Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Just Do It (ish) by Jenny Gardiner

So, you were expecting the expert on how to jumpstart your writing, were you?

 In that case, I can send you to about a hundred authors I know who have masterfully jammed their noses to the grindstone and have become frighteningly prolific.

Me, on the other hand? Not so much.

 But I'm here to tell you I'm trying realllllly hard to get my collective act together. And here's what I'm attempting to attempt.

 But before that, how about what NOT to do?

Things you should actively avoid if you actually want to succeed in writing a book: 

1) All things Facebook. We all know, it's the dirty little secret of the Universe: Facebook is the world's greatest procrastination tool. It's masterful in luring an unsuspecting author who might just happen to be Googling some research question for her book but then, oh, right there at the top of the screen there's that easy quick link to Facebook. Maybe just a quickie stop by to see who's chatting and what interesting thing you might discover. After all, you might just find something vital to that work-in-progress there, right? Wrong. But never mind that. It's alcoholism, Facebook is, minus the alcohol. And it's so simple to fall prey to its temptations. I urge you: DON'T! My kids are always telling me to use Self Control. No, no, not the actual act of self control, although that actually wouldn't be such a bad idea. Rather an app that locks you out of the internet. I did attempt to find it one day online, but then one of my other kids warned me he'd had problems unlocking it eventually, which naturally stopped me in my tracks: you mean I might not be able to get back on Facebook and Twitter while watching The Bachelor so I can join the "conversation" about (i.e. mock) the program? God forbid, right? I mean, life just wouldn't be the same without that on my plate. You'd think I'd get the message: Facebook = potato chips. But I still haven't accepted the message about potato chips in the first place, so why would I actually choose to extrapolate it to this conceptually?

 2) Bye Bye Birdie Twitter (or Instagram or Snapchat or fill-in-the-blank). Yeah, all things social media lump together ultimately. Anything online that can lure you away from your book must be shut out. I actually have basically walked from Twitter. I just couldn't deal with it any more, all the time sucks. And Twitter was simplest to ditch: 140 characters is as easy to write as to not write, when it comes down to it. Originally, both Twitter and Facebook had become part of my gigantic time suck because I'd grown to have to spend so much time online with marketing and publicity. It got to the point that those monsters had gobbled up my mandate to write. And it's easy for this to happen because sometimes it's much simpler to do those little tasks than actually sit down and create. And it's easy to self-justify a little time here, a little time there on social networking sites than force yourself into the hard-core focus required to write a book.

 3) Let go of all that life crap that's bogging you down. Okay, I admit, that's not easy. And it got me, big time, over the past few years. Between legitimate life demands (kids activities, which increased in time and demand over the years despite your time being slightly freed up once they start to drive) right on through that senior year for each child, which took up gobs of time and then the treks back and forth to/from college however many times each year. And then all the burdensome things, those emotionally taxing life events that truly do sap your creativity. Those things. Get rid of them. Don't ask me how! I clearly failed in that regard, being that I haven't written a whole lot of anything over the past two years. But I'm working on it. Ideally I'd say maybe some mindfulness would be in order. But it's so damned hard to be mindful with your mind is full! A little meditation to get you back into a quiet zone, not a bad idea. But that takes time! And who can take that time when you're already not devoting the time to what you need to be doing? Oy. There's no simple answer to that one, I'm sorry to say. But I guess at least recognize it and try to work within the confines of it as best you can. I wish I could say I was good at that but I'm basically a drop-out in that regard. But I'm working on it.

 4) Coffee shop distractions: I find often I'm much better at focusing while at a coffee shop. That is if I don't get the WiFi password, and if -- this is a big if -- I don't start paying attention to the lives of those around me. It's so easy to get caught up on eavesdropping (so fun when it's a blind date, listening to the awkward banter). Put the blinders on. Those people you don't know sitting nearby discussing their former spouses and why they're no longer with them? Potato chips. No different than the blather you're attending to on Facebook and Twitter. No nutrition and ultimately putting on the pounds (in this case pounds of stress and anxiety because you're not getting your writing done).

 5) Professional distractions: I can't tell you how much I allowed myself to be kneecapped by industry nonsense. What's selling, what won't, why this book isn't going to work, etc. It created such a crisis in confidence after a while that i struggled to figure out what I could write that an editor would want. After having a few books nixed for nonsensical reasons despite having editors who loved the books, I just couldn't fathom what the hell I could write that would ultimately be acquired by a publishing house. It made me crazy, which made me doubt myself and my writing. The good news, is indie publishing allowed me to stop worrying about that. But by then I'd been so sucked into that mentality, it was hard to escape it. I'm pretending I'm halfway to my solution since I recognize the problems…Humor me, would you?!

  Things I'm trying to do to Get My Act Together: 

1) Facing my demons: I'd like to believe that this can be half the battle. To recognize my shortcomings and see where I can work around them. I'm having moderate success here, but it's a work in progress.

2) Schedule my life:  this sounds crazy. But for one who was a stay-at-home mom with little real structure, it's now time to create structure. I think part of my lifestyle turned into self-imposed ADD. One of the things I'm great at now is herding cats. And I think motherhood often comes down to just that. What that means is I'm great at focusing on those weird, disparate, useless have-to's that don't require intense focus, whereas at some point earlier in my life, focus came much easier for me. I'm hoping that by actually scheduling my day I can allow myself time to fit in everything, but in a mindful way, so that I don't ultimately feel badly at midnight when I didn't achieve what I wanted/needed to achieve because I wasn't organized enough to do so. I hope that scheduling will reintroduce focus in my life. Wish me luck there…

 3) Follow that AA mantra: One Day at a Time. It's a pretty good way to approach a lot of seemingly insurmountable things in life. Take small bites, and go from there.

 4) When stuck, stop trying to plow through it and instead work around it: I have found myself so frustrated at points in my writing when I just can't find the words for the next sentence, let alone the next chapter(s). So now? I'll write some other chapters. I'll go to the ending and write that. I'll jump ahead 30,000 words and write something that happens in the middle. Eventually I think the piecemeal will turn into whole cloth or some other mixed metaphor like that.

Okay, outing myself for truthiness: there have been some hiccups in this plan so far. Right off the bat, being diverted from writing by having to write a blog, well, it doesn't fit in with my Grand Plan to Get My Act Together. But sometimes you have to make concessions. And yes, over the past few months I've actually knocked out a good third of a book FINALLY (mostly before the holidays took over and demanded too much undivided attention). But I'm a work in progress, trying to vanquish that demon Attention Span Failure Syndrome.

 I think perhaps my ideal way to shut it all out and Just Write might be to escape to a beach house in the dead of winter (i.e. no ready distractions). All by myself, nothing else to do. Gazing periodically out a picture window at the soothing sea in the distance (for inspiration, not distraction). For me the beach (and by extension the ocean) is a place where I feel so at home and at peace. I think it would be divine to be able to escape to such a place and just write. Ahhh, but the little niggling detail is I have no beach house to which I can retreat, so I need to just do it, here and now. Wherever I am, whenever I can. The irony is I did this when I first started out writing, anywhere and everywhere. I'd whip out my clunky oversized laptop back in the day and write while sitting in the drivers seat in line for pick up at my kids' school. I'd take a little chair and move away from the other parents and write while sitting at soccer practice (which didn't always work because invariably friends would walk by and chatting ensued). It's time now to return to that figurative drivers seat and crank out the words, one word at a time. I'll keep you posted.

  Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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  1. Love this post, Jenny. I've been dealing with some of these same issues: distraction, other priorities, a hit to my confidence and social media. I've also come to the conclusion that scheduling all of my obligations is the only way I'll get anything done, but I haven't exactly been following through on that. Yet, I have finally gotten some writing done. Primarily because I'm ditching a project I want to work on even less. :-) Good luck to you!

  2. Boy it's like you entered my body and spoke for me. I've been coming to the same conclusions about everything. Except then I scroll down and see all the books you've published while I've been stuck on #3 for five years. Maybe you're being just a mite hard on yourself. You've accomplished so much already. And you're so funny. I just put a quote from Sylvia Plath on my computer "The greatest enemy to creativity is self-doubt." I'd add that the second is the World Wide Web. xoxo Sheila

  3. Glad you're trying, Reese. I'm with you, not the daily success I'd like, but progress in the right direction…
    Sheila! thanks! But I haven't published anything new in a couple of years, so I've been on self-inflicted ice...

  4. Loving the "-ish" and a bit grateful that even someone prolific as you struggles with the same demons as I. Having just released my agent and publisher, I feel optimistically terrified. I've been on a six-month hiatus from writing. Sometimes I forget I ever called myself a writer. So, scheduling my life around my unexpected responsibility as an office manager for my husband's business, is something I've neglected...or maybe just been afraid to do because I fear my writing muse has moved on without me.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post.