I stand before the metal door and grit my teeth. A woman’s scream comes from the other side. Then an explosion. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. I can do this, I tell myself. I’ve come armed.
I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my gummy, orange earplugs, stick them in my ears, and open the door. . .
If you’ve ever taken earplugs to a movie theatre, you also might be an HSP–a Highly Sensitive Person.
If perfume gives you a headache, if those bright fluorescent lights in the grocery store make you squint, if flashing images and crowds drain you, you might be an HSP.
Why Am I Different?
Since I was a child, I’ve known I was more sensitive to external stimuli than most people. My mother says that even when I was a baby, she couldn’t take me out to restaurants or stores because I would cry inconsolably.
Now, I manage to buy my groceries without weeping, though I avoid busy shopping times. And I love to eat out, though I prefer quiet restaurants.
I still can’t keep up with my amazing friends who work full-time, run marathons, chair committees, volunteer, all while rearing five children. This used to bother me. Actually, it depressed me. I felt like I was “less than,” or “not enough.” Deficient. Why was I so tired and overwhelmed when I did half the activities of my energetic friends?
Then, when I was thirty-something, I read Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person, and the light dawned: I had Sensory Processing Sensitivity.
Now I know that as I go through my day, I am more affected by the noise and lights and crowds than the majority of people. I am well aware of a change in the weather, which, unfortunately, gives me a migraine.
On the flip side, I pick up on micro expressions and slight gestures. I can often read friends’ and strangers’ moods. I’m the first to smell smoke when green beans are burning on the stove.
I notice the beauty of small things.
Any other HSP’s out there? How has it affected your life? What little (or big) changes have you made to cope?
When I turned fifty, I realized more than half my life was over, and I still hadn’t pursued my childhood dream of writing a book. I’d buried this desire deep under a pile of worthwhile obligations, self-doubt, and busyness—much of which amounted to mere people-pleasing. I put everything ahead of the dream.
But when I celebrated that milestone birthday, I felt a sense of urgency. I didn’t want to reach the end of my life never having tried. So I made writing a priority.
If I really wanted to publish a book, I had to find the time to do it. It came down to numbers:
500 words x 160 hours = 80,000 word novel
If I can write 500 words an hour, I told myself, I’ll finish my first draft in 160 hours. Writing an hour each day, that’s 160 days.
Or maybe, I thought, I can dash off a thousand words an hour and finish twice as fast.
1000 words x 80 hours = 80,000 word novel
At this rate I would complete the rough draft in less than three months. I liked that plan.
After an enthusiastic and naïve launch, I nose-dived into reality: most days I didn’t have an hour of quiet leisure to write.
I had read all the advice to
write first thing in the morning,
guard your writing time,
find a quiet place.
But for me, these wise recommendations became excuses for not starting each day. The reasonable voice of Resistance* would tell me, “It’s noisy in the house. And you only have fifteen minutes before you have to cook supper. Might as well check Twitter instead.”
A few months ago, after I failed to write for several days and the frustration mounted, it hit me: finding enough time is less about changing my circumstances and more about changing my thinking. Finding enough time starts in my mind.
Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things: Snatching Bits of Time
My insistence on perfect conditions was keeping me from using what time I had. I’d made a few erroneous assumptions:
1) I need solitude.
Of course, it’s easier if I’m alone and the room is quiet and no one is interrupting. Yes, it’s less efficient to write while surrounded by distractions, but maximum efficiency is a luxury. Perfectionist thinking told me I couldn’t be creative unless I had seclusion. This is false.
2) I need a large block of time.
Nope. I can do things in spurts. Ten minutes here. Five minutes there. An hour-long session would be the bee’s knees, but I’m amazed by how much I can accomplish piecemeal. Again, I had to drop the all-or-nothing thinking.
3) I need a designated place and hour, i.e. my easy chair in the morning with the cat by my side.
Now I snatch moments in various places. I write on the go. I have Microsoft Word on my phone, and if I’m sitting in the waiting room at the ophthalmologist’s office, I compose a few sentences or jot down a few notes.
If, like me, you can’t follow the recommended practices of other authors, don’t despair. Find what works for you. If you can take activities off your schedule, do it. If you can delegate tasks, do it. If, instead of cooking, you can order Chinese takeout, make that call. Then, after you’ve cut the deadwood from your to-do list and your calendar, find a way to write with your life as it is, not as you wish it could be.
I’m curious to know if other people struggle with this. Leave me a comment if you have other thoughts or suggestions.
In the next post I’ll talk about Speed.
*Author Steven Pressfield talks a lot about the evil monster Resistance in his books on writing. You can find him here.