Tag Archives: head space

The Enemy of Your Writing is You

With thanks to a writing instructor, who gifted us a sheet of paper with some of his favorite writing advice quotes on the final day of our workshop:

Our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project, or the state of the marketplace, or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do. –Steve Pressman

I admit this is the only work of Pressman’s I’ve yet read. However, even if I never read another word, that’s good stuff.

Writing Demons–What Gets in Our Way

It’s that time of the year for many demons to rear their heads. My current writing demons involve the usual existential/financial dilemmas of the freelancer. What’s that about a bank account, Pressman? Plus my #1 writing bugaboo, all the unfinished crap I have lying around in note format or in partial drafts on my computer, haunting me like food poisoning.

Here’s a useful nugget I found in a writing advice book at the library yesterday:

Patterns for Completion

  1. Think of your patterns of finishing things and draw out the patterns. Write down every element or strategy you typically use. Use as many examples of finishing things you can. Combine the best of any or all of them.
  2. Make a plan to use the same strategies and structures to get your writing project done.

Patterns for Not Finishing

  1. Write down the elements of your not finishing pattern [space for at least seven].
  2. Any time you find yourself doing any part of your not finishing pattern in relationship to your writing, go back to your competence, solution, or finishing patterns and instead do one thing in those patterns.

What are your writing demons? Here’s to getting sh*t done this holiday season.

 

Submit that writing!

(otherwise you’ll never get published)

large button reading Submit mounted on the wall

CC image Submit Button courtesy of johannes p osterhoff on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Has anyone else noticed that submitting work for publication involves a lot of decision-making?

You need to figure out which piece you want to submit. Which means you have to figure out if it’s ready to submit. Which means you need to make a lot of editing decisions, and before you know it, you might be sucked into a total re-write.

You need to figure out where you’re going to submit it. This involves the monumental task of finding places that publish. Do I want to publish online or in print or both? What genre am I looking at — or more than one? Am I willing to pay a reading fee? How much? Do I want to consider contests?

What are the deadlines? What are the guidelines? Do I need to trim words? Add words? What font and spacing do I need to use? Have I put the appropriate contact and identifying information in my piece (or refrained from using it if asked)? Dammit when was that deadline again? OK, next market!

Then there is the actual packaging. Find the submission website. Click through the options, enter the information, upload the file (this stage involves a revisiting of all the previous questions, as to whether the manuscript is ready, whether this is the best work, if I should edit it some more, if this is really the venue for me, whether I’ve formatted everything according to their guidelines, etc etc etc), SUBMIT.

This spring, I began the process of submitting in earnest. I’ve got all sorts of flotsam and jetsam pieces floating around, and I need to actually send them on their way. Along with a group of other people who were using each other for mutual support, I gathered to talk about places to submit what types of writing, and pulling together my choices for what I wanted to submit and where. The idea was to get at least six submissions out that day.

To be honest, I haven’t gotten to that last button yet [SUBMIT!], because I’ve been waylaid by all the other stages.

Dilemmas, dilemmas

First, I thought I had all these pieces ready. Turns out, I didn’t, because I rejected them for one reason or another. Only two or three were close enough to send-worthy, and even these, I wanted to edit.

Then I looked up a number of promising venues to submit these two pieces. That one sentence describes more than an hour’s worth of research — see paragraphs 3 and 4, above. Finally, I got my targets organized, and went back to my chosen pieces to make a few — only minor, really — fine-tuning changes.

The time for our group to meet ended, and I still hadn’t submitted a thing. That’s fine, I told myself. I can go home, have lunch, refuel the brain, and finish up the task from there.

You know what happened to that.

The death of good intentions in the fires of creative flip-flopping

My good intentions DID carry over, at least for a little while. I sat down to make the final polishing-edits on the one piece. The more I pulled it together, the better I felt about the prose, and I lost track of the time going by. When I got up for a drink of water, the afternoon was gone.

Damn. I had had other plans for the rest of my day. After all, I was going to submit in the morning, so all the rest of the hours could be allocated for other things.

That’s fine, I told myself, as I had to make a few phone calls and buy food for dinner. I have the rest of the weekend. I have the rest of the week — by next weekend, this will all be taken care of.

I could write you a list of all the other things I had to do during that week, but I won’t. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Research shows that we have a finite amount of energy for decision-making processes. Making a decision is a lot of work for the brain. We may start out fresh in the morning (or not, if you’re me, and the alarm goes off way too early), but throughout the day we deplete our stores of mental energy through use. Come mid-afternoon, I’m tapped out. Which is sort of sad, since I’m doing work for other people for most of the day, and my own time in the evening is then relegated to a period of vegetation on the couch, with a restorative book in hand or Netflix queued up on the computer… ah brainlessness… Pending the decision on what I’m going to watch or read, of course.

It seems to me that I’m just too stubborn.  My will will not submit.

== ==

What about you? Do you submit?

“Busy” is a great way to destroy your creativity

Too Busy and Important to write: the age-old excuse

graffiti art tag Busy

CC image Busy courtesy of Steve Rotman on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Ah, dear neglected Blog, what strangers we have become. Seeing each other only rarely, yet remembering all the old fondness we had for each other, we have become shy in each others’ company and this keeps us from doing what we love. In this case, our words.

I can make many excuses for my neglect. Chief among them, this year, has been Busyness. Ah, the cardinal sin of Busy. Busy covers so much territory. It carries itself with moral rectitude. You can’t really assail Busy, because Busy involves good things, like:

  • Work. We like Work! Since we earn our own bread, we appreciate anything that helps us eat. Also: sleep indoors, and meet other obligations. For months now, we have been saying, “Gee, I am swamped with all this Work!”
  • Play. With all this Work going on, it’s imperative to also make room for Play. All Work and no Play leads Jill down the path of diminishing Work performance and returns. Funny thing, that. Play is necessary for Work. Also, Play is necessary for Writing. Sorry, Writing. We’re setting the stage for you here. Truly, we are.
  • Sleeping. This is a very underrated activity which also has an perverse correlation (up to a certain point) with both Work and Play productivity. The less we sleep, the less we get done. Ironic, no? I mean, this is why some of us pulled all-nighters in college. To get stuff done. Not me, though. My one attempt was a total disaster on all fronts (I fell asleep and didn’t actually finish the paper). I am a failure at all-nighters.

Depending on my train of thought, I imbue Writing (which encompasses Blog) with self-awareness, a personality, and desires. Writing could be a small child, or an insect, or Tyrannosaurus Rex. At this moment, Writing is kind of like the family dog, an older Golden Retriever mix perhaps, sitting by the closed front door with its leash dangling from its mouth. The dog follows me with its eyes, which I avoid meeting as much as possible. Whenever I walk past close enough, I hear a sad little thumping which is the tail against the floor, an irregular rhythm, still hopeful that soon, it will get to go out on that walk. No matter how many times I’ve passed by here before and then carried on with Other Stuff, the hope persists. Thump thump.  Thump.

But Busy wins. So sad.

These longing glances remind me of one of the big reasons I decided to begin working for myself in the first place. Freelance. The word “free” in that compound word is a dangerous crumb of vocabulary. We have a lot of good associations with the word free. Things like free candy (without cost), free will (yes, it’s all about ME!), free time (no one can tell us what to do).  The problem is, nature abhors a vacuum, and there’s always something ready to rush in to fill the void when we clear it out with “free.”

In the case of freelance, I’ve cleared out the boss… which makes room for me to be the new Boss.

I had no illusions that freelance would be a lot of work (I did have a good dose of ignorance, though). I’m good at organizing my time, too, so I didn’t think setting my own schedule would be a problem (this is true). If I have a project that needs doing, I get it done. What I realize I am struggling with is work exhaustion. I’ll keep doing and doing and doing, because I like being able to pay my bills. As a result, I get more and more tired, and Sleep takes over a lot more time in my schedule which I thought would be devoted to Writing.

My illusion about freelance work is that I’d have the time flexibility to work on more creative projects while handling my own business projects. Turns out, I just replaced one tyrant with another, namely myself. Now I work all the time and am too tired to write, and I have no outside party or situation to blame for my failure to make progress on my creative dreams.

I have only myself.

Now that’s an eye-opener.

== == ==

How does Busy show up in your life?

Sweating the small stuff:

how to get creative work done

golden retriever makes a snowman

But I like making stuff! — CC image “Chevy Worked Hard Building His Own Snowman” courtesy of Chevysmom on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Going to the library should not have been a big deal.

It’s pretty small stuff. Question: where will I do my writing today? Answer: the library.

Done.

It’s like the dilemma about changing the channel on the TV when you can’t find the remote. Truly, not worth thinking about for more than 2 seconds. Library: quiet, air conditioned, no distractions. [1] A good place to do thoughtful work.

Except I questioned that should take that step, and almost got zero writing done that day as a result.

The easy way out of creativity

Have you ever known you needed to do something, but were looking for the easy way out?

Like most creative people, I’m fairly bruised from falling off and jumping back on the wagon of disciplined work. On a recent foray into more structured creative behavior, I came across this article from the Huffington Post outlining five bad habits that freelancers fall into. Number 5: Working From Your Bedroom caught my eye particularly.

“Working in your bedroom is only one step away from doing the laundry, two steps away from taking a nap, and three steps away from cooking in the kitchen,” #5 says. “Studies also show that working from your bedroom can cause you to have problems sleeping and resting when you’re not working.”

Hmm.

I’ve written before about the benefits of literally taking a new perspective — sitting in a new seat in your room or office when you work, for example. So I responded to the common-sense nature of Voakes’ advice right away. Great, I thought. Today I’ll go to the library!

Then I thought, If only it wasn’t 90 degrees outside…

Artists’ no. 1 excuse: If only…

Beware this phrase. Have you ever caught yourself using it? “If only” is the number one way our Inner Procrastinator brainwashes us. “If only [XYZ condition were met], I’d have this all taken care of…”

Which really translates into, “I’m letting myself off the hook by choosing a precondition that I know won’t be met. Sorry, art!”

Who cares if it’s 90 degrees outside? The library is air conditioned! Staying at home, faffing on the computer, would have been just as absurd as refusing to change the TV channel because I don’t want to get up out of my chair and the batteries are dead in the remote.

I had a goal to do creative writing work. I had decided to take both my own good advice on changing my physical perspective, and the accepted wisdom of freelancers everywhere that sometimes, we really do need to get out of the house to get things done. Going to the library would accomplish both goals.

Except getting there meant walking for nearly half an hour in the heat, getting even more hot and sweaty than I already was.

Now, I ask you, is that really a bad thing?

Work should make you sweat

Michael Phelps didn’t become an Olympic swimmer by sitting on his hands. Charles Dickens didn’t publish more than 30 books (but who’s counting?) by fretting about the temperature. And neither will you or I ever get where we want to be, creatively, if we’re afraid of a little sweat.

Which is why I think sweating the small stuff is a great strategy for getting creative work done. Working at the library versus working at home? Not a big deal, really…

Getting zero words on paper versus three hours of focused, dedicated writing and nearly two completed drafts?

Definitely worth the sweat.

===

What did you sweat creatively this week?

1. Unless you count books, of course. Those distract me all the time, but ironically, the otherwise siren call of literature becomes a soothing hum when I’m doing my own work surrounded by hundreds of tomes.
Back to the text

Declaration of Dependence

why it's sometimes a good thing, and what we can learn from being dependent

(Remember to send me your Mad Quotations! So far, song lyrics are well represented. What else have you got up your sleeves?)

American Statue of Liberty from the back

CC image “Statue of Liberty” courtesy of rakkhi on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve begun to think a lot about Dependence recently.

This is a change of pace. Generally speaking, I haven’t thought much about Dependence as a positive trait. I hadn’t considered it a virtue. It mostly surfaced as a counterpoint to a theme I’ve thought a lot about throughout my life thus far, namely Independence.

I’m not just talking about big geopolitical ideas of Repression versus Freedom for groups and in the political arena. I mean personal self-reliance, a sense of individual freedom, the concept that the individual is capable, and therefore responsible, for arranging the circumstances of their life. But before we get into the thorny issue of responsibility, a comment on the idea pair dependence/autonomy. You can take this pair any of a number of ways: physical dependence, which happens when we cannot care for ourselves physically in some way because we are ill or incapacitated, temporarily or for our lives; financial dependence, in which we rely on someone else to supply the money necessary for us to procure the things we need to survive, like food and shelter; emotional dependence; and so forth. So while there are variable permutations of dependence/independence, the root identifying characteristics are the same across all cases.

Generally, I’ve seen dependence as a negative, a burden. Worse yet, I’ve interpreted my own episodes of dependence as pushy neediness and a sign of personal weakness. I didn’t learn this from my immediate family; somehow I taught myself the Stiff Upper Lip principle. I am the oldest child in my family, and (on one side) the oldest of all my cousins, so I got to be a trailblazer by default. I was rewarded with lots of praise whenever I did something well. Perversely, instead of increasing my confidence, throughout my formative years I developed a sustained fear of failure.

An independent personality

Not every aspect of my life was fraught with such deep psychological angst, but if I was unable to do something or figure something out for myself, I got annoyed (with myself). I had something to learn, and pronto.

I don’t like asking people to do things for me. I don’t like owing people.

I can usually figure out how things need to get done. If I don’t know the answer right away, I probably know where I should go to find it. If you give me a task, I’ll take care of it  — and do it well — whether I have to stop at the beginning and sort out a few basic principles or not.

So where does this leave us with our current discussion of Dependence as a virtue?

I’ve gone through a lot of life transitions in the past year and a half. When I embarked on my adventure two thousand miles away across the country, I thought I’d be trailblazing. However, as with any good enterprise, there have been a number of substantial immediate challenges. To my chagrin, I’ve had to accept help, and, more often, ask for it.

I’ve found that Dependence is a great teacher. I’m having to learn — repeatedly, it seems — that it’s OK not to be perfect, and that no one is, overnight, anyway. Also, with each overlapping obstacle, I am learning that there are only certain aspects of my life that I have direct control over or even significant input into. Despite my being fabulous, transition is hard, and it takes time. It takes other people. So I am bumping into my own hubris. I’m learning that the ideal of the Rugged Individualist can be really selfish.

“Collaborator” is a reflexive term: it takes at least two.

Most of all, I’ve had to learn that accepting help can sometimes be a great gift to the giver. Whether it’s time, resources, or an actual physical gift, it’s a blessing to be giving. So I’m learning to accept with grace. Do I still want to be self-reliant? Well, I still would like to know how to fix my car. And I still don’t want to be a secretary. But if I have to learn how to receive now, in order that I can give like crazy later, I’d say that’s a fair trade.

Depend upon it.
====

What about you? Have you discovered any virtues in Dependence?