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I woke up this morning certain that every word I’ve ever written was a waste of time. Actually, more of a cosmic Waste of Time, as though I’d committed an unpardonable sin by daring to write more than one novel before I’ve published anything worth mentioning. I was fully expecting the writing police to turn up at my door, shouting “Uppington Smythe, you are hereby charged with the crime of Polynoveling with Insufficient Talent…”
When I feel like this, I turn to the writings of Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron with the same intensity as a backslidden sinner searching for salvation in the Gideon Bible of a cheap motel. Usually I take comfort from their wise writings; on days like today, when my self pity has taken my better self captive, everything fuels the flames of my martyr pyre.
“How come I can’t have friends like that? Where are all of the writer people when I need them?”
The trouble is, I don’t have very many writer people. In fact, I can count my writer friends on two fingers. One of them, Trudy Morgan Cole, (see her blog at www.hypergraffiti.com) is very supportive and empathetic with all my writing angst. She also lives in Newfoundland, which places her in a time zone exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes later than mine. As if that’s not bad enough, she’s already published more than one novel and writes really, really fast, so there are times when talking to her only makes things worse. Then there is Joe, (you can see his blog at http://kawnliee.wikispaces.com) who lives in the same time zone, but is only 19 and apparently has a social life, which means he’s not sitting around on a Sunday afternoon in order to tell me how wonderful my writing is. He has also written more than any self respecting 19 year old should be capable of.
(I’d like to say that I’m really not the type to be jealous of the success of others, but I would obviously be lying and what would be the point?)
By this afternoon my fit of writing ineptitude had bled into the rest of my life, and I was convinced that I was a horrible parent, a terrible lover, and a failure at everything. David, my long suffering, endlessly supportive but non-writing partner, patted me on the head, reminded me that he believes very much in my stories, and sent me off to write for the afternoon, no excuses accepted.
As it turns out, this is exactly what was needed and after a couple of hours of solid work I feel infinitely better about my writing and the world in general. Still, I am looking for a way to expand my writing community. When I am banging my head against the wall in an attempt to write a perfect synopsis, only to discover that this particular animal is as elusive as the Jabberwocky and every bit as dangerous to my psyche, I need to know that somebody else is battling the same demons.
Which leads me to my request. If you have figured out the perfect way to deal with the writing blues, or if you just want to share your own misery, leave me a comment. Maybe we can help each other out. Or maybe we can just provide each other with another writer to be jealous of. But hey, I’ll take my motivation any way I can get it.
I’ve been so caught up lately in trying to meet my own self imposed writing deadlines while navigating an emotionally demanding job and finding time for my family, that I’ve neglected one very important principal. It sounds obvious:
Life is meant to be lived.
An argument with my self immediately ensues. “I am living! Not only am I living, I am enlightened.”
“Uh-huh. Sure you are.”
I admit my days are busy, but I journal nearly every day, I carve out time for yoga, I get the housework done and the bills paid and meals on the table. I write things.
Life is meant to be lived.
Oh, all right, I admit that I frequently avoid reading a new book because it will take me away from writing. I don’t go outside and enjoy the sun, because I can’t take see the laptop screen very well out there, and I should be writing. Watch a movie with the kids? Just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee with the man in my world, who is also my very best friend? Start that writing group I’ve been talking about? No – because I should be writing.
Meanwhile, much of the time I’m not really writing, just making the motions, slogging along for no other reason than bloody minded determination. And then one morning when I wake up, I realize that the writing has become onerous instead of joyful, that I never want to ever write another word, ever, and wondering “what is the point? I’ll never get published and nobody will ever read it anyway.”
So I give myself permission to take a day off. No Writing Required. A day to remember being. And by the end of the day, I am writing again, because I want to, because there is pleasure in it. In an effort to retain the lesson learned, I am hereby granting myself various permissions.
To sit in the evening sunlight, reading a brand new book and watching the hummingbirds chase each other around the feeder.
To sleep in, take naps, and otherwise revel in the sacred art of slumber.
To go for walks with no purpose involved – not for exercise, or weight loss, or even to count the number of trees that fell during that last wind storm – simply walking for walking’s sake.
To write things that aren’t meant to be published, because I feel like it.
To drink a cup of coffee with my friend and lover, to watch mindless tv, to laugh, and love and cherish the moment.
To send my novels out into the world simply because I took the time to write them.
Permission granted just to be.
Procrastination is my friend. Okay, maybe not my very best friend in all the world, and certainly there has been betrayal on both sides of the equation, but still. Most of my life I’ve bought into the opinion presented by the collective: Procrastination is Bad. It is a secret vice, and my frequent forays into its domain must be hidden from others.
I’ve had fairly long spells of being on the wagon. During these times I avoid reading new and interesting books because they might cause me to neglect my responsibilities. I get up every morning at five, do my Yoga, write in my journal, go to work, feed my family, pay my bills, and go to bed on time. Things get done. Drama is avoided.
Life gets boring.
And then, an episode of weakness, with books I can’t put down and secret chocolate binges and late night hours, followed by the inevitable collision with reality. This time around, I committed to editing a newsletter, put it off until not quite the last minute, and discovered that the previous editor, (the previous editor who knows everything and was going to help me oh, so much) has gone on vacation and left no forwarding address.
Panic. Drama. And then, that wonderful exhiliration kicks in, the assurance that I can pull this off, that I enjoy the challenge of facing down a deadline. My brain is suddenly alive with ideas, my body is energized, I feel wide awake and capable of anything. Years ago, in high school, and later at university, I operated this way all the time, pulling papers off the printer as I ran out the door on my way to class without a minute of time to spare. They were good papers. They earned me A’s.
And then I had kids, and procrastination didn’t work any more. That intuitive sense of exactly how much time was required for a task didn’t account for ear infections and flu bugs and sleepless nights. Besides, The Collective had always said procrastination was a weakness, a flaw, that discipline should take its place. In all honesty, this has worked well for me over the years in many ways, except that nothing equals the creative buzz inspired by a looming deadline.
Today, as I was processing creative input about the newsletter dilemma, it occurred to me that there ought to be a way to make procrastination work in my writing life. The trouble with trying to get published is this: there’s not going to be a deadline until a publisher sets one, and a publisher is never going to set one unless I send something out in the first place. The novel revision I’ve been putting off could probably be done in a week with the application of a good old carrot and stick, but where is the carrot and stick going to come from?
Unfortunately, deadlines I set for myself are useless. I’ve spent so many years living with my own failure to get things done that another delay just causes a shrug and a brief and easily ignored sensation of inadequacy. So I ask myself – what if I caused myself a little drama? What if I sent a query and synopsis off to a selected group of agents before the revision was done. Would the prospect of somebody asking to see the manuscript before it is completed kick off an adrenaline response? Probably. Of course, there are a million ways to postpone the writing of the synopsis and query letter, tasks which can be procrastinated inevitably.
Which brings me full circle to where I started, except I have now spent my daily allotment of synopsis writing time creating this blog.
My name is Uppington Smythe, and I am a procrastinator.