The Chicken and the Pen

 Sarah Jayne Johnson, shown here laughing near a fence.

Sarah Jayne Johnson, shown here laughing near a fence.

By Sarah Jayne Johnson

Ah, the crock pot chicken.

    A delicacy for the high school junior, the retired librarian and everything in between! The ease of putting the pieces in the warm, cozy hand-me-down dish. The anticipation for sweet, succulent meat serving as a distraction for the daily ongoing threat of adulthood tasks like laundry, and checkbooks. What can be done with all this free time?! Surely the possibilities are endless.

    Even if the only thing there has been time for in the day is a four day old peanut butter sandwich and a text to mom saying "Alive, stop leaving voicemails "there is always time for crockpot chicken.

     Writing is the same way.

    The first 9 to 5 job is kind of like laying the frozen bird in the warming bowl for the first time...lots of uneasy questions and anxiety for what is in store. Will this give me food poisoning?

     Will my coworkers like me? Did I use enough barbecue sauce? Am I dressed professionally enough? The answers always come in time.

     When I first started my first full time job I figured it was a great way to supplement what I really wanted to do; Write. I wanted to write about everything from my life as a self-proclaimed blanket expert to stories about young men whose glasses turned them into human kaleidoscopes.

     The only way I could do that was to make enough money to pay people to buy my books, and that would cost no less than one million dollars a day.

     It took almost no time to figure out that my full time job was a full blown commitment. So much so that by the time I got home the precise location of my couch trumped any hope of creativity by a long shot. I had felt stress through college but this was different. This was the stress of my coworkers, my clients, my company and my paycheck all relying on my eight hour work day. A far different stress than "If this paper sucks I get a D and move on."

     Gradually I felt my evenings become devoted to quick dinners, maintaining dirty dishes, eating chips over a drop cloth and falling asleep on a couch. I got down on myself for pushing what I love and had worked so hard to make my career fall farther and farther down the ladder of priorities I was slowly drowning in.

     So after some trial and error, I think I've landed on a recipe for writing that will produce a decent amount of writing and, if you're lucky, a surprisingly simple dinner.

Step 1: Time Management

     Everyone is always saying "There aren't enough hours in the day". Well guess what, they're right and the days aren't getting any longer (besides Daylight Savings time, but you get what I'm saying). The amount of time in the day was not allotted for humans to get their errands done while writing the next great American novel all in time to vacuum the back room. These tasks and more must be factored in. Chicken doesn't just happen! It might not always be the same amount of time, and it might not always be the same quality of writing, but setting aside the time to do it will help make it a routine, a habit and less of a chore. At the very least it will be a good excuse to put off cleaning out the refrigerator for another day.

Step 2: Make a Work Space

     Imagine how it would feel to spend $400 on a Kitchen Aid mixer and let it sit on the counter and collect dust. Think of the guilt that would ensue as the gifted harmonica and partnered "How To" book stared from the dusty bookshelf in the corner whispering "You said you wanted to said...I'd be loved" The point I'm trying to make is this; Creating an environment to write in makes the process of writing more likely. It can be anything from a state of the art writing desk to a collapsible TV tray next to the couch. If the chicken is taken out of the freezer, it's more likely it will be made. So take the chicken out of the freezer, and get yourself a writing desk.

Step 3: Use What You Know

     I will never be a culinary genius. I once watched my sister make an apple pie with cheese baked into the crust and realized that not only would I never even think of that, but the closest I could ever get to that masterpiece was some CheezWhiz on a McDonald's apple pie.

     When I make crockpot chicken, I don't try and act like I'm a French chef cooking for the ambassador, I use what I know and do what I can to make it taste (and look) good. I'm convinced writing is the same way. I've never experienced being a professional athlete; I've never even experienced running a mile without having an asthma attack. It is not in the cards for me to write a novel about sports. However, I do work in an office. I watch Peggy in accounting talking numbers, I hear Carl get in a fight with a customer over the phone and I make heartfelt (and awkward) small talk with my boss every time we happen to be walking down the hall together. This is the life I experience, and this is what I can write about. How do you think shows like "The Office" or "Cheers" came to be? People use what they know, and write about it. If there's no paprika in the fridge, it can't be added to the chicken. If you've never gone on a road trip, stop trying to write about it (or go on a road trip!).

    Trying to balance everything is never going to be easy. If you are lucky enough to be someone who gets to do exactly what you want to do every day and get paid a livable quantity to do so, count your blessings. If you're like me, that's not always the case. Don't under estimate the power of simplicity and don't beat yourself up over not being an overnight success story.

     Make time for what matters, and let that be enough.

     So for now go write something, the chicken will cook itself.