First, a note: this week’s blog entry is a day late. I would like to have some sort of lofty or admirable reason for this. I would like to blame someone, perhaps the government or the terrorists. Really, I just totally and completely forgot that yesterday was Friday. I forgot to write my blog – which is ironic, given the title of this week’s change.
I realize that this may seem like a strange “change” for someone who’s supposed to be a writer. The truth is, though, with all my various and sundry health problems – not to mention my attitude problems – I haven’t been doing a lot of writing lately. And I miss it. Or, I suppose, I miss having written. Mostly, I feel guilty. I miss feeling like I’m being a productive person, someone with a skill set to offer up. It’s given my self-worth quite a ding.
My freelance landscape is barren, at least through the holidays, and I seem to have conveniently forgotten about that novel I’m supposed to be revising. (Maybe if I forget about it, it’ll go away?) Part of the reason I continue with this blog – even though it seriously interferes with my TV-watching and general faffing about – is because sometimes it’s the only time during the week that I actually sit down and write. It’s the very least amount of discipline I can muster up. You’re welcome.
In fact, it’s this notion of “discipline” that keeps haunting me. Virtually everything you read about how successful writers go about writing revolves around this elusive trait. All of us who have aspirations to accomplish something literary – even a tiny something –have the daunting habits of our triumphant predecessors hanging over us.
There’s Hemingway and his 500 words a day rule (or 600, depending who you ask.) Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day when he’s working on a book. Some authors rise at 4 am and write for six hours straight each day. Others take to their desks at 10 pm and peck away well into the wee hours.
It’s a lot of friggin’ discipline. And, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t really have any.
Wait. That’s not true. At some point I will have to try to change my proclivity for making hyperbolic self-deprecation statements about myself. I clearly have some discipline. I generally get this blog written on time (except for weeks like, say, this one). I’ve completed two drafts of a screen play, countless articles and short stories. I’ve hammered out the first draft of a novel and I’m never, ever late with freelance assignments.
So I guess the truth is that I feel as though I don’t have nearly enough discipline. I’m rarely a daily writer, unless on a major deadline – and that feels like a massive failure to me. I’ve got all these ideas of what kind of writer I’m supposed to be and what that looks like, but the disconnect between my thoughts and actions is tremendous.
Thus, I decided to take one week to try to be disciplined at writing. I should note that I hated this idea from the outcome. I resented it. But, to be frank, I’m simply running out of ideas here. If I didn’t tackle this, I was just gonna have to think of another one. And that seemed like a fate worse than, well, writing.
To try to ease the process, I kept the rules pretty generous: I aimed for a mere half hour of writing each day and didn’t define exactly what kind of writing I would work on. The result? SPOILER ALERT: pretty sad.
I would like to make a case for leniency, good people of the jury, as I once again felt like doody much of the week. It’s becoming very tedious and difficult to undertake these changes when I have the energy of a…a…I dunno…something with very little energy.
I keep trying to bear in mind the fact that I’m comparing myself and my writing output to people who aren’t faced with the same obstacles. Maybe it isn’t fair or realistic to expect someone with chronic pain to produce at the same level as “normal” folk. But then there’s friggin’ Laura Hillenbrand, who didn’t let her debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome stop her from researching and writing the best-selling Seabiscuit. From her bed. Damn, there’s always one over-achiever in any crowd, making the rest of us look bad.
My week started off slowly. I didn’t even make close to half an hour the first couple of days. In fact, what I did couldn’t even be billed as writing. It was more like jotting – a couple of ideas, here and there, my half-assed way of doing something that barely fit the bill.
Then I started really stretching the definition. On day three, I sat down and spent a solid hour writing…thank you notes for my birthday gifts. What? If that doesn’t require both creativity and discipline, I don’t know what does.
Day five? Emails. You read that right. I plonked myself down at the computer and pounded out a few long, newsy missives to people I owed correspondence.
Day six? Nothing! I was exhausted from all those friggin’ emails. I wrote…a grocery list. It was highly creative, plot-driven, with fully realized characters.
Which brought me to Day Seven and this. This blog. This ol’ thing. This weekly commitment that keeps me writing. And I sat for a couple of hours, hammering this out. I felt some pleasure at the ease with which some sentences flowed, and frustration at those that refused to piece themselves together properly.
Week #41 finito!
My negative self-talk is eager to dismiss this week’s progress (or lack thereof) as further proof of my laziness, but when I put on my Hat of Fair and Just Assessment, I think it’s really just me doing what I can right now – and, to be perfectly honest, what I want to. I don’t want to sit down and write for four hours a day right now. More than that, I couldn’t. I couldn’t physically pull it off.
In other words, it is what it is. So rather than judging it as being wrong or a failure or yet another thing that requires change, I think right now I just need to accept it. Stop judging myself for it. Stop comparing myself to what other people are doing. Now if I could pull that off, it’d be some real change to write about.
This means, of course, I have to accept everything that goes with being a wildly unproductive writer: diminished odds of being a best-selling author of international acclaim. At least, not anytime soon. There was a time when that realization would have completely devastated me, when I was so focused on outcome and producing that it would have been completely unacceptable.
However, something’s happened over the last few years – and during this project in particular – where I’ve become increasingly comfortable with my life just as it is. Not just comfortable, but content. If I don’t make the New York Times Book Review in this lifetime, I’ll be okay. I’ll still write something, somehow, even if I don’t currently know what that will look like.
It doesn’t have to mean that I’m not an ambitious person. I still have my eyes on the prize. It’s just that, right now, the prize is trying to stay sane, finding a way to live with and manage my pain, and keeping my relationships alive and my marriage healthy. If that isn’t the mark of a productive, goal-oriented person, I don’t know what is.