Saturday, February 16, 2013

Time to Lift those Heavy #%#% Weights by Jody Casella


One of my favorite scenes in the movie Groundhog Day is when the Andie MacDowell character tells the Bill Murray character that she majored in 19th century French Poetry in college and he busts out laughing. The exchange makes me, a squishy Creative Writing major, both laugh and cringe. I wish I was sitting at the table next to those two so I could point out that she is the guy's boss. Three cheers for squishy liberal arts majors!

Back when I was working on that Creative Writing major, and long before--for as long as I could read and write, actually--I knew that I wanted to be a writer. And I did write, pretty much every day. Not for school. Not for publication. Not even to share with anyone else. I wrote because I liked to write.

So why do I have to learn, over and over, that I like to write? Why is each day a struggle to sit down, open up whatever file I happen to be working on (ie. this one), and begin tapping at the keyboard? It doesn't seem particularly hard, right? Tap tap tap. See. Easy peasy. And I know from experience that once I start, I fall past the words on the screen and into wherever it is that words come from. Time slows and stops. The room, my surroundings, my own body and mind slide away. When I climb out at the end of a session, I'm wrung out, but exhilarated.

Writing is not backbreaking physical labor. It's not like painting trim on McDonalds restaurants out in the hot sun or washing two hundred pizza pans in steamy water or flipping t-bones on a grill during a lunch rush (all jobs I've had by the way). Nope. These days you'll find me sprawled out in my pajamas on a couch with my computer perched on my lap. Nothing physically draining about that, and yet...

It's exhausting to dive down into the deep dark pool every day.

Add to that the pressure you get from the outside, anxieties about whether or not the thing you're writing will ever be published, and if it does get published, worrying about whether people will like it. It's hard to forget about all that and psych yourself up the next day and the next day and the next.

Here are some tricks I've tried (and still try) to get my BIC (Butt In the Chair):

1. Create a proper writerly mood. By brewing tea. Or lighting candles. Or playing music.

2. Lock myself into my home office. Or haul myself out to a coffee shop or to the library. (I read about an author who wrote her novels holed up in a coat closet so she wouldn't have any distractions. Hey. It was worth a shot.)

3. Read books on craft or creativity. My favorites: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Stephen King's On Writing, (I stole the deep dark pool metaphor from him.) War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and everything by Natalie Goldberg.

4. Read books in my chosen genre or outside it--anything that will inspire, motivate, remind me why I love creating books in the first place.

5. Set up challenges. "Race" with another writer or flip an hourglass. When I'm feeling particularly masochistic, I forbid myself from going to the bathroom or eating a meal until I get a page or two out of my system.

6. What has seemed to work the best for me is setting a word count goal and simply not shutting down for the day until I meet it. I stole this idea from Stephen King too. God love the guy. He writes 2000 words EVERY day, including weekends and holidays.

Just coming up with this list makes me think again about how silly it is that I've got to work so hard to gear myself up to do something that I love to do.

The weird truth is that writing is hard easy work. There are no magic gimmicks or shortcuts. Except this: you sit down.

You tap.

Tap.

Tap.


PS. One final thought to leave you with. Every once in a while I hear a person say wistfully that she'd like to be a writer or that she has a great idea for a book, but when I press, I find that she doesn't write. Yeah, I feel your pain, but I wish I could channel Ronnie the Body Builder and tell the person THIS. 
















8 comments:

  1. haha So true! Oh the joy of that exhausted exhilarating feeling!

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  2. I do the, "I'll just sit down for 15 minutes" thing. It's a short enough time that it doesn't feel burdensome to get me to the computer. And then by the time I'm 15 minutes in, I'm usually warmed up enough to continue.

    You're right that this isn't usually tough physical work, but it's tough mental work. We can't just phone it in.

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    1. I like that idea of getting warmed up. Like stretching before going for a run. Sometimes the hardest part is getting up and putting your running shoes on. If you can manage that, you might as well go out and run.

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  3. It's knowing that I'll be exhausted afterwards that makes me procrastinate, I think. But knowing I'll be disappointed about letting my writing time slip away counteracts that. It's crazy!

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  4. Word counts are great because you can measure them. (but I am a very goal oriented person. They might not work for everyone.) And Lauren, you're right about how crazy and tiring this process is. I'm not complaining though. I'd much rather spend my time writing than doing anything else.

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  5. Great post and I have to say, I find writers who don't write entertaining. They make me feel accomplished! LOL!

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