices

Plus, I share both a fiction excerpt and a Mozart excerpt.

"There are three different kinds of anxiety," I told L.

"Just three?" he said. "I think there are at least fifty-six different kinds of anxiety, and we're finding new ones every day."

"There are three different kinds of anxiety," I continued. "There's anxiety about performance; that's when you're not sure you're going to be able to do the thing you have to do, or the thing you've said you're going to do, or the thing you want to do. Then there's anxiety about outcome, in the sense that you're not sure what the outcome of a given situation is going to be and so you worry about it. There's also anxiety about opinion, in which you worry about what other people are going to think about you, or your performance, or the outcome of your performance."

"Okay," L said.

"THE POINT IS THAT I AM NOT ANXIOUS ABOUT THE BOOK ANYMORE," I said.

I am, in fact, no longer anxious about the book.

(You can tell because I've started sleeping through the night again.)

I told L, the other day, that I felt about the book much the same way that I've started to feel about my piano practice—that is, that I know I can make this project as good as I want it to become (which is to say, excellent) as long as I keep working at it, and as long as I keep specifically working on making more and more specific choices.

Let's start with the "keep working at it" piece.

Time management is choice management

One of the biggest anxieties I had about this book centered around when I would find the time to work on it. I ended up deciding to batch my work into "freelance days" and "book days," putting freelance on MWF and book on TTH (or, if you went to a certain type of college, TR).

This meant figuring out how to complete the same amount of freelance work in 3/5ths of the days, which is not the same thing as 3/5ths of the time; at the moment, for example, I am scheduling my day so that I complete one assignment in the early morning, practice the piano for two hours, and then complete one assignment in the later morning/early afternoon.

That gives me five freelance writing slots (M1, M2, W1, W2, F2). The sixth slot (F1) goes towards writing this weekly blog post.

This is the same number of freelance time blocks I had given myself before, five freelance writing slots per week (M1, T1, W1, TH1, F1), but now it's been compressed into fewer days.

More on this in a minute. It's important.

Never mind, more on this right now.

Time management is choice management, Part Two

This actually ties in with what I'm currently doing at the piano, which is to say that I've been working on getting Mozart's Piano Sonata Number 12 in F Major, K332 up to tempo, which is to say fast, and although the traditional pedagogy suggests that you're supposed to set the metronome at 80 and then 90 and then 100 and then 120 and then (finally) 140, making sure you can play everything perfectly at the preceding tempo before acceding to the next one, I'm trying something a little different:

What if you had to play this piece at 140, without all the stops in between?

What would that change about the way you practiced?

How would you focus your time to ensure accuracy at 140, if you didn't have the experience/crutch of ensuring accuracy at 100 first?

This is, as these things often are, a gamechanger.

It's also worth noting that I have been studying K332 for a year at this point, and I've been freelancing for nearly ten years. I would not suggest jumping into at-tempo playing (or, for lack of a better term, at-tempo freelancing) without that kind of background and prep work.

But asking myself how can I focus my time to ensure accuracy at 140 and how can I focus my time to ensure I complete five freelance assignments in 2.5 days has really helped me, for lack of a better phrase, FOCUS MY TIME.

It's also helped me prioritize rest.

Essentially, I can't dilly-dally when I'm working—but I can't dilly-dally when I'm not working, either.

Otherwise, none of this works.

Specificity management is choice management, too

That's all great, Nicole, I can hear you thinking, but let's get to some WORK-SHOWING.

Okay. Here's what I'm doing on the book, in terms of making increasingly more specific choices.

Let's start with the original first page:

“I’m not going to choir practice tonight,” Larkin told her mother.

“Yes, you are,” Josephine Day said, not looking up from her laptop. “I already told Ed you’d be there.”

“You can’t tell people I’ll be places,” Larkin said, not getting up from the sofa. “That’s not how this is going to work.”

“I think I get at least some say in how it’s going to work,” Josephine said. “Since you are living in my house.”

“Temporarily,” Larkin said. 

“I’m well aware.”

“And I’m supposed to be taking some time off,” Larkin continued, projecting her voice towards the kitchen table in the hopes that it would loom over her mother and withdraw with some sympathy extracted. “To think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.” 

“Are you thinking about it?”

“I’m thinking that I don’t want to sing in community choir.”

“It’s not a community choir. We’re bringing together all of the choruses in the Corridor for this concert.” At least her mother had not called it the Creative Corridor this time, emphasis on creative, as if that would entice Larkin to get off the sofa and get back to creating. She did not want to make art in Iowa. Not in Iowa City; not in Dubuque, Des Moines, Davenport or any of the other towns they listed in The Music Man; and certainly not in Cedar Rapids.

“Are we getting paid?”

“Of course not.”

“Then it’s a community choir.”

Here's the first page as it currently stands:

“I’m not going to choir practice tonight,” Larkin told her mother.

“Yes, you are,” Josephine Day said, not looking up from her laptop. “I already told Ed you’d be there.”

“You can’t tell people I’ll be places,” Larkin said, not getting up from the sofa. “That’s not how this is going to work.”

“I think I get at least some say in how it’s going to work,” Josephine said. “Since you are living in my house.”

“Temporarily,” Larkin said. 

“I’m well aware.”

“And I’m supposed to be taking some time off,” Larkin continued, projecting her voice towards the kitchen table in the hopes that it would loom over her mother and withdraw with some sympathy extracted. “To think about what I want to do with the rest of my life.” 

“Are you thinking about it?”

“I’m thinking that I don’t want to sing in community choir.”

“It’s not a community choir. We’re bringing together all of the choruses in the Corridor for this concert.” At least her mother had not called it the Creative Corridor this time, emphasis on creative, as if that would entice Larkin to get off the sofa and get back to creating. Larkin did not want to make art in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She didn’t want to make art in any city where you had to say the name of the state afterwards.

Larkin didn’t even know if what she did qualified as making art, anymore. At one point Larkin was very sure she was going to make art, staging plays and musicals that revealed truths that no one in her audience had ever considered. At a different, slightly later point, she’d told herself it was just as worthwhile to teach other people how to make art—although she’d also asked herself how she could teach something she hadn’t actually done. Larkin had considered this truth and then ignored it, not that it mattered. At this point, nobody was interested in hiring Larkin to teach or make anything.

“Are we getting paid?” 

“Of course not.”

“Then it’s a community choir.”

I feel like I should explain what I did here, but I also feel like it's kind of self-explanatory. The first draft has a somewhat pandery Music Man joke. The second draft cuts the joke and makes a more specific choice: it not only clarifies what Larkin doesn't like about Iowa, but also what she doesn't like about herself. It also introduces the primary internal conflict that Larkin will need to resolve by the end of the story (the primary external conflict being, of course, CAN LARKIN SOLVE THE MURRRRRRRDER [also it's a murder mystery]).

Anyway. I've been doing a lot of this kind of work on the book, and I've been reading it all to L in the evenings, and we are all agreeing that this story is progressing in exactly the way it ought to go.

Now let's show some piano work, which is also getting more and more specific every day:

(I should tell you that immediately after I recorded and watched this video, I asked myself “how many of the technical problems would be solved if I uncurled my right pinky finger?” and it turns out the answer is A LOT OF THEM.)

And let's end this, as we always do, with my freelance work:

Where I Got Published This Week

Bankrate

How long can a debt collector pursue old debt?

Debt collectors will keep calling even after the bank stops. Here’s what to expect.

Credit Cards Dot Com

A financial guide to college extracurricular activities

The impact of extracurriculars can last long past graduation – both the friendships formed and the financial decisions.

Haven Life

What is collateral assignment of life insurance?

Don't know what collateral assignment of life insurance is? That’s ok — read on to find out what you need to know.

What are the different life insurance risk classifications?

Curious about the different risk classifications involved in life insurance? Read on to find out more.

Don't Write Alone | Catapult

Job Opportunities for Writers: August 6, 2021

We post roundups of writing and literary jobs once a week. Here’s our list for August 6, 2021.

Upcoming Submission and Pitching Opportunities: August 6, 2021

We post submission roundups once a week. Here’s our list of literary magazines and freelance opportunities for August 6, 2021.