The #1 Lie I Like To Tell Myself

As a professional procrastinator, I like to put everything off until the last minute. My experience with myself is that, if I begin working, I don’t know when to stop. I have tried to compensate by telling myself that I’ll do this thing for myself now and get to the work later. As long as I’m the only one I have to worry about, this is a fine plan.

The problem is that I am not the only one that I have to worry about. We don’t have kids so this is usually the case. However, I do have an elderly parent with pain issues that seemingly Will. Not. Go. Away. My mother has spent the last 14 months in and out of an excrucating amount of pain. My family and I have dropped everything at the last minute to see that she gets the care and medication that she needs almost every single month, sometimes for a week at a time.

Due to complications from an autoimmune medication that my mother was taking, she discontinued an otherwise effective medication. We didn’t really know how effective until she had to stop taking it a month ago. The medication continued to work for a few weeks. Into our fourth week, we now clearly see that it had been working more than we realized when a highly intense form of sciatica hit.

I called her doctors and picked up a prescription. My husband worked from home today so I could take a memoir writing class this afternoon. In my place, he called 911 to advise on my mother, had the prescription filled at their instruction, made lunch for my mother, and ensured my mom took her medication that thankfully worked within the hour. I felt better that she seemed to be in less pain.

After I came home from class, I checked on mom: sleeping. I had my own dinner and then got her up to take her medication again. My husband stayed with me, helping mom with dinner, clean up, and getting around. I set up a commode on the toilet my Dad used to use because it means she doesn’t have to bend down as far.

I wrote a medication diary so I can keep track of the pain meds that she’s now taking. She had mentioned she was chilly so I took her temperature, which was raised. I gave her an additional Tylenol only. We will check her temperature as well as ensure that she eats and takes her medication on an alternating basis.

I put a lamp in her room so she doesn’t need the bright overhead light. I set her up with throat drops, her phone, and water. She drowsed and I came up upstairs to our apartment to have some lemon ginger tea and write. As I sat down, I asked myself, “When are you ever going to learn? When in doubt, write.”

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.

Old Haunts, Great Friends, and New Faces

I am sitting at the Crema Cafe bar in Harvard Square while I await tonight’s book reading. Mary Karr, author of The Liars Club, will be signing and talking about her recent book The Art of Memoir. The Liars Club is a memoir; The Art of Memoir discusses Ms. Karr’s process for writing one. I’ve read memoir, but not hers. Not yet.

I recently devoured a piece of bread pudding made with cherries and bourbon. An iced chai latte keeps me company at the bar. A couple stands chatting next to their food at the bar on the other side of their chairs. Her voice comes directly at my ears, an unwelcome distraction.

I drove to Massachusetts yesterday for this event. My friends – The Bs – graciously offered to host me for two nights and a gathering of friends so I could see a whole bunch of mutual friends at once. Some friends I last saw at our own going away party; others, much longer than that. I love it when you haven’t seen friends in a while. Then you meet up. It’s like you never left. I had that last night. Thank you, dear friends!!

After breakfast, I took a leisurely half-milk walk down a shady street to Fawn Lake. I took the walking path strewn with pine needles and gnarly tree roots. The path wound near and away from the edge of the lake. Some lily pads already turned peaches and browns. One lily made its way back and forth away from the pad depending on the strength of the wind. I crouched down near the water, peering into murky depths. I thought I saw vermicelli down there.

On one side of the lake stood a small island. Mallards looped their heads under water and back again before diving up and down. After soaking their wings, they beat the surface of the water to shake them out. Tufts of feathers stretched out from them as if chicken had just been roused from their coup. A section of elm tree trunk was set up as a natural bench to rest on.

As I came around the bend, the shore came close to the geese. They stared at me like a bull in a ring. A triangle of them floated toward the shore at me in case I decided to make any sudden moves. I realized that I still held a fear of geese. I imagined myself racing away in terror as they beat at me with their wings and bit my hands. Wherever I saw a clearing, I stood and took in the sights – the tree line, the lily pads, the rippling water, and the partially cloudy skies.

Near the end of my path, I saw on a bench in the shade and closed my eyes. I let myself be lulled by the rustling of the leaves by the wind all around me. Sitting, I almost fell asleep. After I returned, I lay down for a nap before lunch. I accompanied my friend on an errand before driving myself into Cambridge MA for the book talk and singing. Tomorrow, I return home. On my way, I’ll take my 93 year old aunt out to lunch first. Who knows when I’ll get to see her again?

For The Love of Libraries

When I was in elementary school, I went to the library frequently. I would take out as many books as they would let me. I’ve seen it even now. Children walk out with a pile of books in their arms as their mothers hold open the door for them. I know I’m not the only one who tried to read entire sections of the children’s library because I loved reading so much.

As I grew into middle school, I started visiting the adult section. I remember sitting upstairs on the floor while thumbing through philosophy books, such as Kant and Kierkegaard. Hidden among these stacks was where I first encountered the atheist writer Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian. I loved that library.

After I went to college, I no longer had time for recreational reading. All my spare time went to reading the subjects I studied in Business School at BU. Even when I had time off, the last thing I wanted to do was use my brain. I stopped using my home library.

After I graduated, I restarted my use of the libraries. I was at various times a member of the Boston library system, the Somerville library system, the Malden library system, and now again I’m a member of the Floral Park library system. In the early years of the millenium, I worked for a time in two libraries in Massachusetts. But working there affects your relationship with your library. It goes from provider of entertainment to a job.

Since I work from home and writing is my game, I am back to using the library frequently. I’m in there at least twice a week to pick and return the books I’m reading. I try to read something every day, other than the Internet which can only be satisfying on a gossip and time-wasting level. Like eating too much candy, my brain soon craves something more substantial.

For years, all I read was nonfiction, especially psychology, self-help, and self-improvement. I had read some stories that I found wanting, and I no longer wanted to invest or try to find fiction books that would catch my interest. My desire for personal and psychology improvement and refinement was strong enough and satisfied enough that I put fiction reading on the back burner.

I’ve been slowly getting back into reading fiction along with my nonfiction books, although the former now outweighs the latter most often. In my quest to learn about memoir writing, I have read more than a dozen. A topic I once never thought of now captivates my interest. Ditto romance novels now that I am planning one for this upcomign November NaNoWriMo.

My hometown library looks the same on the outside. Inside, it has changed. Where a wall of encyclopedias and two long wooden desks with chairs were now sits wall bookcases light on books, a huge reference desk, a few round tables with chairs, and bigger lounge-style chairs with adjustable table tops like you might see in a college auditorium. The wall bookcases with new fiction, large print, and nonfiction are the same. The front checkout desk is the same. The staff are all changed over, but are just as attentive and helpful as ever.

My life has come full circle. I am living in the upstairs apartment of my childhood home, I can walk a few minutes to get to my library, and I can walk out with a stack of books in my hand as I use my back to hit the push bar to open the door. I once again feel pride and excitment of walking home with interesting books where, once home, I will plop on the couch to read them. The other books wait patiently for their turn in my hands.

Abandoned Books and Rediscovered Authors

As part of my research for my memoir, I have been reading a variety of memoirs that come across my path. My memoir is themed around my struggles with illness since I was born and how they affected my life. Some of the titles, such as Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani, are directly relevant; this book is about how a near-death experience changed her life.

Others are tangentially about illness but not memoirs, like Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, by Susan Sontag. I was hoping to plumb the book for insight as to how metaphoric comparisons of illness might have affected how I experienced and interpreted illness, even though Sontag talks mainly about tuberculosis (TB) and cancer, and then later, AIDS.

Sontag’s writing style seemed dense and intellectual, drawing on a truly staggering number of literary references that demonstrated illness (TB and cancer) and its metaphors through fiction, such as in the operas La Traviata and La Bohème. In this manner, the book reminded me of a history tome, filled with date after date after date. Sontag also seems to repeat herself as if there was only so much that she could say about it, but her publisher made her try and stretch the thoughts way past their prime. I mentally pushed myself through about 70 pages of the book before setting it aside. I really hate doing that, but I hate torturing myself through repetitive, difficult to read books.

And in my procrastinations yesterday to avoid writing, I decided the next best thing was to read articles related to writing. This quickly lead me to the essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (DFW). I tried getting into his novels Infinite Jest and The Pale King, but I abandoned both because I could not get into the stream of consciousness that his writing seemed to be. I tried. I had read about how beloved DFW was both to his readers and critics, and I wanted to be one of his fan boys. But I had to come to the conclusion that his writing wasn’t for me.

Until now.

I was sitting at Argo Tea on a corner of 7th Avenue and West 26th Street in New York City with a writer friend. I quickly began laughing out loud and hastening my hand to cover my mouth. You know when you find something so funny that you immediately want to start making eye contact with everyone around you and telling them about it? That was me yesterday at the Argo Tea.

Here’s a little tidbit of his writing after which I had one of many outbursts:

I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the skeet shooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is. I now know the precise mixological difference between a Slippery Nipple and a Fuzzy Navel. I know what a Coco Loco is. I have in one week been the object of over 1500 professional smiles. I have burned and peeled twice. I shot skeet at sea. Is this enough? At the time it didn’t seem like enough.

It’s not just his descriptions of things that makes reading the Supposedly Fun essay such a joy. Right away, you come to understand that this essay truly reflects his actual first person thoughts and feelings, uncensored and as they are. How easy it would be for DFW to pretend to feel something that he did not and make it seem real? Very. He shares his impressions of the staff, the other people at dinner Table 64, and his struggles with semi-agoraphobia that teeter him on the edge of whether he is going out of the cabin or whether he shall avail himself of room service.

What hit me deeply in reading this essay by DFW, however, was his repeated mentions of death, despair, and loneliness. In 2008 at the age of 46, David Foster Wallace committed suicide. Pictures of him often show him with a wrap around his head, hair disheveled, and a pained expression on his face. Even in an essay that he wrote when he was sent on a cruise for pay and asked to write an article, the pain came with him. When you have major depression and anxiety, there is no holiday or cruise that you can take that will separate you from the pain. If only there were, maybe DFW would have found a way to be with us still.

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.

 

Writing Methods and Progress

As I have been reading YA dystopian trilogies lately, my mind boggles at the amount of work that must have gone into each one of those books. Especially now that I am a writer, I see my experiences devouring works with my speedy reading from the author’s point of view – so much time and effort for a reader to blow through a book in a day.

After each series is finished, I hear thoughts in my head saying, “You’ll never be able to write a book like that.” In the past several months, I have learned better than to listen to those negative thoughts any more. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have been trying to work out a way of writing a complex story that would work for me.

I tend to be big-picture oriented. Looking at high amounts of detail or data to begin with always confuses and intimidates me. It’s hard for me to get a big handle on lots of little bits. So I thought: Why not start by outlining one big story arc from a character’s point of view? Then, keep layering on character arcs until you have an idea of what characters are together when. Then you can break it down into scenes or chapters. The last steps would be to go in and fill in all the details – the dialog, the descriptions, etc. After I thought of it that way, I felt a heaviness lift in my chest. Yes, I thought, that would work for me.

As I said to a friend today, I have read a lot about time management and getting into some kind of artistic practice. I haven’t found a way to make it work for me until now. The accountability calendar I have been using that allows me to check off that I have written at least one page of journal writing a day, two blog posts a week, and three days of writing for a total of 2,500 words a week really got me going. I must not have understood myself well enough to know that I love to check off a list of things I have completed, that checking off that list makes me feel productive, and that it helps me to stay committed. Now, with my idea about writing big and then working my way into the details, I feel like another thing has clicked into place for me.

What I have learned through my writing practice this year is that each person really does have to find out for themselves what will work. You can read all you want about how other people do it. It helps if you understand what makes you feel upbeat and productive and then work that into your life. That will help you along. But no one else can really tell you what methods will work for you.

It’s just you, your understanding of yourself, and your ability to work with tools that work with you that will let you take that next small step towards your goals.

Managing Depression

Today is 89 days straight in which I have written at least one page of writing every day. The chain remains unbroken.

In the last week, however, I have noticed negative thoughts creeping in. The act of daily writing has largely staved off these thoughts for the past 3 months. The fact that I am doing what I want to do creatively gives my mood an enormous lift.

So why have the old thoughts been creeping in? Thoughts like, “What’s the point of writing? You’ll never be any good. You’ll never make any money from it. You’ll die alone and unknown and no one other than family and friends will ever know you lived. Just give up.” Deep inside, I considered it. I felt my resolve wavering along with the tree outside my window.

I used to want to find the answer. What was the trigger? Why am I feeling this way? Now, I say to myself, Who knows? I try to find ways to keep going. Maybe it was the anticipation of my hitting a milestone (90 days of writing). You can find out the exact reason all you want and, sometimes, it just doesn’t help.  You can’t go back and change the cause. All you’re left with is dealing with your mood and feelings in the present.

All my posts here get redirected to Twitter get redirected to my Facebook page. On that page, a friend suggested I read the memoir, “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon. His first chapter, entitled Depression, talks about what it is and, more importantly, how it felt to him.

As I read his descriptions, I felt myself becoming increasingly morose and unhappy. The painful feelings and sense of oppression made me feel as if I had a two-ton weight pressing down onto my shoulders that would not quit until it ground me into the ground. I felt more pain, too, and it made me wonder if all this fibromyalgia pain is depression pain instead.

After running an errand to find seed beads and coffee, I settled into my writing place at Argo Tea on 26th St. and 7th Ave. I opened my memoir file and began writing, but felt like it would be too hard. So I decided to start reading about memoir writing instead.

I found a great article “How to Write a Memoir” by Scott Berkun and ordered it from the library. Reading his article about how hard it is to write a memoir, that it takes a lot of times that only you can invest, and that you have to write for your own reasons – not to make money. I think that was the lift that I needed.

Then I wrote this post a day early. I have been trying to spread out my writing – Blog writing on Mondays and Thursdays; memoir writing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But today I knew I needed to write this today. Tomorrow couldn’t wait. This post is beyond blog writing.

Just for today, this post is about getting to writing again.

4 Steps to Building a Writing Practice

I used to have fantasies that, once I decided to become a writer, I would just become this writing powerhouse. It would just happen. I would be writing all the time. Nothing would stop me.

But changing careers isn’t like that. A lot of things need to happen mentally before you can start to have something to show for it. You’re not just going to buy a pile of bricks and think that you can start building a house. You need more than just the supplies and tools. You need a plan. And with this plan, you can start to build your practice.

Step #1: Decide Your Plan

What do you want to be, an artist, writer, or actor? Whatever it is, choose it. Own it. Call yourself an artist, writer, or actor. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done art, or written a book, or been in a play. If you say that you’re aspiring to be, then what your subconscious hears is that you are holding yourself back from your commitment. Even if you work in accounting, but you want to become a writer, then say you’re an accountant and writer. Say it yourself. Say it often.

The more you tell your brain what you are, the more comfortable you will be telling others. I’m an accountant and a writer. Put it in the present, positive tense. But do it. Whenever you start a new endeavor, things feel uncomfortable for a while until you start to get the hang of it.

That’s OK. It’s OK to make art for yourself, write for yourself, or practice acting and still call yourself artist/writer/actor. The point is to get yourself mentally in it. Painters paint. Writers write. Actors act. Start doing any one of those things, name it for yourself, and get your mind in the game. Your body and soul will follow.

Revisit this step as needed.

Step #2: Start and Stay Small

Ask yourself: What can I do right now to take the next step? What can you do with your hands or your mind or your time that will start you on the path. Maybe it’s getting paper, watercolors, and brushes. Maybe it’s buying a book and a new pen that you like using. Maybe it’s watching a movie with your favorite actor so you can study their moves.

Whatever it is, ensure it is a small step that you know you can do. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend on your new path, don’t sweat it! Just do whatever you can do in any amount of time you can find. If you only have five minutes, then take that time to write for that five minutes, or put a few colors down on the paper, or sign up for an acting class online.

Your small steps can grow and change over time, too. First, I decided to write at least 1 page of writing warm ups. Then I decided to substantially add to my memoir during Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Then, I decided to continue writing in May, three days a week at least 500 words a day. Anything over that would be great. That’s where I am now. Because I started small and allowed myself time to get used to it, I was able to add to my workload without feeling overwhelmed.

I have learned that, when you start small and stay small, you will find that virtually everything you can do is within your grasp. Just do the next best small step that will move you forward.

Step #3: “Don’t Break the Chain”

Those words, “Don’t break the chain”, are attributed to Jerry Seinfeld who was giving advice to an aspiring comic. Seinfeld allegedly told this comic that he should write every day, mark it off on a calendar, and not break that chain of writing.

Get yourself on a schedule that you can hold yourself to.  Every day, to some degree, is best. The schedule reinforces your commitment to your goal. I find that putting up an accountability calendar wherein I check off each day that I work keeps me motivated.

I got my calendar from Carrie Brummer’s Artist Think pages (but you have to join to get it). You can search for others online or make your own. Her Carrie’s calendar is basic with diamond placeholders for the days that are big enough for you to check them off. At the top, there is space for you to write what your goal is. I wrote that mine was to write.

Across the top of my accountability calendar, I wrote “Don’t break the chain.” Every day when I sit at my desk, I see my calendar, my goal, my unbroken chain of writing days, and those words written across the time. They are my daily visual reminder to write every day. When I need inner motivation, I remind myself not to break my chain.

I’m over 70 days of writing every day, and seeing that proof, right in front of my face, helps build confidence.

Step #4: Seek the Company of Others

Seek out others in the same field. Attend conferences. Join  groups. Take classes. Read. A lot. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, start your own group. Try volunteering or working in companies who are in the field you want to be in. Even writers and artists who spend a lot of time working on their own benefit from finding people in their field with whom they can work. Not only will you grow in your field, you will begin to feel connected to like-minded others who are focused on the same goal as you are.

Why I Read The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I tend to read a lot of YA fantasy and not a lot of mainstream books. Although I read a lot of fiction as a child, I found a fiction I read as an adult to be disappointing. As a result, I eschewed a lot of books that have been hawked by Oprah and/or made their way onto the New York Times bestsellers lists. I’d made a couple of attempts to read David Foster Wallace and Neal Stephens, but I simply couldn’t get into their writing style.

Now that I’m digging into writing as a field, I decided that I wanted to try and read more widely. Since I’m writing a memoir, I started with reading a few memoirs. I had bought two books earlier in the year by Larry Brooks, author of many books and owner of Storyfix.com, Story Physics and Story Engineering. I haven’t a degree in creative writing, and, after going back two times, I think I’m pretty much done with that. But I need to learn and I want to learn, so I’m trying to learn from those who have gone before.

After reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (twice), I began to read Story Engineering. One section is dedicated to breaking down The Hunger Games; the other, to brekaing down The Help by Kathryn Stocktett. I decided to read The Help before I got to the section on it so that I could understand better why Brooks says it works. I had picked it up, along with The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and Watership Down by Richard Adams. I knew I wanted to read The Help last so I could then pick up Story Engineering  and learn from it better.

Yesterday, I started reading The Help. I could not put it down. I mean, I did put it down so I could do things like eat dinner, write in my journal, and get ready for bed. I continued reading in bed until it was done. The pacing was phenomenal and continuous level of tension kept that story moving right along. The racial tensions were nail biting, as you know the consequences of breaking racial barriers and speaking against the bigoted norm, especially in the South, against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Era, the murder of NAACP Secretary Medgar Evars, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, were murderous. Those kinds of racial tensions continue to exist between the police and the African American communities todays, even if the social community has tampered down some of its racism. I will leave it to African Americans to determine how and to what degree it has gotten any better.

I particularly liked how, instead of a third person viewpoint, we it from the first person perspective of three characters: Aibileen and Minny, two of the African American help, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a white writer who wants to write more than she want to appease the bigoted society circles through which she runs. Skeeter’s own nanny, Constantine, disappeared while she was in college, and no one will tell her why she’s gone. Each woman’s chapters have a unique voice. You feel kindly towards Aibileen, the peacemaker, riled up and rooting for Minny, the back-talker, and biting your nails over Skeeter’s to cross over the racial lines, meeting with Aibileen and Minny secretly in Minny’s kitchen. Skeeter risks her own life to meet and gather the maids’ stories, along with the stories of about 10 other maids who have worked for white families all their lives and the struggles that resulted. The root of Skeeter’s desire to write is not simply a desire to write, but a way to heal the hurt that has come with her maid’s disappearance, whom she loved and missed deeply. For me, this is the emotional pin that makes the white woman’s story believable. All the women put their lives at risk to get the stories onto paper, edited, and out the door in time to meet the New York editor’s pre-Christmas holiday deadline and so that maybe it will go into print and change the lives of them and everyone in Jackson, Mississippi.

I loved all these characters, and I highly recommend The Help by Kathryn Stockett to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I may just go reread it again myself.

The Benefit of Writing Groups

Back in March, I decided I wanted to return to the commitment I made last year to write every day. My NaNoWriMo critique group started up again in February, and I put up an accountability calendar in March. I wanted to ensure that I would have a visual incentive and reminder at my desk. But I was feeling the urge to connect with other independent professionals more often.

Initially, I organized a weekly video meeting with a former coworker of mine. I envisioned that we would be a support for each other, since my former coworker runs her own business. The arrangement worked for about a month, and then became untenable. We were unable to continue, and I felt bummed.

Then I realized that what I needed was to get support and connect with other writers. While it was great to work with my former coworker again, I needed something more relevant to my work. Since I have had trouble doing work in my house, I thought it would be a good time to start getting out of the house once a week to do work in New York City. I’d just go in, find a cafe, write for the afternoon, and then go home.

April was Camp NaNoWriMo; it’s similar to NaNoWriMo, except you set your own writing goals. I decided to work on the memoir I started in March. I went into NYC three or four times to write for Camp NaNo write-ins. I decided to reach out to my NaNo writer’s critique group and find out if anyone wanted to join me. I knew that at least one person who might have time to meet, and others might be looking for the same thing.

I sent out an email to the group, and a few people answered. With the exception of this week, I have been going on Wednesdays. Two to three other writers join. We sit down, and write for a few hours. We chat about writing and non-writing topics. We get to see each other on a regular basis.

One of the other writers is a group facilitator who started her own business called WIP Squared: Women in Process with Works in Progress – a community for women writers. Since she was starting up a new group, I decided to join. In addition to weekly call-ins, we have a Facebook group where we can post to both give and get support. We’re already half-way done, but it’s added another level of support that I’ve needed.

By having several groups, I have more opportunities to meet writers who are on the same path. We are all trying to keep to to our work schedules, deal with personal and professional obstacles, and have someone (multiple someones) on our side, cheering us on. I’ve felt much less isolated, have met writers along varying points in their careers, and have already had opportunities to share what I’ve learned as well as learn from others. The benefits of writers groups flows both into and out of a writer, no matter who or where they are in their writing careers.

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.

3 Lessons on A Writing Life

Today I celebrate two accomplishments: the seven year anniversary of my blog and 30 continual days of writing! Woo-hoo! I am beyond thrilled, especially at the 30 days. Along the way I have learned three lessons on how to make the writing life work for me.

Prioritizing My Writing

If you want to be a writer, then you have to make time to write. The time of day doesn’t really matter. I’m not even sure it matters how much writing that you do. However, if you put off the writing until evening, then you run the risk of getting squeezed into crunch time. Unexpected crises could mean that you don’t write until very late, your writing is not up to par, or you lose on sleep. I can write under stress if needed, but I can’t do that on a regular basis. The earlier you write, the better you’ll be. Why? Becausee you might end up writing more than you had anticipated and that’s better that not having the time to write at all.

Creating Accountability

I printed out an accountability calendar. What is an accountability calendar? It’s a calendar for the sole purpose of marking off the completion of a task that I wish to complete every day. For my writing to improve, I need to write every day, even if it’s just a little bit. This is what creates the habit of writing. Take advantage of all the different kinds of writing you can do on any topic that interests you.

Another important piece to the accountability calendar is that it is adjacent to my desk. I can’t sit down without noticing it. I like seeing the uninterrupted days of writing where I can’t miss it. If it weren’t there, I would forget how many days I would be at it. The calendar is like my drill seargent. I’m not going to get away with excuses or lack of performance with the searg staring at me, insisting I meet my commitments.

Setting Attainable Goals

The last time I tried to write daily, I had a list of writing goals that I wanted to meet every day. First, I would do my minimum three pages of morning writing. Then, I would do practice writing. If it was Monday or Thursday, I would write in my blog. Finally, I would work on my stories. Before long, I was feeling overwhelmed and gave it up.

This time, I gave myself a smaller goal set: Write every day, even if it’s only one page of morning writing. Mondays and Thursdays I write in my blog. The rest of the days I try to work on my memoir or whatever story I am writing. I have discovered that the minimum of 1 page of morning writing is easily attainable. As a result, I feel like I have achieved an accomplishment and that alone gives me the encouragement and enthusiasm to keep on writing.

The next time I want to begin any new habit, I’m going to ensure that I prioritize, make myself accountable, and set achievable goals to bolster my confidence and enthusiasm. I highly recommend it!

April is CampNaNoWriMo Month!

Do writers need an excuse to write? The answer seems to be yes.

Not satisfied with attempting to write 50,000 words every November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the NaNo creators responded to demand and created Camp NaNoWriMo.

The great part of Camp NaNoWriMo is that you set your own word goals. The minimum word count goal for April is 10,000. Just like in November, the regional NYC NaNoWriMo liaisons have regularly schedule write-ins. These are kind of like sit-ins, but we don’t protest except amongst ourselves about how slow and difficult (or not at all) the writing is going.

CampNaNo started off with a bang: our very first write-in at Argo Tea on 7th Avenue and 26th Street. Argo Tea is a fantastic spot for anyone who needs to do computer work. They have many outlets built into the bottom of the booths and along the edges of the tables. You can buy yummy food and tea that earns you a code for two hours of wireless service, or you buy access to the internet for hours or the day.

Five people showed up, and we wrote and talked writing shop. I had a great time and decided to stay after the event was over. I wrote 3,300 words for my first day of writing, bringing my total to just over 10,000 words. My goal was 10,000, but that was before I learned how many words go into the average memoir.

My plan is to write a memoir with the theme of my illnesses and how they have affected my life. Maybe I won’t end up doing anything with it, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to write something worthy of publication.

Surprisingly, memoirs contain around 65,000 words. When I wrote my six-part series of blog posts on my illnesses, I amassed around 6,600 words. When I found out I have to write 65,000, I felt overwhelmed. I somehow had hoped that it would be a lot less. Those zeros after the numbers sure look impossible at the beginning. I’m not sure how many words I’ll end up with, but I’m hoping I can get at least half of it written this month.

That’s how it felt when faced with getting my college degree, my IT certifications, and then my gradate degree after I was accepted but before I started. All the work, look at the time, and how hard it all must be! But I performed my work diligently, consistently, and with the intent of producing quailty work. If I’ve done it before, I’m kind sure and hoping that I can do it again.

Walking and Writing

This afternoon, I went for a walk through my town. The warm weather made my wool coat and scarf seem too thick. I found myself unzipping my jacket as I walked in the sun. I looped around a town garden and took a slight detour to get some money and buy soup for my mother and me before making my way home again. The hour long walk in the first warm spring weather of the season made me thrilled to be alive and to feel the sun’s rays on my skin.

As I walked, I thought a lot about the last six posts I did on how my medical experiences affected and how they affected my religious and spiritual beliefs. I realized that I was writing in my head. This is not new to me, nor is it new to artists. Walking stimulates the imagination and the brain.

I had come across a NYTimes.com blog article about how walking stimulates creativity. The trick for me is how to capture the thoughts that come while I’m out. Today, I sat down to write in my daily writing journal about all the thoughts that spilled out of my head as I walked. I can’t say that it was a perfect capture, but it worked really well.

I have considered recording what’s in my brain as I walk, but I feel that how I think about things and how I speak about them are not the same thing. What sounds intellectual and meaningful inside my head sounds different when I try to articulate it. It’s almost like the part of my brain that thinks language is not the same that tries to speak it. So I either take notes or I come home and write it all down.

I’m wondering if I should start taking walks before I sit down to do any writing. That might help me feel like I have something to write about and get into it more easily. I’m going to give it a try.

After writing the last six posts on my illnesses, I have decided to put them into a memoir about illness and how it has affected my life. I searched in my library’s system for memoirs written by those with illnesses. I came across an interesting memoir by Anita Moorjani called Dying to be Me: My Journey from Cancer, To Near Death, To Healing. I read her memoir through an online borrowing system in a matter of two days. It gave me a good idea of how to write and organize my memoir.

Based on reading Moorjani’s memoir, I can see that I have more to add, including my upbringing, my religious beliefs, and how they all formed and informed me through what I went through with illness. Even if I only write this memoir for myself, I think the writing will help me along my path to eventually getting publishes, which is a dream of mine.

For now, I take walks, think, and write.

Illness, Alienation, and PTSD – Part 6

Read Part I, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5

The surgery in 1992 that I had for an intestinal blockage was the last of my surgeries for intestinal blockages, but not the last of my intestine and stomach related issues. Since then, I seem to have experienced periods where my stomach seemed to be having intense gas pains that worsened in intensity. When that happens, I follow this protocol:

  1. Take GasX. If it’s actually gas, GasX works like a dream. Tums don’t cut it.
  2. Take Pepto Bismol. This helps with any stomach cramping. If one dose is not enough, repeat one hour later.
  3. In the meantime, get my heating pad out and lay it over my stomach.

Almost every time in the intervening 23 years, this has worked. Mark and I vaguely remember me going to the ER once, possibly in my late 20’s, for stomach pain that would not go away. But nothing serious was discovered because I did not have any further intubations with an NG tube nor any blockages discovered.

So it was with surprise when, on March 1st, I followed my protocol to find that it did not work at all. By the time 9pm came around, an intense pain gripped the right side of my abdomen. It seemed to start near my appendectomy surgical scar and go up to right under my rib cage. When it continued unabated for 30 minutes and I was crying out in pain, I asked Mark to call an ambulance.

I had tried to go to the bedroom, but the pain caused me to curl up in a ball. Any attempts to move my right leg away from my abdomen caused more pain. I was unable to sit straight up, to walk, or to do anything except lay there. I asked Mark to go let my mother know that I was having stomach pains and that we were going to call an ambulance. I was sweating because the only other time I ever felt pain like that was when I had intestinal blockages. I prepared myself for the worst.

I felt terrible for my mother to have be in the same room with me while I was crying out in pain. The pain was at a 10 level, and I could not keep it inside, even if I wanted to (and I wanted to). I knew it was just hitting her in the gut with helplessness and shared empathetic pains, so I told her to go downstairs so that she wouldn’t have to listen to me. She refused to leave until the EMTs were taking me to the hospital.

The one thing about my town that rocks is the speed of the EMTs, police, and fire department when someone is in need of an ambulance. We waited only a few minutes before someone was knocking on our door. I needed help just to get up off the floor and sit on the ottoman. To get me out of the apartment, they put me into a chair and then slid me onto a gurney to take me to Winthrop.

By the time I was being processed in the ER, my stomach started to feel a little better. They gave me some fluids while they had me drink contrast for a CT scan. The results came back showing that no blockages, but that there seemed to be a change in caliber to the intestinal in the mid transverse colon and constipation throughout the sigmoid, ascending colon, and cecum.

I found this odd, but I chalked it up to the smaller opening that they saw in the colon. Even though I had already passed soft stools that day, I felt a kind of straining that I can only chalk up to not having enough room for the intestines to breathe. It certainly wasn’t traditional constipation, and, after the enema, the attending nurse told me that it was odd that there were no hard pieces. I didn’t think it was odd if things could not move through easily enough on their own. I was relieved not to be in pain anymore and to be able to go home.

I was released with instructions to follow up with my primary care, take Miralax for the constipation, and go for a colonoscopy. I met with primary care and her GI specialist that week, but I did not care for his bedside manner. I also did not want to go to a Queens endoscopy center. I wanted to go to a hospital that I trusted.

That weekend, I talked it over with my sister M. She helped me research GI specialists and even came over to the house to visit and to work with me. The next day, I made the appointment with the GI for the following Monday. Once that was done, my sister M then helped me research for a new Winthrop-affiliated primary care doctor. I made an appointment with the new primary care the following Friday. She spent so much time with me, helping me research and select two new doctors, that I bought her a gift that will soon be delivered.

After my release from the ER, I continued to feel uncomfortable. I could feel and hear stool moving through my midtranverse colon. It sounded like things were being squeezed through a smaller opening. I ate small meals and stuck to a low residue diet, but even doing that made my stomach feel hard and uncomfortable. My stomach felt full all day long. I had periodic bouts of pain right under my ribcage. I decided to start taking the Miralax every day and eat a low residue diet. Things went on in this manner for almost two weeks until suddently I could eat normally with no discomfort or full stomach.

I’m still taking Miralax every day, but went down to half a dose a day because stools too loose are a problem in their own right. I’m also having weird twinges and bouts of pain in the area under my ribcage. But now I have to wait. After the appointment with the GI doc, I went to check out and make an appointment for the colonoscopy.

The scheduler first offered me the date of May 12th. May! I said to her, “I have to wait two months to get a colonoscopy? That’s insane!” She then looked again and offered me an April 29th date, which I took. Afterwards, I said to my sister M, “Well, now I know that no one ever has an emergency colonoscopy. You have to wait for that sucker!”

One positive that thing has occurred is that, for whatever reason, going to the ER motivated me a bit to move forward on my writing goals. It felt like a great stone had been moved from a closed entrance, allowing light to enter for the first time. Usually, an ER trip with significant pain like this would have me refusing to move forward on things that are anxiety-producing for me. Work is one of those things that causes a lot of hand-wringing on my part, but that’s a topic for a different series of posts. However, I was able to make a few changes.

I printed out an accountability calendar created by Carrie Brummer, creator and owner of ArtistThink.com. Carrie is an art educator and tries, through her site, articles, and free online classes, to encourage people to explore their creativity in different ways. I printed the calendar out, hung it up on my wall, picked and start date and began writing.and decided that I would start using it mark off the writing that I did. Every day. Across the top I wrote, “Don’t break the chain.” Jerry Seinfeld once told an aspiring comic to write every day and to not “break the chain.” Nothing feels better than checking off that little box and knowing that I am fulfilling my commitment to myself and my writing goals every day, even if it’s just a little bit.

Today is day 13 of that unbroken chain. As a result of recommitting myself to daily writing, I restarted the morning writing exercise that I learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. She recommends writing three, 8.5″x11″ pages of freehand writing every morning. I found the three page minimum difficult when I tried it last year, so I decided to make it easy on myself and make it a one-page minimum. Yesterday, after spending a working day’s worth of time researching rheumatology docs for my mom, taking her to the appointment, helping her get xrays, bringing her home, filling her RX, getting milk, eating dinner, and coming home, I was exhausted. I could only manage that one page. I was surprised at the depth of what I wrote because, if you had asked me, I would have told you that any thinking at all would be out of the question.

On all the other days, I’ve managed to write that one-page minimum plus more. Sometimes it’s writing for my blog post. Sometimes it’s writing for my stories. Sometimes it’s writing down ideas that I have. WHATEVER it is, I am committed to writing and keeping the writing thing going. When I did that last year, I was so much happier. One day this week, I realized that I laughed and smiled more than I had been lately. I chalk it up to the writing practice. I feel productive.

My trip to the ER could have been paralyzing. For the first time ever, it wasn’t.

A Pursuit of Happiness

February is six months that I have been working with a trainer. I had hoped that working out would decrease the pain and increase the ability of my muscles to handle exertion, but it has not done so. I have gained muscle, lost fat, and seen my body reshape itself into a somewhat leaner one. My health and diet seem to be improving.

Because the pain medications I take do not address the underlying cause of my problem and because vitamin deficiencies I have are associated with these medications, I am in a slow, long-term process of testing whether I can reduce and eventually eliminate my pain medications.

Despite all this, I have been feeling blah and apathetic. I have made few attempts at writing in the last few months. I have been wasting a lot of time reading online news that depresses me; I seem to be addicted to certain Internet sites.

I am struggling with my online habits. I need to stop the time wasting and get back to the activities that made me happy last year: writing every or most days. I have been happiest when I have pursued activities that interest me, and I need to get back to that. I want the kind of happiness that is acquired via the pursuit of fulfilling activities. That’s writing. Exercising. Eating well.

And training my brain to be more upbeat and positive. Not working towards goals only keeps me feeling ‘depressed’ where ‘depressed’ is code for ‘bored’ and ‘not doing anything fun or useful to oneself.’ A dear friend posted a link to Shawn Achor, Harvard positive psychology professor and author of several books, including The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. First, I watched a 12-minute TED talk called The Happy Secret to Better Work followed by an hour-long talk he gave at Google. The Google talk includes the same content and wording that is included in the longer Google talk. I also bookmarked a few other talks on the subject of positive psychology.

In Shawn’s TED talk, he put up a slide called Creating Lasting Positive Change. Achor suggests that, for a 21 day period, you do the following:

  • Write 3 things for which you are grateful every day. Each day, write about 3 new things (Emmons & McCullough, 2003);
  • Once a day, journal about one good thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Our brains get to relive a happy memory twice, enhancing its effect (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006);
  • Exercise so that you train your body to know what feeling good feels like (Babyak et al., 2000);
  • Meditate to help your mind dampen down the negative states (Dweck, 2007); and
  • Perform random acts of kindness to share your positivity and goodness with others (Lyubomirsky, 2005). Goodness knows that the world needs it – desperately!

The effect of doing this is that it helps rewire your brain to start looking for the positive. We know how much negative news is out there. In fact, it’s almost like the understanding is that it’s not really news if it isn’t awful. I feel it happening to me when I read my news sites, when I scroll through my Facebook feed. Rants about politics, stories about people performing acts of hatred, mutilation, and murder on one another.

And then what? I’ve just spent hours reading negative material that drains my energy and doesn’t do anything for me because I’m not doing anything. How does something like that enhance me, my relationships, and the rest of the world? The short answer is that it does not. Something must change.

And the only thing that I can really count on to change is myself. I am the one who has to take the next positive steps – to stop reading news for hours, to put my writing first, to defer time wasters to the evening in timed segments so avoid the endless negative news absorption, and to change my outlook.

And begin writing every day again.

I can do this.

You can, too (whether writing or otherwise).

50 Shades of Hype

I got into a conversation with some of my girlfriends about when we were going to see the movie 50 Shades of Grey and whether any of us had read the book. One friend said she tried to read it, but couldn’t get into it and gave up. Because I’ve heard that the writing is atrocious, I haven’t read the book yet, either. We’re both simply using the movie as a reason to hang out with our friends.

I happened to see a link or a recommended post on Facebook to a blog post by Dave Barry in March of last year on what he learned about being a husband from reading 50 Shades of Grey. Dave Barry, for those who don’t know, has been a long-time humor columnist and blogger for the Miami Herald.

The difference between a man’s idea of a porno and a woman’s idea of a porno, Barry says, is that the men want to have “invested maybe ninety seconds of his time, can put the book down and go back to watching SportsCenter” while women don’t mind if “Many pages go by in this book without any of It getting done, although there is a great deal of thinking and talking about It.” That sounds about right to me!

Barry riffs on the plot, the characters, and the dialogue in a way that only Dave Barry can. In the end, the book teaches him the most important lesson. The book teaches men that women “are interested in sex! We’re just not interested in sex with you unless you’re a superhot billionaire.” (Duh!)

Okay, okay. It’s not true because there are far more women who want sex than there are billionaires in the world, and we’re not gonna just sit around waiting for them to get around to us. Screw that – or us. Oh, screw it – just screw! People like sex and want sex and 50 Shades of Grey is simply another book that lets people get all hot and bothered. We kind of like that kind of stuff.

Another suggested page was a collection of Twitter posts by the user @50ShedsofGrey, who describes the user as “erotica for the not-so-modern male”. I bust out laughing when I saw the user name, not only because of the play on words, but because it reminded me of the Monty Python sketch ‘Arthur ‘Two Sheds’ Jackson’.

The first example in the list highlights the brilliance of this user’s ability to riff on both the 50 Shades of Grey book and erotica in general:

At the touch of her lips, it grew long and swollen. I sighed as she squeezed and pulled expertly. It was the best balloon giraffe I’d seen.

Of course, if I were EL James, I would be laughing all the way to the bank. I mean – seriously – writer of a poorly written book and getting $4 million for a movie based on said book? That’s an example of capitalism in all its enviable, frustrating glory.

Happy 2015!

Good resolutions … are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account.

~Oscar Wilde

Since moving into a small apartment last year, we’ve no longer had a television set. I don’t really miss it, except when I’m sick. Then I wish I could turn on the tube and stare at it mindlessly while images play across its screen. I assume that not having a TV is the reason that I have neither heard much about New Year’s resolutions or thought about it.

In years past, I made lists. What inevitably occurred is that I lost interest or failed to maintain effort. Soon the list was a reminder of my failures. I cursed my lists and threw them out a few months later, hoping I could get bring myself back out of the self-hating funk for not achieving my goals during the year.

For my 2014 resolutions, I decided to go with a short list of a few items, broadly written, so that I could have some flexibility as to how I could achieve my goal. In 2014, I wanted to write a book and get healthy. I started off with a lot of writing and have had my struggles to maintain it. In August, I began working out at the gym and making sure I put in my time four days a week.

For 2015, I have already decided to continue to focus on those two areas in my life: health and writing. For writing, I will continue to write in my blog here twice a week, and get back into my daily writing and book writing.

For health, I will try and figure out if I have any food issues through trial and error in the first few months of the year. I am in a Facebook group called FOODS for Fibromyalgia. Earlier this year, I bought access to a 12-week program devoting to helping you identify your health issues and perform a series of food challenges. I forgot all about it until recently. I started yesterday by listening to the weekly call and began charting what I ate in my food journal. On Sunday, I will be removing all foods with yeast in them for two weeks, followed by a reintroduction. I will be doing the same thing with dairy, gluten, and sugar.

I am deeply praying that I can get some relief by identifying offending foods and removing them from my diet. Being in pain everywhere on your body is no fun, and I really want to feel better. I watch the pain-free people I know moving on with their lives, following their dreams, and adding to their lives. I’m tired of living in my own shadows. I want to soar. Wish me luck.

And good luck to you in 2015!

Writing Progress + Practice

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann

Got my butt (and the rest of myself, too!) to Starbucks for writing. Mark is working from home today. Intermittent, remote meetings means he can’t necessarily get out of the house. What do I want to do? Get out of the house, of course. So I went with my college-ruled notebook and my aging MacBook Air to Starbucks where I write.

Two days at Starbucks does not a writing habit make, but it’s a start. I have to start somewhere, don’t I? For some reason, I seem to keep going back to the start, to the beginning instead of holding steady and making progress. It’s so frustrating! I started out the year with writing at the forefront of my mind, and then I let it go and refused to pick it up again. That’s how I fail. At some point, I pick myself up and begin again.

I want to get back into writing, all sorts of writing. I can work on a novel, sure. But I have also written poetry and short stories. Working on different styles of writing can cross-pollinate your creative works. I heard about a writing contest for a 1,500 word short story. By Monday. Putting it out here so maybe you can give me a kick in the pants. It’s totally doable. I have a 6K+ word short story that I could totally adapt and make it work, or I could write a new one.

When I worked at the Berklee College of Music, I took some online creative writing courses. I still have the digital and physical materials. I was thinking about going through them again, doing some of the exercises, practicing. I did review some of the work that I did. And I thought: You know, the topic is a bit silly (I wrote about cats in more than one assignment) but the strength of the work itself stood. If you asked me then, I would have been like, Yeah. So? Now, I see that my writing skills were evident. But I need the practice.

Writing Practice is just like any other kind of practice. There is nothing in the world, no activity, that does not require practice. This means doing for the sake of doing. Sure, you’ll get better – over time. And you might be able to look back and point out a specific time where your work changes and you’ve improved.

What you cannot do is look at a single moment and declare it a failure of creativity. I mean, I guess you could. You could decide ahead of time what you wanted, measure your current effort against it, and judge it a failure. I understand that in one context – the car you designed won’t run or has a poor design that causes wind drag and increased gasoline costs.

But in terms of the fine arts, that’s a terrible approach to take. How can you immerse yourself in your work if you’re busy judging and knocking yourself down? I put that question out there as if I don’t do it myself, but I do. I am both perpetrator and victim of my creative failures. I am not calling any particular thing I do a failure. I call my inability to carry forward my dreams with the same commitment that I bring when I employed by someone else.

The great thing about this life is that the earth continues to rotate, the sun comes and goes across the sky, and that I can pick up a pen or open my computer and start putting down words that spring from my consciousness that want to escape into this world for us all to see.

Here’s to continued writing progress!