I’ve been in absentia again with this blog. Part of the problem was the mania attached to the presidential election. I allowed my mind to be sucked into the black hole of endless headlines, op-ed pieces, Facebook posts, and news feeds. Post election, I went into mourning, battling my anxiety and dread with hefty doses of more bad media. When I did blog in October, the post was a political one, not what I want to use this space for.
Then there was the personal front. Since May, I have been rooting my son on as he struggles with his recovery from a heroin addiction. I could write a book on all the mistakes I’ve made: my failure much of the time to “detach” and live my own life; the unrelenting worry and pressing thoughts of how I might guide his decisions. And that is just one of my distractions. There are other adult children to worry about. There is my relationship with my husband, which has suffered from our sometimes polarized views on how to deal with the tensions. There are health and money issues. And there are our own goals for the good work we want to do together.
All this has provided myriad excuses to not write. I’m fatigued; I’m stressed; my mind is fragmented and I can’t concentrate. The “shoulds” push in: I should be helping my son find resources; I should be focusing on the positives with my husband, and on our shared endeavors; I should be bringing in more money—maybe I should take a teaching job to tide myself over.
Meanwhile, my own future as a writer languishes. And like many of those who dare to wreak out a living by writing, I can’t afford to let that future unfold without some critical planning. After a dream ghostwriting gig that has lasted four years (and resulted in two books), it’s time to capitalize on what I have learned and bring my writing life to the next level. I want to move beyond the editing jobs I’ve managed to develop. I want to get back to my own creative pursuits.
Quieting the Mind
So, what is the answer when you cede internal control of your life to external forces? One solution is to permit yourself some personal care-taking. In her column, “How to Write When Life Sucks” on Writer UnBoxed, contributing writer Cathy Yardley recommends, first, some TLC: taking the time off to re-ground; relaxing in a favorite way; turning to the “trinity of self-care—water, light exercise, and sleep”; and taking advantage of your support group.
I would add to that list engaging in an activity that feeds your sense of control over your life. Aside from walking my seven rounds in a neighborhood park, I turn to housework; I tend to my plants. Cleaning and gardening are areas where I can impose order on chaos, where the care I bestow pays back with immediate benefits. And the physicality of those tasks relieves the tension in my body without making me worry more about being completely unproductive. Then what?
Ease Back into Writing
Once you’ve stopped the spin, you can ease yourself back into writing. As Yardley suggests:
The best way to do this: set a small goal to start. Ridiculously small. For some, this may be as small as one paragraph. “How am I going to get a book written if I’m just writing a paragraph?” some of you may ask. The thing is, you’re not trying to boost your productivity. You’re trying to train your brain. You’re reminding yourself that yes, you set goals and achieve them. That you can do this. Once you start getting victories under your belt, you can start to increase your goals, but always within reason. Slow and low.
That is where I am at now. This post is my “slow and low.” But while Yardley’s advice resonates, the inescapable truth of what it is to really write stares me in the face.
No Excuses for Not Writing
I live with a scholar/author whose unassailable focus sometimes maddens me. Every morning at 7:00, without fail, after fortifying himself with a first cup of coffee and a cigarette, Tom plants himself at his desk and writes until lunchtime. His prescription for productivity is one I have read elsewhere, but I have seen few individuals who can stick to it. This despite the brilliant simplicity of his strategy, which he attributes to the years he spent weightlifting.
- Identify the time of day you are going to work.
- Do not allow any excuses to disrupt that schedule.
Where I give in to the knee-jerk urge to answer my phone when it rings, Tom ignores the jangle. Where I see a “few” chores that it will take me ” just a few minutes” to attend to, he is blind to them. Where I fool myself into thinking I can just scan my news feed quickly to get my brain “warmed up,” or navigate the sucking vortex of social media before starting on a piece, Tom dives right back into his current manuscript, open on his desktop.
The key is brutally simple. THERE ARE NO LEGITIMATE EXCUSES.
But, some will say, what if the house catches on fire? What if a meteor crashes onto your little corner of real estate? What if, what if, what if. Such a response is a shaky step on the slippery slope, one that just opens the door to more excuses. You must nip all such thoughts in the bud.
Modeling Your Writing Practice
So, I have this great model breathing in the next room. When I am not letting small marital arguments dilute the example my husband sets, seeing how he does it inspires me. As do the examples of other writers I’ve seen who have overcome the most disruptive of hardships. I frequently mention blogger and novelist Charli Mills here. In the last year, Charli has experienced eviction, homelessness, and dislocation. She has had to battle the soul-destroying bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration in advocating for her husband, a vet with PTSD. She currently writes from her new office in an old RV perched on the edge of Zion National Park. But write she does. Not only has she punched out one eloquent column after another on schedule during the ordeals of the last year, and made headway with her two WIPs, she has continued to inspire dozens of writers with her regular flash fiction challenges at Carrot Ranch.
So, heading into the last month of an “uncommonly shitty year” that Jon Oliver has encouraged his followers to dispatch with a resounding “Fuck You,” I resolve to carry on. And though presently my plants scream for a drink, and there’s a bundle of laundry languishing on the floor of my closet, I’m planted here at my computer, relishing the writing that is never far from my mind.
And you? What is your strategy for your writing goals as we close the coffin lid on 2016?