Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Twofold Plea

It's amazing how much one can accomplish when avoiding doing something else.

I have a notebook with a running to-do list that sits on my desk. Whenever I think of something else I want to do sometime, I write it down on this list. I go back later and transfer things to my calendar that are time sensitive and oh, isn't this all very fascinating.

My current list is about three pages long. I got up this morning and got the Hooligan off to Lego camp and came home to write. The jBird has been craving some quiet solitude and it seemed a perfect opportunity for me to get down to business. The coffee was just so, the sun was twinkling in through the skylights, the temperature was neither too warm nor too cold, the dishes were done, all was well in the world. A perfect morning for writing.

So, I checked off an entire page of my to-do list. An entire page. I selected fabric and sewed curtains for the Hooligan's room, I got a garbage can and towel bar for the upstairs bathroom, I completed the next stage of the desk we're building for the jBird's room, I changed and washed sheets, I scrubbed both bathrooms, washed the shower curtains and re-hung them, got us ready for camping tomorrow, I organized two utensil drawers, cleaned out my cake decorating supplies and organized them, I even organized the junk drawer. All of this with time to spare to take the monkeys out for lunch and ice cream and do a little shopping. I am a human dynamo, I am. Because I am so full of crap.

I committed to write an essay for an essay contest. The deadline is September 30, so I have time, but I decided to borrow Deb's deadline of August 25 so I would have time for editing and polishing and agonizing and all that. Also as moral support, you see. I am completely immoral support. It is a maximum 1500 word essay. Guess how many words I have written toward that maximum? None. Not a single word. Nothing at all. Now ask me how many words I've written in emails complaining about it? How many words have I spoken to my husband whining that I can't think of anything? I've exceeded the maximum. And now this dreadful excuse for a blog post. Because I am so full of crap.

I'm not wild about the topic for the essay. A very supportive writer friend of mine told me to "come at it sideways and give it a shank in the side. Whisper poetry in its ear as it dies." I very much would like to do exactly that. But for now, I have bound my head and my writing fingers all up in knots thinking about the topic and distancing myself from it. Usually when I write, I have an idea and think "I shall write about this," and then I let it knock around the dryer a bit, trying this way and that way to express and then usually some other way pops out of nowhere and I sit down to write. It's always different on the paper than it is in my head. I'm usually OK with that. This one, though, whenever I think about it all I hear is "LA LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

My plea is twofold. I am not writing this post just to whine. I am now more determined than ever to write this stupid essay and write it well. Here's my twofold plea, writer friends:

Fold 1: Please tell me if this ever happens to you and what are some things you do to alleviate it. It's more than "Oh, I can't think of anything to post on my blog today." This might require a plumber. Please advise any home remedies.

Fold 2: Hold me to this. I will not back down from it. I really want to. I really want to say "Oh, it just wasn't for me." I don't honestly believe that's the case and I don't want to cop out. So, ask me how it's coming, remind me it's almost due. Don't let me make excuses and remind me if I do.

Deal? Deal. I promise not to torture you patient, sweet people with ranting and whining and blow by blow progress reports. I just need to make my commitment public-er so that I will follow through with it. You all indulge me so much. I'm asking for a teensy bit more.

I have very much enjoyed ticking off my to-do list, but the more I tick off, the more ticked off I become because it is all the more glaringly obvious that there is this one large item that I have not even touched.


  1. For someone who can write so beautifully about a pear, I might have guessed that this never happens to you. (Glad to know you're as human as the rest of us.) Remedies? For me, I read other blogs (yours included). Taking in the rhythm and cadence of great writing gets my mind in tune. I let my thoughts wander and often find that something starts to build.
    Of course, sometimes nothing happens and I choose an old post to re-run.
    Good luck! I have complete confidence in you.

  2. All my best post ideas have come while drying my hair. I don't know if there's a scientific relation between ideas and the warming of the brain, or that I just have a tendency to let my mind wander when there's white noise blocking out my kids' demands for candy. But I swear by it.

  3. You can do this. You will do this. You will ROCK this.

    When I freeze up, I busy myself with something mindless. I walk or run or clean the house and let my mind wander. I consider the topic, but I let it seep in around the edges, rather than focusing on it directly. Sometimes I stand in a nice warm shower until the water first takes away everything running through my mind and then I stay there longer, feeling the water and considering the topic. The ideas rush in when they're ready--often in one big whoosh of a story that is so detailed and complete that I freak about being able to jot down enough quickly so that the whole thing doesn't leave as quickly as it came.

    You can do this. And you absolutely will. You'll write something wondrous that you'll reread a dozen times after it's edited to perfection and even after all those readings, you'll not tire of it. You'll fall asleep to the words running through your head and know--really know--that you created something special.

  4. This is by far the most interesting form of procrastination I have ever encountered, unless of course I have misread something ... Perhaps I should go back and read it again just to be sure, or possibly even three times, who knows, but certainly not four, no, never four times altogether.

  5. This happens to you too (sigh of relief).

    I'm with Word Nerd, mind wandering usually works. I generally take myself off for a walk, usually the only way to get unadulterated me time. I think about anything and everything and usually come back with a whole host of good ideas.

    You can definitely do this, take comfort in the fact that the to do list is not looming so dominantly, breath and go for it!

    Ps you started yet???? ;-)

  6. I would definitely NOT add anything to the to-do list, since you've already identified that as a way to procrastinate. I can't add any of my own experience, because I'm not a professional writer. (My son is, and frequently has to, as he says, "shit copy." Sorry if that's too gross.)

    When I'm nervous or apprehensive about doing something (public speaking, for instance), I always start out by 'fessing up. You could begin this essay with a rant and edit it out later.

    But you've probably already done that, right? =)

  7. Hmm, I feel like I had this conversation with you about my own deadline, at a time when I had zero idea what to write about. I think about people, because everyone has a story, we just have to listen.

  8. Sometimes when I repeatedly try to think or talk about something and all I can hear is the Flinstones song or the sound of blood rushing my ears, at some point, I will think...Suspicious! Perhaps I doth (I know that's wrong, but I don't care :P) protest too much. What is it about THIS that I can't see, don't want to see? My thoughts are inflexible, one-dimensional. I can't write from that place. To get to where I can write from, I have to do self-taught brain surgery. What do I not want to admit or see about this topic? That's where my essay is.

  9. Happens to me all. The. Time. My problem is often perfectionism. I think "It's not fully formed in my head yet, so it's not ready for paper." I struggle mightily to come up with something from nothing. But I excel at tweaking something that already exists. So, I force myself (eventually) to sit down and start writing. As Debbi said, maybe I just write "I'm annoyed about this and here's why. There are all these angles to take and I don't know which one is mine. See, like this one. This angle says ..." Before I know it, I have an existing draft. Which I can then tweak.

    Of course, my style - both in process and prose - is mine and may not work for anyone else. I see your writing and Tata's writing as sortof similar, and I really like her "surgery" approach. I might try that next.

    Thank you and your readers for giving me so much to think about on this. I may be adding more tools to my writing toolbox as we speak.

    And, how's it coming? :-)

    1. Oh dear. Tara. Not Tata. Stupid autocorrect. Sorry, Tara!

    2. That's OK. I think I will just take that name now. It is much easier to pronounce. :)

  10. Try not to think about your essay while you're camping. Take a break. Then maybe when you get back you'll get a fresh start on it. The more you think about how hard it is for you to write it, the bigger it will loom in your mind, the harder it will get to write.

  11. What they all said...

    But at the end of the day, you've just got to sit your little hiney down and do it. I procrastinated sitting down to write a book for, oh, seven years? Eight? What made me sit down and start? Sheer, unadulterated will power. Gritting of teeth. It was an ugly fight, those first few nights. Sometimes it still is.

    I put together all these little rituals that helped me. Starting the dishwasher. Meditating. Watching the blue part of the fire in the fireplace. Finding that one song that helped me get into the mood of my story. But honestly, sometimes those things didn't even work. So.

    So 1500 word max? That's what, two pages? Three?

    And your deadline for the vernix-covered draft is August 25? And then you have a month to morph that baby into something beautiful?

    Sit down and make yourself write 1500 words somewhere in the general direction of what the topic is about, even if you know it's not what you want to say. Just do it. You'll find a seed in there you want to work with, I'm sure. Then if you don't like it, come at it again. And again, if you need to, as many times as you need to. Two to three pages? You got this thing, yo. No prob.

    If anyone can do it, you can. You've got a bunch of fans here boosting you up and cheering you on. Roar.

  12. I cannot believe how far behind I have fallen in blog reading--I am reading this now and the first self-imposed deadline has passed so I am too late to nag you. However, as evidenced by the fact that I am so far behind in both reading and writing anything, I am probably not the best source of good advice on this particular issue...

    I will say that sometimes when I am having trouble getting started, I will write TO myself about why I am struggling with or putting off whatever it is I am supposed to be writing about. Sometimes it's fear or laziness or apathy on the subject. Whatever it is generally comes out in those ramblings--and then I promptly throw out the pages I've worked it out on. I made the mistake of doing these exercises right on the pages of my journal a few times, but those are excruciating entries to reread--laden with questions, doubts, exclamation points. It's like some ranting version of myself is trying to interview the more rational side or something.

    Anyway, once I've identified whatever the block is, I can usually get around it. Usually.

    Off to see if you've updated us on your progress with this project. Maybe there's some nagging yet to do. ;)


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