Bumps in the Road to Writing

On March 15, I began writing every day. Some days I blogged. Some, I wrote in my novels. Others, just a page. I marked every day off on a calendar to see the X’s growing across the months. I felt really good. I managed not to procrastinate into the next day. I kept my promises to myself.

August 31, I was in the midst of a dental crisis with my mom. I completely forgot. Five and half months of an unbroken chain of writing something, anything every single day. Gone in a flash. Whatever, I started again. And then missed another day. And started again. And missed another day. I figured I must be needing a break and should just start again.

In the middle of this forgetting and restarting, my old friends Procrastination and Dread came back on the scene. I started to feel like I was dragging my heart through mud. I wanted to move forward so I pulled myself. But I resented and felt hopeless. I started feeling like I wanted to give it all up. This working on your passion thing takes forever. I’ll never get there. What’s the point?

So, yesterday, I started over. I had given up marking the calendar in the last couple of weeks. I drew lines through them like I did when I started mid-March. I began the marking again. Getting back on the wagon. Not giving up because of hopelessness. I have dealt with it in all my artistic endeavors. I don’t see it as a sign I should stop what I’m doing. I like writing. I have stories in me that I want to tell. I will tell. Am telling.

I know I am not alone in this despairing. Ask Polly recently had a column wherein the writer asks her, “Should I Just Give Up On My Writing?” Polly goes on at length as to why writer should not give up. The answer is that it is for the writer to do, not achieve.

I have been an achievement-oriented obsessed person. Everything I did was for the reward. School makes this an especially easy trap to fall into. Grades, awards, scholarships, and honor rolls. Whatever is at the end is what I usually strived for.

When it’s an art that your heart desires, things are different. Oh, maybe you want to hang your art in MoMA. How do you get there? Nothing you choose will get you in a direct path to the museum. You have to work on your art. Make mistakes. Try new things. Adapt. Change. Grow.

Changing my focus from achievement-oriented to process-oriented is the hardest thing I have ever done. My struggles to reestablish my schedule are part of that. It’s as if I cannot be proud of myself unless I achieve anything less than a perfect score, an unbroken chain. My achievements can never permanently buoy my self-esteem. Esteem must stand on its own, regardless of life’s turbulence. Any break in the chain results in an utter collapse of my inner sanctum. It’s not just a bump in the road. It’s an entire bridge swept away in the storm.

What can I do but get back up in the midst of this internal shit storm? I know no other way. I can only pick myself again. Stop listening to the internal smack down. And write.

Mistakes Were Made

Well, I can only tell you about the one big mistake I made today: I mixed myself a Manhattan to go with dinner before I sat down to writing. I was going to write a thoughtful post about the nuances to bravery, but then I realized that doing so would involve the ability to focus. I don’t really have that ability, at the mo.

Waking up at 5am and not being able to fall asleep again doesn’t help. I feel like I have been awake for two days instead of less than one. My mind was racing with thoughts almost from the moment I woke up. After a little while of trying to relax, I realized it wasn’t going to happen and got up.

I had a small breakfast, then wasted time before running an errand and going to the gym. Gym was followed by shower and lunch and packing and getting my nails done and more packing and dinner and more packing and screwing around online. I kept putting off the sitting down to write until it became much more difficult.

Washing dishes and doing the litter and throwing the garbage out and getting ready for bed all ranked higher than writing. If you are a writer, don’t do this!

Now I just have to follow my own advice.


5 Writing Prompts on Writing

This week, I begin a six-week course for women writers led by a woman writer I know, Alexis Daria, called WIP Squared: Women in Process with Works in Progress – A community for women writers. The goal of this new group is to create a community for women writers so that they can share their experiences and to get and give support.

In preparation for our first weekly call-in this Wednesday, the registered attendees received a welcome email with a list of questions for us to think about. The questions are excellent ones. Regardless of your gender, these questions are good for all writers to take the time to think about and express. Here are the questions and my answers to them.

#1 – Where does your time, attention, and energy go?

Well, I waste a lot of time on Facebook and reading web articles. Once I get started, I have great difficulty stopping and/or setting it aside for the rest of the day. Today, for example, I managed not to read my email and check Facebook first thing in the morning, but I did briefly look at Instagram. In the afternoon, I read online while I ate lunch. And it seems, like sugar, I can never seem to get enough. It spilled over into me reading in between driving on the way home, and then while I was eating dinner. I put off writing until after dinner.

Another attention getting/distraction is my cats, of course. My living room is also half office. One of the doorways does not have a door. So the cats come in an out looking for me all day long. More often than not, though, it is I who go looking for them. If Norman isn’t upstairs, then I go hunting for him downstairs. When I’m sitting down to work, that’s when they usually want petting, too.

Food is also a great distraction. Because I work intermittently from home, I try to eat home as much as possible. We do not have a dishwasher. Between food prep, eating, and cleaning, I spend a good chunk of my day dealing with food. I also like to eat junk food and snack, so that can be a source of energy distraction. I hear ice cream calling me right now.

Since I live upstairs from my mother, I can, at times, spend a lot of time helping her with medical or house related stuff. Repairs need to be done, doctors called, and appointments made. Now that it’s spring again, the amount of house related stuff I help her with goes up because she likes to garden. I also take her to appointments and shopping, especially when the weather is bad.

#2 – What is your writing process like?

I keep an accountability calendar to check off that I’m writing something every day. The minimum is one page in my letter-sized spiral notebook. On Mondays and Thursday, I blog. Other than that, I usually have an open schedule where I decide each morning how and when writing is going to fit into my day.

In April, I participated in Camp NaNo, set a goal of 30K words, and reached 22K. Because I need time in the morning to meditate, stretch, eat, clean up, shower, and get ready, I often don’t starting writing until late morning, at the earliest. Often, though, I write in the afternoons at Starbucks, if I can make it out of the house, and in the evenings, like tonight.

#3 – What tools are you using to help yourself feel more motivated, productive, and supported?

  • The accountability calendar;
  • Setting small, reachable goals, such as the 1-page per day writing in my spiral notebook or the 30K word goal for Camp NaNo in April;
  • Participating in writing events, such as Camp NaNo, for the commitment, goal setting, and camaraderie with my fellow writers;
  • Participating in a new, six-week community group for women writers;
  • Participating in a bi-monthly writer’s critique group; and
  • Keeping a daily writing journal.

#4 – Include how you feel about all of these things.

As I wrote out my answers above, especially in #3, I noticed that I felt better about all the ways in which I am currently working on my writing goals. I am making progress whereas I had been feeling discouraged. I find that I am often down on myself, telling myself that I am not doing enough. Instead, I should focus on what more I would like to do, e.g. turn a negative, rut-inducing statement into a positive, actionable one.

#5 – What’s your why? Why do you write in the first place?

Because I often think about wanting to write down my thoughts, ideas, and feelings, and as an avenue of exploration for each of these things. I blog to share what I’m doing, thinking, feeling, and learning, whether personally or professionally. To connect with others. To do something creative, artistic, and self-directed. As a means of working through procrastination and the ways in which I hold myself back, and my attempts, successes, and failures at trying to change them both.

Because I like it. To tell a story. To express myself. To challenge myself. To have a hobby. To hone a craft. To make money. To publish.

What are your answers to these questions?

25 Tips from The Procrastination Station

Some days, like yesterday, I am super productive. I make a decision to write, sit down, hand-write a page or two, and then work on my story. On blog post days, I write my blog and/or just it if I’ve been writing for the duration).

And then there are the other days, like today. Writing can feel like a great adventure, or it can feel like you have to sit down and study for that economics exam you’ve been dreading. (And I dreaded Economics when I took it in business school, especially microeconomics. But that’s a story for another blog post).

Right! Back to writing about not writing. Or The Many Ways in Which I Try to Avoid Writing. This is the work I have chosen to do, and there I am, trying to avoid it like I’m trying to avoid the common cold.

Writing is a recursive vocation. You can write about writing, as numerous authors have done. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg. I am currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, another writer on writing, the writing life, and how to be a better writer. Usually, it starts with the advice to sit down. And write.

Below are some of the ways I have strived to not write:

  1. Tell myself, “I’ll do it later.”
  2. I have to write long-hand first.
  3. “Ooh, darn. A hang nail. Let me clip that.”
  4. Pet my cat Normie.
  5. Play with Normie.
  6. Pet my cat Gwenny.
  7. Play with Gwenny.
  8. Pet Normie and Gwenny at the same time.
  9. Ditto playing with the cats.
  10. Take a picture of Normie. Upload it to Instagram. Check Facebook for comments.
  11. Ditto with Gwenny.
  12. Read useless, infuriarating, not-relevant-to-my-work articles on Facebook.
  13. Ditto Twitter….
  14. CNN…
  15. Foxnews…
  16. Slate…
  17. HuffPo…
  18. Raw Story…
  19. Yahoo News…
  20. and Jezebel.
  21. Check email frequently.
  22. Go downstairs to tell my mother some funny thing that Normie did.
  23. Go downstairs to find my cat Normie because I need to pet him for the Nth time.
  24. Take a walk.
  25. Eat a snack.

Eventually, though, I have to sit down and write so that I can tick another day off my writing accountability counter. My blog post makes this possible on Mondays and Thursdays, but I try to do more than just the minimum.

Not only is writing a recursive vocation, it also happens to be the writer’s antidote to procrastination. Once you start writing, it makes you want to do more. On days like today, starting really is the hardest part.

I Heart Letter Writing

Earlier today, I assisted a friend in writing a letter to a tenant who has been having some difficulty with cleanliness. I offered to start writing it, which I did. About 30 minutes later, I received a letter they wrote but did not send. Since it contained much good information, I offered to assist in paring it down.

I remembered how much I love letter writing. I especially love writing clear, concisely worded letters to tenants have an issue following some term of their lease. I think I missed my calling as a letter writer in a legal office. I am not sure I would run to do that now. I have to pick one damn path and follow that. Since I have already decided my path for this year, I will stay put instead of letting my ENFP/ADD/OOhshiny! disorder lead me astray once again. 

One aspect of this letter writing that I enjoyed so much was the ability to succinctly point to their lease terms and then, in a professional and non-accusatory manner, put them in their place. When I owned a three family, I was trained by a pseudo-legal real estate agent whose entire family, including extended famiily, had been in real estate, went to law school and/or were lawyers, and owned extensive property in the Greater Boston area.

My real estate/legal friend helped me pen many a “Let me break it down for you” letter and gave me extensive schooling on how to handle crazy, erratic tenants. I would have been worse off than the anxious mess I was at that time. The satisfaction and peace of mind I obtained from writing concise, well-documented letters that not even a lawyer could fault were essentially tools for me at the time. The last time I wrote such a letter was at least 13 years ago. 

Good talents never get old, especially if you continue using them in similar ways. There’s something about needing to document extensive, complicated computer problems to a user that gave me a similar experience when I worked in IT. Unfortunately, dealing with computers and the negative people I found that seemed to flock to IT departments sadly outweighed benefits I received from work well done.

Although I do love letter writing such as this, I have a hunch that working in a legal department might very well be worse for me than working in either Information Technology or Real Estate. I continue to be puzzled at the way I am drawn to some things which, in their best contexts, are actually the worst contexts for me to work in. I think it is a remnant from when I made decisions on what was logical and not what I desired to do. 

I am glad those days are over, but I still love letter writing. I wonder if I can work letter writing into my life in a creative way. Writing letter campaigns for causes I am interested in does not fill this bill. Now that I think further about it, I realize that my love with real estate/legal letter writing might be because it lets me take ample time to craft what I want to say in the most positive and/or professional way. 

Does that mean I love to craft an image of myself to the outside world? Does it allow me to impose a kind of order and control over a particular situation? I think it allows me to keep refining what I want to say until I have an impenetrable argument. Does that mean I am looking to be right? Am I looking for a method to prop my confidence up as a defense against another’s argumentative blow? 

As I wrote the above questions, I am getting a kind of inside look at my preferences. This is kind of like open blog therapy. I think that it allows me to do all those things, which is why I felt such a strong pull to edit my friends letter when I saw it. If I can’t do all those things for myself, then the least I can do is help my friend. At least, that’s the excuse my brain came up with. 

Unfortunately, I did it at the expense of my writing. I am writing way too late in the day for my preferences. That is because I failed to make room for writing my morning pages. Instead, they became my “writing at 10:09PM” pages and this became my 11:09PM blog post. I am trying to live and learn. What I cannot do is allow myself to get totally blown off my path, which is what almost happened when one tiny decision to put off my morning pages happened. 

Writing daily has been such a boon to my personal sense of happiness and peace. Not writing every day would have the same affect on me as having “just one hit” would have on a drug addict; it would throw me back into a negative hell-space of life wherein I have lost my way and my peace of mind. It’s simply not worth it. 

The Only Way Through It is To Do It

My motto in the last couple of years has become, “The only way through it is to do it.” buddha2

I often get sidetracked by anxiety and guilt. And once I have procrastinated for either of these reasons, I create a domino effect of failing to get things done and feeling increasingly anxious and guilty about it. Whether it is addressing a problem with a family member or facing my financial future, the results are the same. 

Last May, I met a financial advisor. He was calm and plainly told me I could manage my meager funds (and meager they are). I spoke to him in July when he called to follow up. As I was in my final semester of graduate school while packing to move, I had not done any of the tasks I said I would do. The reality is the I refused to do it. He followed up with me in November, in December, and at the beginning of January. Here it is past the first week of February, and I was still putting it off.

As I wrote yesterday, today was my deadline. I thought I would have had enough time to pick a stock or two before calling him. First, I logged into Vanguard and spent an hour reading articles on investing. I felt mostly clear headed about what I needed to do and things to consider. As I read, I made myself a list of important things to remind myself when thinking about investing. Then I called Vanguard and spoke to a rep, who made me realize that it was going to take a while. I took out materials the advisor sent me but I never read, and I reviewed notes I took with him in May. At the end of three hours, I still had not read my IRA Brokerage Account Agreement, which I wanted to read. The small printing made me want to have a fresh mind, so I put it in my bag for tomorrow. I left the advisor a voice mail apologizing for the lack of response and asked him to call me back.

I still have a lot of educating to do, and I am reconsidering whether I want to do a brokerage account. I have to compare the cost ratio of mutual funds to cost ratios of funds I want to pick and see what the difference is. I am not going to decide tomorrow, either. Taking the time I need is fine as long as I take the time, no matter what it is. More importantly, I have freed up mental space otherwise taken up by an increasingly anxious and guilt-ridden mind.

2014 is all about the breathing through and moving on.