writing recap 2018: w44

This week was rather eventful on the writing front.

I finished out my October flash fiction challenge. Overall, I felt like it was a success. Upon reflection, it helped me establish a few helpful patterns of thought and behavior. I learned to stop shooting down my own ideas and to follow them down their little paths instead. I got better at thinking through plot points and being a bit more agile instead of throwing up my hands and self-flagellating.

I’ve been using the technique of “meditating productively” (from Deep Work) — while I’m doing something that occupies me physically (dishes, vacuuming, walking, etc.), I’ve been deliberately focusing my attention on figuring out plot for whichever piece I’m working on. I mostly use this technique in the shower now. And by the end of the month, I didn’t have to redirect my attention nearly as much. I would just get in the shower, and my brain would think “Oh, I guess it’s time to spitball ideas about where this story is going,” and away we would go. This means that I have many podcasts that are still unlistened to, but a bunch of pieces of fiction that I think have potential. I’m more than happy with that trade off.

The other major writing event was the kick-off of NaNoWriMo, of course.

My mindset this year feels very different than last. Last year, I was full of nervous excited energy and not sure that I could write so many words in a month. This year, after some initial nerves, I’m feeling pretty calm and measured about it. I mean, once I decided I was going to do it (not try to do it). Once you just accept the truth of your success or failure, there’s no more agonizing. Like, ho hum, this is just part of my routine right now.

My plan is to write around 2000 words a day, while taking Sundays off and accounting for some lost days around Thanksgiving. I should still come in nicely at goal even with those allowances.

I still have doubts. The two loudest ones are “what if I’m not good enough to write this story yet?” and “what if I don’t have the endurance to stick with this story through the end?”. When the first comes up, I mostly shrug. How would I know if I’m “good enough” (whatever that means) to write this story if I don’t try to write the story? So although that doubt still sits with me, there’s not really anything I can do about it.

The second doubt is a slightly more interesting one. Because if you think of endurance/willpower/the-ability-to-do-deep-work as a muscle that needs exercising, then the only solution is to just do it (the Nike slogan applies everywhere).

But the deeper fear underlying both is that it’s going to be hard. That it won’t feel easy and simple all the time. That it’ll feel terrible and difficult and frustrating. And, well, yeah. I mean, it will. (That’s why one of my morning page daily “affirmation” things is “It’s supposed to be hard.”) And not only is that okay, but it’s expected, and I’m going to fucking do it anyway.

(Buckle up. I get a little rant-y from here.)

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writing recap 09/21/2018

I’ve spent the last few months working on a novel project that has been running me down. It came in stops and starts anyway, and then I crashed into a wall with worldbuilding issues. I stopped, established the rules of the world, rewrote, and then wrote again, but even still. Each word on the page felt like I had to pull teeth.

A lot of it has to do with the running litany of fears that I have going on in the back of my mind. It was a quiet enough susurrus that I thought I could ignore it, move past it. But my jerk brain wouldn’t let up, and the fears worked their way under my skin. Every time I opened my project, the recitation broke over me, and it just became harder and harder to write past it.

I spent the past couple of weeks working on process. I’ve let mine get messy and out of sorts due to travel and side projects and hoping my house will put itself in order. But I know better than that.

Process is deliberate; entropy is the default state of things.

I needed a reset, but I was going back and forth on whether or not I should take a break from the novel. Because you’re supposed to finish things, right? Was I taking a break because I just wanted to avoid doing the thing? Or was I taking a break because I just needed a break? Can you tell the difference? Sometimes I can’t.

Then again, sitting there and agonizing about it while my processes crumbled wasn’t really helping either.

So this week, I forgave myself for setting the novel aside temporarily. I’ve been working on a few flash fiction pieces instead. Little ideas that I scribbled in my notebook for “a later time.” It has been liberating and gratifying, and it’s nice to not start the day with task aversion and self-flagellation. I’ve started implementing a ritual right before I sit down to write, and I’ve been a little less rigid about timing. Thus far, I’ve completed draft one of one flash fiction piece, am mostly done with another, and am about a third of the way into a short story.

Finishing things is important. I know that novel is going to be there when I go back to it. And I know I’m going to finish it. But sometimes it’s easy to forget what victory feels like when you are in the midst of a huge project. I was denying myself the option of working on other little things during the novel slog because I didn’t want to distract myself. I didn’t think about it as a way to recharge instead, to remind myself that I can actually complete a project.

The question now is, how long should this break be? At what point am I just avoiding the novel again? I’m thinking 2-4 weeks will hit the mark for me, but I’ll re-evaluate at the end of next week.

resistance is infallible

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

disengaging from social media

One of my goals this year is to disengage from my phone more. Late last year, my phone completely broke down and black-screened, falling into an inescapable boot-reboot cycle. Customer service quickly threw (okay, diligently packaged and carefully sent) a phone in the mail for me (incidentally, Project Fi is awesome – that’s my referral link if you’re interested), but there was still a weekend’s worth of lag time. I didn’t realize how tethered my habits had become to my phone until I didn’t have it anymore. I couldn’t roll over in the morning and silence my alarm and then immediately check email or my RSS feed. I couldn’t watch Netflix while I was cooking or listen to podcasts while I was getting ready. I couldn’t text people throughout the day. It was jarring to realize how often I reached for a phone that wasn’t there. And then it quickly became liberating because I was actually able to focus on what I was doing without buzzy notifications diverting my attention. It was a pretty great weekend actually.

Now, to be clear, I’m not planning to divorce my phone. But I’ve realized that I’m in a pretty unhealthy co-dependent relationship with it. I feed it electricity (and personal information, let’s be honest), and it gives me the internet and dopamine drips. Overall, I think carrying a computer around that has all the information is amazing. BUT. The pattern of my phone use needed changing. So I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter, I turned off most of my notifications, and I set up specific silence times where my phone doesn’t transmit ANY notifications so that I can have regular uninterrupted stretches of time.

Even then, I was still surfing reddit before bed. I was still watching YouTube videos to fill the silence. I was still reading Twitter (via browser now, of course) for the outrage and righteous indignation as much as for any useful info. It was a visit to my childhood home that prompted me to go even further. During that visit, instead of having face to face conversations and reconnecting as, you know, people, my family mostly sat around on devices (sometimes two devices at once) and ignored each other. It was baffling. Then it quickly became frustrating and infuriating. Sure, sometimes they were reading news or responding to urgent emails. But most of the time, it seemed like they were surfing Facebook or scrolling through various text convos instead of having actual conversations with the people sitting in front of them. (This is apparently called “phubbing,” which is a word I hate almost as much as the act itself.)

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nanowrimo week one

Week one NaNoWriMo check-in! Well, sort of. It’s only been five days at this point. Week one is fun because everyone’s energy is high, the community is strong, and the enthusiasm is boundless. Watching everyone hit the goals and cheer each other on is so great. Affirms that good things can still happen in internet communities. I’m involved in a few Discord servers for people who are participating, and the advice and encouragement being so easily and freely given is gratifying (and if I’m going to be sentimental about it, heart-warming) to see.

The biggest tips I’ve seen floating around about week one are basically thus:

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trying

It’s almost the end of October, so now is a good time to pause and reflect on the month. This October has been particularly meaningful to me because I re-focused on my personal goals and admitted some personal truths to myself. It was a month where I was more conscious of my jerkbrain (the part of my brain that’s terribly mean to me and tells me I can’t do things) and the various ways that I (used to) set myself up to fail. One of the most insidious ways is how I used the word “try.”

I imagine this is how pretty much all of us are raised. I use it liberally, sprinkled into the promises I make myself and the promises I make other people. And it seems like such a small, harmless little word. So easily inserted into something to prove how earnest you are. We’re all taught not to make powerful statements for fear of falling short, so we add in this small verbal tic to make things sound sweeter and more gentle.

How little we realize that we are semantically encoding failure into our thought processes.

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opportunity

I’ve been working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (affiliate link). It is a thoughtful way to speak to the locked-away-artists that live in the deepest recesses of our heart of hearts. The book sets up an interesting, and so far effective, framework for our creative selves, in recognizing and honoring and giving time to them.

One thing that comes up in (what I will affectionately call) TAW is the idea of creativity as a spiritual endeavor, and Cameron frequently invokes God or the Great Creator or just the idea of there being an unknown force in the universe that is working for us. She invokes this particularly when she talks about opportunity – that when you embrace this method and this process and then go on to *create,* the universe or God or the Great Creator will reward you with opportunity.

I have an entirely different view on this point.

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process is painful

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What do you do when the processes (read: habits, roughly) that you’ve set up in your life thus far do nothing but help you waste time?

Let’s back up a moment. One thing that I’ve found to be largely, anecdotally true (as far as those things go) is the idea that all humans, all of us, tend towards laziness. A lazy sort of entropy if you will. And the battle against wasting time is constant and never-ending. More so even now, when the mechanisms for wasting time are ever-present and so deliciously immediate. I mean, who doesn’t want that hit of dopamine, giving you the sense of pleasure and bliss. The trick is that, of course, that feeling is brief, fleeting, and addictive. So you go from one moment to the next (one YouTube video to the next, one reddit post to the next – you get the gist) looking for that sweet, sweet high. Coming down from a day-long YouTube or Netflix or whatever binge is rough – for me, I feel shame, disappointment, not a small amount of anger. Why the hell was I doing those useless things when I could be doing something, anything more productive? Because it’s easy, it’s available, it’s easy, it’s tempting, and did I mention that it’s so, so fucking easy?

The reasons for this are many, but it breaks down into roughly three things – context, consistency, and process. We all think that we make thoughtful, measured decisions. But in reality, the decisions that we make are largely influenced by underlying mental calculations that tend towards the path of least resistance. And the paths of least resistance are the ones that we have tread over and over and over again – the habits that we’ve developed.

Conceptually, this is what this looks like for me:

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