Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Writer, interrupted

Since I've become the Excuse Editor, I'm excruciatingly aware of everything that crosses my path when I should be writing. I try to stay in the creative mindset in case someone from my writing group or my fanpage catches me engaged in suspiciously non-writing behavior:


No, no. I didn't just veg in front of the TV Monday night mindlessly watching How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory and everything in between. I was studying the elements of dialogue and humor!
OK, that's not entirely true.

Confession time:
When it comes to my writing, I'm a recovering procrastinator and excuse maker.
I relapse.
Often.

The difference now is, I KNOW when I'm doing it. Sure, my first impulse is to some kind of rationalization (OK, it's just THESE Monday night shows, and I hardly ever see them because my writing group is every other Monday [that's true, BTW], or I know I spent 3 hours reading other people's work last night, but if I just finish THIS one book, whenever I get back to my work, it will be much better, or I worked all day, I'm too tired), but eventually, I come around to the truth and admit it:

I'm making excuses.
I am the one interrupting my progress.

So my non-writing jobs have suddenly taken up way more time than I anticipated-- so what? Those jobs are part of my life now. They are serving my writing in different ways. As easy as it is to play the woe-is-me-I've-been-working-so-many-hours card when I, again, have no new prose to share with my writing group, I know the responsibility for those blank pages is mine alone. (Besides, until recently, I have been basically unemployed for two years and The Novel is still not done... I played other Writing Excuse Cards then.)

Acknowledging that, here's some advice my Excuse Editor Self would give to my Interrupted Writer Self:
  • Clock in to your scheduled writing time. You wouldn't tell your boss that you couldn't come to work because you had to make dinner and clean the kitchen, so don't use the excuse to put off your planned hour of writing. This may entail turning writing nights into soup & sammie dinner nights, and allowing hubby to show off his talents with a sponge. Yes, dinner needs to get done. So does cleaning. But so does your writing.
    • Don't overwhelm yourself. If you are adding your writing to an already hectic life, schedule accordingly. Don't set yourself up for failure. If you really only have 15 minutes, make those the most productive 15 minutes you can. And move on. (For those of you who write for a living, you have even more of a responsibility to treat your writing as a job, because it IS. Remind your friends that Carrie Bradshaw is a Fictional Character and you can't leave your writing desk every time there's a shoe sale somewhere. And remind yourself that a column alone could never have really paid for all those Jimmy Choo's.)
  • You know when you are going to regret Wasted Time. Instead of just thinking, I really should be writing now, stop what you are doing and write. Give yourself at least 20 minutes. Chances are, the wasted activity will be forgotten-- with NO regrets. (And P.S., Tina, I know you are anti-DVR or TIVO, but you can't actually MISS a TV show. They are online, on demand-- and they will live on, forever.)
  • Finally, don't be so hard on yourself. Life happens. All of your writing projects will come full circle in their own time; you will continue to push them along, squinting into the distance to their finish lines-- but you can't forecast the future, only plan for it. Some obstacles you may be able to push to the side, some you may have to spend some time with before you move on (those are the ones that may actually inspire your work later). Just because you miss a writing day (or two) does not mean you lose your Writer label. Oh, and if you are making excuses, it doesn't mean you'll be stripped of your Excuse Editor title-- it means you are doing research for your blog! (Remember, it's ALL material.)
To expand on that last one a bit, some of my rationalizations do make a bit of sense. My "Writer's Head", as Jane Nolan puts it, is never completely "off". I am always thinking of different ways my non-writing activities come into play for my writing. I enjoy comedies, but I also pay attention to how a common theme flows through a short 20 minute show and still tells a complete story. It's helpful when developing short stories. Every writer needs to be a reader, especially of the genre they want to write in. I think it creates pathways in your brain that lead the way when your story is ready to start its journey. And dinner?

Well, a girl's gotta eat!

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