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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Left Turns

Once upon a time, I had an established writing routine that worked. I knew how my process unfolded, how to write until I got to the flow of telling the story without fear (more or less) and without thinking about and criticizing every keystroke. I was able to freewrite and know that I could come back later to edit.

Then life took a sharp left turn and I was unable to follow my old routine and so was unable to write.

For awhile I was too busy dealing with life to think much about it, but lately I feel like part of me is withering away from lack of sunlight and air and attention. I have tried sitting down at odd times to write and started at the blank page with an apparently empty mind. I can almost hear the crickets chirping. No, not even crickets. Nothing but a bit of dust blowing across an empty street and maybe the occasional tumbleweed. A desert.

I started out Googling on things like inspiration, procrastination, writer’s block. I tricked myself by saying I'd just take a few notes. But as notes sometimes do (at least in my world), they took on a life of their own. In the process, I made a few self-discoveries (one of which is that I probably need some counseling). Of course the editor’s voice inside my head has grown stronger each day that I haven’t been writing, like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors.

I need to use some self-discipline to find a new routine and rediscover the joy of writing.

But how do I rediscover the joy of writing? Of sinking into a world of characters I have given birth to? How do I relearn how to turn off the editor, to freewrite, discover characters and stories, to ride the current of the swift-moving river of writing?

I always believed (and still do) that pain, turmoil, stress, troubles—anything negative in my life can be turned into fiction. Everything is fertilizer or fuel. Take lemons and make lemonade. Or as Nicole has often told me, "spin sh!t into gold." But I have discovered that going through a life-altering change has actually blocked me rather than inspired me. When I sit down to write—even for 15 minutes—I can write nothing but a bland calendar entry or the shallowest of descriptions.

I've justified my block with a variety of reasons - mostly blaming my over-booked schedule. In trying to map a way back into writing, I accidentally bumped into the real reason I have been avoiding the page instead of facing it. I realized I am afraid to write about my deepest feelings. I am afraid that to express myself is to judge myself, or leave myself open to judgment. I am afraid that if I uncork the bottle, my feelings will come pouring out in a froth of pain that will paralyze me. I am afraid to let loose the pain and find I am unable to leash it again. I can't afford the luxury of a meltdown, a breakdown, or even a king-sized pity party, and so I have kept the door locked on pain which might otherwise fuel a thousand characters.

And I've used procrastination as a way to avoid facing the page. It's safer than facing the real reasons I am afraid to write. I hope that by pushing my way past the procrastination, I will also be able to push past my fear.

My favorite excuses:
Excuse: "I can't possibly take time to write until I have cleaned my bathroom, kitchen, garage, basement..."
Truth: There are no conditions that are necessary in order to write, save two: 1) a writing implement (a keyboard or a pen) and 2) someplace for the writing to go, such as into a computer or onto a piece of paper.

Excuse: "In order to write, I must have six uninterrupted hours." (something I had in my life as a stay-at-home mom and which is no longer even a vague possibility)
Truth: It is possible to write an entire novel in one hour blocks (or shorter). Even a page a day will add up to a 400 page novel after only little more than a year.

-Make an un-schedule ( a realistic schedule which shows the time you spend doing all those untimed activities during the day - cooking, eating, email/phone calls, family time, showering, etc) and then block in small bits of time to write.
-Set the timer and honor it. 15 minutes is easier to fit into a busy schedule than an hour, and you will be more likely to sit down and write. Even if you want to keep writing, stop. "The procrastinating self needs to be able to trust your new non-procrastinating self the next time you say you will only write for a certain amount of time."
-Be accountable to someone.

What are your excuses? What are the possible cures?


Gerb said...

Barb, remember that Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy's in the cave looking for the chalice and it's on the other side of a deep ravine that looks impossible to cross? I often think of that scene when I'm blocked and don't see any way to move forward. I think of him taking that first terrifying step, then realizing there's a bridge under his feet. He couldn't see the bridge until he swallowed his fear and just went for it.

The toughest part is that first step.

Chick Lit Gurrl said...

LIFE is my excuse - I have students' essays to grade or lectures to prep or something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than writing to do. Sometimes, I feel guilty of giving time to writing when my house isn't cleaned or there is other work to be done.

I combat these excuses with timed writing, with getting a select group of friends to jump on me if I DON'T write, and with putting my writing into my planner. I LIVE by my planner, and if something is in it, then I MUST do it!

Nicole said...

Your life took not only a sharp left turn but a dozen winding paths off that left turn to lead you to where you are! Give yourself some credit for even *thinking* about writing! :-)
We all make excuses. The two you listed are two of my big ones as well. I love your cures. What a positive way to flip things around.
As for being afraid to face the page for fear of what it will bring, I've been there. Especially with my journaling. If I'm going through something tough, I'll avoid my journal like the plague. But the great thing about fiction is that it's not us. It's someone else. And I have found that even if you're not consciously putting your characters in the same situation as you're in, those themes will come out. Those emotions will show up. And a lot of times it's easier to deal with because a) we're not consciously doing it and b) we can look at through a filter.
I've rambled on long enough but just want to end by saying how brave I think you are!

Julie O'Connell said...

I can just see you sitting there, listening to the voice say,'Feed me, Seymour!!' *g* And don't worry. We all need therapy (some of us - read 'me' - will probably buy a therapist a Mercedes or a vacation house, but I digress!)

From my own perspective, I get caught up in taking care of everyone but me. *insert violin music here* It sounds whiny, doesn't it? It certainly feels whiny. Lately, my youngest cherub has been using my laptop to write on for his English class, so it's been weeks since I've put any words down.

I need concrete, specific goals to get my a$$ in the chair and words on the page. One of the reasons I signed up for NaNoWriMo is to give me a specific goal. And having my buddies really helps, too.

So my excuse will evaporate on Saturday. Regardless of cherubs, housework, dance classes or volunteer work, I WILL get my words done every day.

Great post, Barb. Looking forward to more! Sending hugs!