You know that scene in the original Star Wars movie where they are all stuck in the trash compactor? Chewbacca is yowling, and Han is blindly firing at something moving under the filthy water (which then ricochets off the walls), and the walls themselves slowly grind their way in toward our heroes. They climb the piles of slippery, nasty garbage, desperately seeking something to brace against the walls to stop them from being crushed to death. There appears to be no escape.
Yeah, my life is feeling a bit like that lately. The walls are crushing in from all sides: emotional, physical, financial. And I’m not sure R2D2 and C3PO are on the outside, working to release the door lock in time.
But I’m going to choose to believe that they are.
What it means is that I need to re-trench and re-think some priorities. My life is turning topsy-turvey on every level and all of it is impacting my ability to write. That is unacceptable. I’ve made a number of sacrifices in my life (haven’t we all?) but not writing isn’t going to be one of the casualties of my current circumstances.
I’ve been reading several awesome posts on writing lately, only one of which I can lay my hands on the link right now, but seriously, you should go read Chuck Wendig’s latest post called Writing: How Do You Do It? I really enjoy reading his blog posts–as usual this one is bang on target.
Which leads me back to my own blog post today. See, blog posts come easily to me. I enjoy them. I love signing up for book tours. I love putting my thinky-thoughts on paper and sharing them with others, inviting a back-and-forth discussion. I often think up posts while doing other things, like walking the dog, or housecleaning. (Okay, no one who knows me will believe that last sentence because housecleaning is a low priority for me, but it’s true! It’s true!) But I used to spend that time dreaming up the next bit of my story, and I wonder what happened? When did it start to be more about the process than the process itself?
This year is half over and I have spent a great deal of my writing time on things we’re all supposed to do as writers–promoting, writing blog posts, hosting other people on the site, interacting online, and in general, making connections with people. All good stuff. All fun stuff. All *easy* stuff.
Much easier than wrapping my head around telling a different story from the one taking place around me in real life. But I also think it is easier to shrug and say, “Golly, I just don’t write the kinds of stories people want to read” than it is to put myself out there on the line by producing those stories and seeing if anyone likes them. It’s a lot easier to spend 2-3 hours on Facebook and other social media sites ‘decompressing’ from my day than it is to resurrect the WIP and try to remember why I cared about this story in the first place. I kid you not, I believe social media is addictive. While I see no problem with catching up with your online activities during your lunch break, I think the more time you spend on Facebook the like, the harder it is do leave it and focus on any task that requires a greater degree of attention from you than a 15 second sound-bite, a funny picture set, or the latest political outrage.
Writing, for me, is like a muscle. The more I exercise, the easier it becomes. The less I do, the harder it becomes. I love it, but if I leave it for too long, it’s a kind of Herculean task to get back into the story I left behind.
So while I am looking for a way out of the trash compactor that has become my life, here are the ground rules I’ve established for myself:
1. Write something every day. I don’t care if it is crap–it probably will be crap, but I need to work on some sort of story every day. It doesn’t have to be a specific word count–but it does have to be daily. Writing daily strengthens those skills so that eventually, even on a bad day, your former crap is not that bad. Also, anything once committed to paper, can be re-written. You just have to get it down on paper first.
2. Scale back on other commitments. This is a tough one for me. I tend to over-commit in the first place, I want to show my support for friends and fellow authors, and I tend to be a ‘pleaser’, not wanting anyone to be unhappy with me. Well, if you’re familiar with the Spoon Theory, you’ll understand when I say I’ve been looking at the number of spoons in my possession and I simply don’t have it in me to be all things to all people anymore. No, I don’t have a life-threatening disease. But I am reaching my limits and I’m having to recognize that I can no longer pull a three ton weight behind me like I used to do in my youth. Yes, maybe that is selfish of me. But maybe it’s goddamned time I put myself a little higher on my list than forever in LAST PLACE.
3. Let it go. Yes, there’s a reason I’ve been besotted with Disney’s Frozen. That movie spoke to me on so many levels, it’s not funny. I need to let go of the things that are out of my control and concentrate on the things that *are* within my power to change. I need to stop being the ‘good girl’, stop hiding my abilities for fear of what others might think of them. To tear off the chains with which I’ve bound myself, and walk freely in the morning sun. I can’t control what others think of me. Trying to be what everyone expects me to be hasn’t worked out so well for me, either. Besides, the cold never bothered me anyway.
4. Spend less time on social media outlets. I wasn’t joking when I said that I thought social media was addictive–at least not where I’m concerned. You know, I never used to think of myself as having the characteristics of an addict before. That was because my addictions didn’t seem all that harmful to me. It wasn’t until I was forced to give up caffeine that I fully understood what it was like to be addicted to something–and how persuasive that little voice is that tells you one more Pepsi won’t kill you. Because it lies. It will. Even over a year later, I can walk past a vending machine and gaze longingly at the frosty cold can of Pepsi within, moisture beading on the outside of the aluminum can. It’s pure poison to me, and yet I still want it.
So for me, I can’t just say, “Oh, I’ll only be on Facebook a few minutes…” I’m going to have to set limits. Set a timer. Lock myself out of the site when I need to get some work done. Put the cell phone in a drawer in the other room. Close the browser. The buzzing notification of something new in the inbox is like seeing a squirrel in the yard for my dog–my attention is immediately focused on that and not the task at hand.
And not just the social media outlets, but the lists, and the chat groups, and every single thing that takes time away from the story you still have yet to tell. Everything. I’m putting everything on digest, turning off notifications from most of my groups, and eliminating certain lists. IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL. It’s just that I am overwhelmed on daily basis from everything clamoring for my attention. I can’t even take the dog for a walk anymore without checking my messages on my phone as I go. That’s not good for either one of us.
5. Get enough sleep, stop eating crap. My mother used to say, “Secretariat didn’t win the Triple Crown on a Big Mac and fries.” We pretty much rolled our eyes and grabbed some snack food on our way out the door. We we were busy people, all of us career professionals that put the needs of others before our own. Eating was something you did to keep going, and if we could keep going on a packet of peanut butter crackers, what was the big deal? For decades, I was one of those people with the kind of metabolism that you probably hated: I could eat pretty much anything and remain a decent weight. I was relatively active, and I never ate a huge amount of food, but I’m pretty darn picky. For years I lived off Pepsi, peanut butter, crackers, and cheese. Guess what I can’t consume anymore? Right: all of the above. Unlike the Pepsi, which *will* kill me if I have, the rest just makes me feel like toast. But here’s the thing. When you feel like crap, it makes everything that much harder. Harder to pull yourself out of bed. Harder to deal with the stresses of a stressful job, or the 47 million emails in the inbox from people wanting you to do something for them ASAP. Harder not to let your fears get the best of you, to stymie you into gnawing at your knuckles all day long instead of doing something about your situation.
It makes it hard to feel sexy–or write about someone else feeling sexy. Given that I write romances, that’s a bit of a stumbling block I need to fix.
6. Write what I want without fear of repercussion.Okay, I wanted to end this post with five talking points, making it a nice, expected number, but I think this one is important to add. I once wrote a fanfic story at a time when I was feeling down, so I threw in every ridiculous feel-good trope I could think of. Characters singing songs from other movies. Clueless guys finally recognizing that the reason none of their other relationships had ever worked out was because they belonged together. Christmas. Kittens. Lord of the Rings references. Magic. I knew it was hopelessly silly, but I didn’t care. It was the story I wanted to tell, so I did. Much to my surprise, it got widely recc’d and even ended up on some big rec site.
The moral of that story is that if you are hankering for something to make you feel good, the chances are promising that someone else wants that same feeling as well. I began writing to take myself out of my life for a few hours at a time. If reading one of my stories can do the same for someone else, then my job is done.
But I need to write them first.