The P-word

22 03 2010

No, not publication, but it’s polar opposite: procrastination.

I’m just not feeling like writing today, despite the fact that I didn’t go to my exercise class today and cleared a chunk of my calendar this week to work on this deadline. This frickin’ sucks. I hate it when I actually HAVE the time to write and my brain / body is just not motivated to do so. Procrastination for me comes in the form of me puttering around the house, looking for little tasks to do—I just finished cleaning my shower, for example, which I could have easily done later (after writing!). I finally got myself to sit down at the computer a few minutes ago to write, and of course the twin evils of Facebook and Twitter are tempting me down the rabbit hole of online social networking.

But NO! I told myself—get on your blog instead and write about your procrastination. At least you’ll be writing! And this blog has saved my writing self more than once since I launched it about two months ago. It does help to write out my challenges with my writing practice—which is exactly what I wanted this blog to do.

Ok, I’m almost 200 words in and I’m starting to feel better. I think I’m going to keep writing on the computer—I recently started revising a short story I desperately want to finish by hand, and it’s been an interesting process, but more on that later—and work on a couple of pieces, one of which is definitely a contender for the Hyphen / AAWW contest. Deadline countdown: only 10 days left! Maybe I’ll find some kind of app to add to my blog/Facebook page to keep me accountable to my goal.

And of course, dear reader, you are encouraged to deliver a swift kick to my lazy writerly ass in the form of your comments. Thanks in advance.


Getting Back on Track

17 02 2010

I’ve not been 100% well this last week or so, which has made it challenging to stay on track with my writing. I took a break from blogging (which I’m glad I did), but am back to doing that, with posts on this and my other blog that both got a considerable number of hits thanks to (I think) catchy, intriguing titles that I post on both my Facebook page and Twitter.

But I haven’t really written anything in terms of my fiction or more creative work since last Thursday, when I was trying to get ready for the reading I was supposed to do with the rest of my writing group in San Francisco. Due to my health problems, I missed that, and have been in a bit of a writing funk ever since. This isn’t just about rest as part of my writing process, as I wrote about earlier, but I think it’s sort of like writer’s depression. I missed my writing date earlier this week, and have mostly been staying home resting and trying to get better, and feeling a bit crappy about myself for not being able to do more. Writing, of course, doesn’t take a ton of physical energy, and I’ve been able to blog so I should be able to do other kinds of writing, but I’m just feeling a block around it.

I haven’t been reading a lot either, despite my book-organizing round that I wrote about last post. I think I just need to plunk down today and tell myself to write anything for 15 minutes, and just stop guilt-tripping myself about it. Guilt doesn’t usually get me anywhere in terms of my writing—just saps the energy that I need to sit down with the page and start moving my hand, as Natalie Goldberg says.

And this really was one of the reasons I started this blog—to help me process through both the tough and the easy times in my writing life. To motivate me to get my hand moving by making me accountable to an audience—no matter how small at this point—who will be, in my mind, tracking what I do and asking me questions about it when I see them in person. So I guess I am making guilt my motivator again, and it does seem to work at times. I would like to find other, more positive emotions to help motivate me to write. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Will post later on today about how many words I’ve written today that are not blog-related. Wish me luck!

Time to Write, Part II: Deadlines as Lifelines

30 01 2010

I’ve been feeling stressed but also blessed these last few days—and feeling more like a ‘real’ writer than I have in a while. I’ve been writing for, literally, hours each day, and there’s nothing like actually writing and producing work that you know some people are going to read (or that you’re going to read out loud, as I am on February 11th) to make you feel like your writing really matters.

I’ve also been logging a lot of hours writing grant proposals and reports for Generations Ahead, a cutting-edge organization working to make sure that the new genetic technologies are being used in an ethical and socially just way. I feel honored to write for them, as they’re doing important work that no one else really does, and it’s fascinating (and sometimes scary) stuff.

I’ve also been working to meet two important deadlines for my creative writing: an application to the Macondo Workshop, a program started by Sandra Cisneros. It’s a pretty competitive program, only eight people get in every year, but it sounds right up my alley. I submitted my application on Wednesday—wish me luck!

The other deadline I’ve been working on (and need to meet this weekend) is for a writing residency at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks. I’ve been there once before and it’s a beautiful place—and I’ve realized that I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to really get deep into my writing.

All these deadlines, while stressful if I let them get to me, have also motivated me to get all this writing done. I’ve been editing like crazy, combing through my work with a fine-tooth comb until I feel like I’m getting cross-eyed, and getting feedback from some of my writer friends, which has only made my writing stronger. My experience as a fundraiser with all those grant deadlines has helped me recognize that these deadlines can really be lifelines—helping me get off my butt and away from the Internet and TV, and helping me get to writing.

So if you need to figure out how to give yourself more time to write, give yourself some deadlines. Better yet, to make sure you won’t just keep changing the deadlines to accommodate the rest of your life—which I often do when I set my own deadlines—commit to meeting a deadline for a writing contest, a fellowship program, workshop, or a writing group. This means making your intention to write public, and committing to someone other than yourself to give your writing to them to read. This is a good thing, although it can be scary at first.

This is how deadlines can really be lifelines—because they give life to our writerly intentions, cut through procrastination, force us to focus, and help us realize our own goals. And then, when you’re done with all your deadlines (as I will be by next Tuesday), you can kick back and take a little vacation from writing—and watch all the DVDs or read all the trashy novels you want—until the next deadline comes along.

Time to Write, Part I

27 01 2010

I’ve been asked by two readers to address the issue of finding time to write. Ah, the age-old dilemma—or maybe, a more modern dilemma, as we in the United States rush around, trying to do everything and never accomplishing enough. It’s interesting to note how leisure time has declined for many Americans in recent decades and how even leisure time gets quickly filled by many scheduled and overly structured activities: parties, movies, play-dates for kids, etc.

This is all to say that finding and having the time to write comes down to how you set your priorities. I find it interesting that people who work full-time (or more than full-time, as many of my social justice organizer-friends do) get down on themselves for not ‘finding the time’ to write. I used to get down on myself for that too! I realized that I until I prioritize my writing over, say, my job (I left my full-time job last March in order to have more time to write), I would never magically find ‘more’ time to write. It simply didn’t exist. Because work isn’t the only thing I did when I worked full-time, I also needed sleep, social time and relatively sanitary conditions in my home. (Granted, some people don’t need some of those things, and may be able to carve out more time for writing then, but I do.)

Some people can get up and write everyday for thirty minutes, then promptly get up from the computer and eat breakfast, get dressed and do whatever they need to do to start their day. There are successful writers who do (or have done at one point in their careers) just that. I think I remember reading once that Edwidge Danticat wrote her first novel at night while she worked a full-time office job during the day.

But I’ve realized I’m not one of those writers, at least not now. I need more time. I need to get up, have breakfast with my husband, goof around on the Internet, do some exercise, maybe read something inspired and THEN sit down for two hours and get some serious writing done. (Yes, that’s an approximation of my average writing morning). I used to feel guilty for not being more ‘productive’ with my writing time until I began to have writing ‘dates’ with other writers—mostly in order to force myself to sit down and actually write. Those writers felt that they needed at least four hours of solid time in order to eventually get down to business—fifteen minutes’ worth of chit-chat would often start our time together, then getting coffee, then goofing around on the Internet, and THEN…you get the picture.

My left-brain, ‘day-job’ persona, however, loves structure and finds freedom and joy in it. Perhaps that’s why my more right-brain, artistic sides despises it so much. I have to trick myself into writing sometimes—like when I tell myself, ‘OK, let’s just write for ten minutes,” and then gleefully look up from typing at the clock to see that a full half-hour has passed. Or I have to just write whenever the creative impulse strikes—even if it’s five o’clock in the morning and I’d rather be sleeping (yes, this happens too, usually when I’m deep into the revision stage of writing a story and I can’t get it out of my head).

Finding time to write, as many writers will tell you, is not about magically making additional minutes or hours appear in your day, it’s about re-organizing your priorities to make writing one of them. If you want to write, do it—don’t wait until you have ‘more time’. Writing is like exercising—the more you do it, the better you’ll get. The converse is also true: the less you do it, the worse you’ll get.

So write, write write. If you know you need structure, create structure. Start a blog (or two, like I did). Ask a friend to meet you at a cafe to write for an hour. Ditch the trashy magazine while you wait for your clothes to dry at the laundromat and write instead. But just write. Even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. That’s ten minutes that you would’ve spent NOT writing. What are you waiting for?

The Usefulness of Procrastination

22 01 2010

Today, I’m not really blocked but I’m not exactly riding the wave either. It’s more like I’m waiting for a good one, and just chillin’ and coasting on the water, watching the ocean and wondering when a good one will come rolling in.

Which, of course, could be called ‘waiting for the muse’, but really is just one form of procrastination. I’m not going to beat myself up about this, because we all do it, and sometimes it’s actually helpful NOT to write….sometimes. And it’s the sometimes part that’s tricky to learn about and balance.

Sometimes procrastination is helpful because it gets me out of my head and makes me do something seemingly unrelated to my writing–like going to cook a dish I’ve been wanting to make or taking a walk. When I go do those things, it sometimes triggers something in my body/mind–a motion I make when I’m cooking, an image I come across on my walk–that inspires me to go back to my computer and start typing again. It may be something that reminds me of the story or piece I’m working on. In those cases, what started out as procrastination or just needing a break become a catalyst for a good idea that gets incorporated into my writing. This is where I know that what seems like procrastination is actually part of what artists call ‘process’–how access the stories, images and voices inside my head and get them down on the page.

And then there are other times, more numerous, when I just want to stop writing because it feels too hard–I’m stuck on a scene that’s just coming out all corny and dumb, or I just can’t think of anything to write that interests me–and go shopping, get on Facebook, do work, or play online Scrabble (which I’m doing right now, by the way, while I’m writing this post). These particular activities don’t usually lead to writerly revelations–although I tell myself that playing Scrabble helps build my vocabulary (really, it does!)–so I’ve realized it’s best to try to avoid them.

And then, sometimes, I really do just need a break. My brain is tired and I’m not going to get anything out of it if I keep sitting here trying to write–except a raging migraine. But the hard (and often frustrating, but also weirdly delightful) part of the writing process is that, when I step away from my keyboard and go do something else, I’m not quite sure why I’m doing it or where it will lead. Maybe I’ll get some big burst of inspiration, maybe I’ll just get some rest for my weary (or more often than not, lazy) brain, or maybe I’ll get neither.

In the end, the work is always there, waiting for me to take it up again. And in the end, no one else can do it but me. That thought is enough to make anyone want to go shopping instead.