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 2018: w43

Started this week out pretty strong and then petered out towards the end when my face was overwhelmed by allergies. Spent Friday holed up on the couch sneezing repeatedly until my abs hurt. But! I regained control of all four Divine Beasts in BotW, so there’s that at least.

Stayed with the flash fiction thing still. Had at least two more pieces that I really like that will need some rewriting and polishing. I still have to figure out exactly what I’m going to do with all of these things and work out a timeline for, well, work.

I was telling Adam about some of the pieces that I liked (particularly from prompts numbers 23 and 24 this week) and found that many of them ended with either everyone dying or the world being destroyed or some kind of psychological horror. Not sure why that’s where my subconscious goes for these shorter pieces, but I’m rolling with it. (Some of it seems to be deeply rooted in women’s anger. Can’t imagine why…)

I still didn’t do as much NaNoPrep as needed to happen this week. It’s one of those things that I know that I need to do but that I’m dragging my feet on. Each day’s morning pages were a variation on cajoling, exhorting, or wheedling myself into just. doing. it. but even still. I even gave myself a pretty decent pep talk on Thursday, all to no avail. I know where the Resistance comes from. I know that it’s a marker of something that I should do.

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

A little heavy, but you get the point.

I know that it’s fueled by fear. In this case, some kind of fear of things being imperfect. Like if I try or care or let myself feel passionate about this project AND it doesn’t come exactly the way I want it to, then I will be so disappointed and also a failure and I should just go get lost in the woods. WHICH IS SO DUMB. DO YOU HEAR ME, JERKBRAIN? YOU ARE SO DUMB.

Because of course, it won’t come out exactly the way I want to. Hell, I don’t even know what that means or looks like because I haven’t done it yet. So how would I? But even more so, the first draft is going to be a bit of magic and a bit of garbage all rolled together. And I know that I’m going to have to rewrite and pick through the refuse to figure out which little gems to hoard. And the extra idiot thing is that if I JUST DO THIS PRE-WRITING STUFF, the first draft might have a little less garbage to get through to obtain the treasure.

But obviously, I HAVE TO DO THE THING IN THE FIRST PLACE. It’s a well-constructed ouroboros* of inaction (begrudging respect, jerkbrain, for your wily loops) — I’m afraid to do the thing that I need to do because it won’t be good enough (for what, who the fuck knows) so then I don’t do the thing. But I want to do the thing. But I’m afraid. And while I’m wallowing in the bog of ill defined fear and minor despair, Resistance is laughing all the way to the bank (how he makes money off of this, I’m not sure, but somehow he’s getting rich).

This is one of those times when I am totally self aware enough to see myself being counter-productive and I’m just slow-motion screaming in my head. Sometimes I just want to poke myself with a sharp stick.

Fucking jerkbrain.

*My computer wants to correct this to Borobudur, which led me down a brief, distracting Wikipedia hole.

resigned

I wrote my actual resignation letter today.

For the past three months, I’ve been on a leave of absence, one that ends at the end of month four. And as previously agreed, it’s around this time, the beginning of my fourth month, that I’m supposed to contact my programs and tell them whether I’m going back or not. I thought about this last week, mentioned this soft deadline to a couple of friends. Mused about it a little. But I hesitated in writing the letter. I’m not sure why. Not because I had second thoughts about my decision to leave. More because it felt like this moment should be some kind of event. I thought it would feel more weighty, more permanent, more. I thought I would feel some kind of finality, like the fabric of my life was shifting, like… something. But I feel the same today having written the letter as I did yesterday when I was still musing.

When I first went and told my program that I was planning to leave, we had several meetings. They were supportive meetings. Meetings that asked after burn-out and my mental state (the answers to those things were yes and mildly depressed respectively). There was plenty of shock and confusion because I had never really talked about quitting before – it wasn’t something I discussed with the people in my program. I probably could have, but it was a process I needed to work through myself. And I didn’t have any performance issues – I was a good doctor by most measures; I just didn’t have any passion for the job. After a good amount of back and forth, my program directors convinced me to take a leave of absence instead of outright resigning. When they first talked to me about this, I was resistant. They wanted me to take it because it would leave a door open, and I didn’t want to take it for the exact same reason. There was a part of me that felt that the decision I made had to be final for it to stick. I kept thinking that if I took a leave, if I knew I could go back, then when things became hard or scary, I would run back to it. As if I would wake up one day and find that the will and courage and moxie I dredged up from the depths of somewhere would have evaporated, and all this would have been some kind of dream.

I mean, I get it. It was a momentous decision by any metric. When a decision seems that huge and life-altering (and in my case, seemingly sudden, though it wasn’t, not really), they want to really make sure that you are sure. That you won’t have regrets. And I appreciate that, the effort and the sentiment and care that went into pushing me to take the leave. I really do. But the flipside of that was I was already living with about a decade of regrets, and this was my first attempt to try to step away from that.

It’s like Tim Ferriss said:

To do or not to do? To try or not to try? Most people will vote no, whether they consider themselves brave or not. Uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows, and most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.

It was a choice that I made over and over again, until I decided to choose differently.

And maybe it didn’t feel huge and momentous because this was a decision I had actually made months and months ago. The sharpening of sentiment, the nostalgia, the doubt – those were things I felt briefly the day that I packed up my desk, turned in my key. But now. Now I’ve spent three months living my life after, and I feel… light. I feel happy – something that I really haven’t been able to say in a long time. I feel more like myself than I have in forever.

Writing the letter was quick, quicker than I expected. There were words at the tips of my fingers that I wanted to send, some words of feeling or some kind of explanation, something to spark… understanding? Forgiveness? (I still have the terrible habit of trying not to disappoint anyone while mostly disappointing myself over and over.) I don’t know. But in the end, it was a few lines that were pretty matter of fact. It was something that I knew already. It was one of those things that once you know you can’t un-know, and I’ve known it for a while.

I’m not going back.