Friday, December 17, 2010

On Writing: Lessons Learned

Reverb10 now has a prompt I can answer, about lessons learned this year. Dr. Crazy has an introspective and interesting post up about this; she says that seeing happiness as a state of being that happens to you rather than as something you create is a trap (I'm paraphrasing).

I'd like to apply this to the process of writing. These aren't new lessons, but they're ones that seem to be more true this year than ever before.

1. Assess, reflect, and forget about it. If you're a person for whom any kind of deadline (writing deadline, going to a party--doesn't matter; both are firm dates and hence deadlines) makes you feel trapped, you spend a lot of pointless time fretting about the deadline coming up without necessarily doing anything about it. If you're not that kind of person, you say, "well, just put it out of your mind, then!" but if you are, you know that's not easy to do. If you have multiple deadlines, you fret about them all and accomplish nothing.

Here's what I learned that makes this more tolerable: if you know deep down that you have to write something, you will. You've done it before, and you will do it again. It's not easy or comfortable, but you will do it.

Silvia says that this knowledge comes from writing every day, and that may be part of it, although in looking over my work log for this past year, I don't write new material every day. But I now can scope out certain kinds of projects more accurately than before and estimate about how long the reading and writing will take and when I really need to start working. So: assess the problem, think about the time you have and the time you need, and let it go. You may still go through the "dither and blather" process, but it's a more time-limited process than before.

2. Every day in every way, the writing gets better and better (with apologies to Émile Coué). I'm learning this somewhat in creating the class. Every day something else occurs to me that didn't occur to me before, and I can't wait to write that down. I wrote a couple of things this year for which the process felt a little like a forced march, but the thing is, once something was written down, I knew I could make it better the next day. I know--this is the oldest precept in the writer's handbook, but I never really felt it before.

3. Give yourself what you need to succeed. I don't mean time, although that's important. I mean the little rituals and objects that make you want to write. For example, a few weeks ago I ran out of a certain kind of writing notebook that I use to keep track of progress when I'm working. It's apparently a habit with me to write things in this kind of notebook, since when I start to write I look around so I can make a notation in the book. Since I wasn't exactly out of paper (you pen and paper addicts--you know what I'm talking about!), I tried writing in another kind of notebook, and it just didn't work. Why not? Paper is paper, right? It's a stupid ritual, right? Stupid or not, it helps, so after arguing with my rational self for a while I went out and bought more of those notebooks so I could get back in a routine.

To get back to Dr. Crazy's idea about being active, I think that's the overall lesson here. Other people can tell you their systems (or why would we buy Boice's and Silvia's books?), but the key to all this is developing your own system. Maybe it's a writing log or another kind of log (I love me some Excel spreadsheets!), or maybe it's keeping a writing journal, or maybe it's keeping a to-do list.

A lot of bloggers have written about liking to cross things off their to-do lists (I do, too), but if you think about it, the system, however you define it, is really the carrot instead of the stick when you're talking about writing. Well, okay, the end product is the carrot, too, but it's really the feeling of being done that drives us on, and it's the systems we devise (the intermediate carrots) that get us there.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link :) You know, I hadn't connected my post to writing stuff, really, but now that you have.... YES. And it's probably no accident that my answer came after a time where I've had uninterrupted writing time. But so anyway, thanks for seeing a connection that I'd not paid much notice.

undine said...

Thanks, Dr. Crazy. I really like the "action" idea and also the "try to try" idea that you wrote about today.