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FINDING A ROUTINE
THE WRITER'S WAY

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the writers way jen frankel FINDING A ROUTINE
THE WRITER'S WAY

by Jen Frankel

Why is Jen Frankel not like a nun?

I've never been much for habits.

I mean, I've tried a lot over the years, but it's been hard for me to stick to any kind of daily routine.

Part of it is that I've been a clinical depressee for a sizable percentage of my life, for years undiagnosed and unaware of why I was low in mood and energy and ambition. When your biggest daily issue is whether you have the energy to feed yourself AND go to work, little things like heathy habits tend to pass you by.

Now however, I'm significantly on the road to recovery and seriously increased productivity. This is, in fact, the first year I can ever remember when the increased daylight hours were a boost to my mood instead of being a depressant after all, if you're only capable of a short burst of energy each day, the longer your potential waking time the greater the obvious gap between your capacity and that of the people you envy.

I used to love the dark and hate the day time. Part of that was because I never could find peace to work during the day; I confined my writing to the nighttime when I could be guaranteed not to be interrupted or derailed.

I guess one of my only true habit, although it falls far short of the idea of a daily routine, is that I have for years preferred working in coffee shops, because ironically it is in public that I have the peace I can never find at home.

Jen rides the waves of change

However great the challenges to just keep working and writing through the deep apathy and fatigue of depression, I never did give up. Well, I was coming pretty close when I moved to Toronto and began to get help for myself. I dipped about as low as I ever had gone in the winter of 2005-2006, when it was clear that the drug study I had entered that September was not having the desired effect. My doctor said there was no reason another drug wouldn't work on me but to try something else would require three weeks to wean me off the old medication and up to three months to find out if the new was working. I wasn't sure I could psychologically cope with the uncertainty and the wait.

But after a few false starts with finding the proper dosage and a wonderful long trip through my first experience with therapy, I was truly starting to feel better by January of 2007. My energy is much higher than I remember for the last dozen or more years of my life; I'm starting to feel interested in life again.

There are ups and downs, but I like the sunlight now. I like heading out in the morning for a long walk. I'm pushing myself, physically and mentally. Pushing myself is the key, I think. I wasn't able to before, when my motivation was low. I had learned from hard experience that pushing myself only made me more tired, which made me more depressed.

But with more energy, and more ambition, I am no longer afraid to walk, or write, or stay up late. But only when I feel like it, not because it's the only time I can work. And it feels good to push myself.

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That's why I kept going last Thursday when I sprained my ankle twenty minutes into my most ambitious walk to date, and finished my entire two hour planned circuit. I paid for it the next day, but damn did it feel good.

And I was rewarded. If I hadn't pushed through, I would have missed so many charming sights � an elderly Chinese man enjoying a sandwich while a dozen pigeons stood nearby playing casual but obviously just waiting for him to make a mistake; a woman walking eight dogs, all but one for friends; the season's first butterflies.

Only disappointment I'd filled my pockets with nuts and for once saw not a single one of the over-friendly squirrels of Mount Pleasant cemetery.

Jen ramps up production

I have a plan. I'll have a dream soon too, but for now, a plan is a good ambition.

The plan: well, I'm hoping it's not a five year one. It's going to take a while to accomplish, but I'm hoping a month at the outside. And I'm giving myself a ten-day test drive for a trial run.

It involves a box I have been carting around with me for, oh, a lot of years. It's full, and gets more full every year, of journals and notebooks, each of those full of ideas, sketches, scenes, and poetry.

There are so many now I've actually become quite frightened of starting the huge job I'm making for myself, a depression-diverted marathon: typing all that text over onto my laptop.

Ten days, I promised myself. To start. To get a feel for how much I can type and how quickly, and how pleasantly distracted I might end up in the process, creating new writing to compliment the old.

Currently, I can comfortably do four hours a day of work. Now, when I say "work" I don't mean the part of the writing process involving thinking or making notes while doing research. I mean flat-out, straight ahead key-pounding.

Putting in that amount of time, even with my decent words-per-minute, I estimate I'll still be typing my journals when I get to Grandma Moses age. And that's just not acceptable. I want to be making feature films and publishing novels while I'm still young enough to answer fan mail...

Not to get too far ahead of myself.

So here's what I'm going to do. Tomorrow, four and a half hours. The next day, five. I'll get up to eight, and then I expect I'll probably top out from carpal tunnel potential exhaustion. Or maybe not. I'll start taking realistic lunch and dinner breaks, and pace myself with my walks.

I actually can't wait.

Wish me luck!

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FINDING A ROUTINE