Time Me. And Tie Me to the Writing Chair.

Post Date: January 28th, 2012

What was it I wrote in the hopeful, dewy-eyed early days of January? That chanting, copying and pasting, and acting confident would yield me lots of writing, O Me of Nonexistent Writer’s Block?

Image found here

That day, I defined writer’s block as “out of ideas.” Stalled. Ennui and paralysis. Of course that never happens to me, the hummingbird, with only two speeds–fast, and asleep.

Um, writer’s block can also be defined as highly-distracted, unfocused, Net-surfing behavior. That’d be a stalled writer right there.

The last few weeks I’ll find myself writing a sentence and stopping, then wandering somewhere else. I’ll have a short story open, my new dystopian YA novel open, and a blog post started. My email pings, and there I am. Full attention on anything but my priority writing for a good minute, and then I flit away.

Here’s the 4th strategy for New Year’s success, and it worked yesterday: set the kitchen timer for a half-hour or 45 minutes, and stay in the writing chair till it buzzes. If I’m tempted to close the page or navigate away, I say to myself, “Really? You can’t hang with this story for 30 minutes? Really?”

I slap my own hand and get back to work.

If you aren’t sure what fuels your writer’s block (distractedness, laziness, fear, self-hatred, paralysis, low self-esteem), cling to this: you’re probably stronger than you think. There have been some tough and ugly things you’ve done in your life. You’ve hung on and later said, “How’d I ever do that?” In other words, you might just have some grit.

As Todd Leopold of CNN writes in “The Success of Failure…,” “…being creative doesn’t require being Mozart. Stubbornness and practicality play a role, too. Studies of grade school and college students indicated they owed their academic success to such characteristics as curiosity, self-control, and what psychology professor Angela Duckworth termed ‘grit’–even if they were of average intelligence.”

And I bet you have a kitchen timer.

So if the simple strategy can be symbolized by a timer–that helpful device telling us when buns in the oven are done–it can be explicated thematically as a Ulysses’s pact: a decision made of our own free will that we demand others hold us to. In this case, us lonely writers must be both Ulysses and his sailors, but if that’s just too hard, don’t forget there’s that app Freedom that turns off your Internet or social networking access.

I mean, it’s great hummingbirds can fly 34 mph. It’s cool they can visit over 100 flowers a day or their hearts hit 1260 beats per minute; talk about racking up the numbers. But they also fly backwards.

Set that timer, Lyn. Set that timer.

This post is dedicated to the best mother ever who just sent her short story off to magazines. I’m proud of you, Mother!

Writing Prompts:

  • List three strategies that work to keep you seated and writing and also write down what you will say to yourself when you try to violate your own contract. Have a mantra or coaching line at the ready and pull that card in the heat of temptation.
  • What is your power animal, your totem, or just your favorite animal? What creature are you most like? Write a Day in the Life of you as this animal. Which behaviors best complement your life aspirations and your spirit? Which behaviors bog you down and send you backwards?
  • Write a story or poem about a person who has requested a Ulysses’ Pact. (Side note: How cool is it that my friend, Randy Yale, candidate for the 5th Congressional District, reminded me of this allusion–and now says elected officials and voters should enter into one? See his comment on my blog.)
  • You are no doubt stubborn and practical about certain things in your life. Write a scene from your life where you hang on by your claws or methodically put yourself through tedious paces. (Cleaning toilets, folding laundry, raking leaves, anyone? Raising children? Suffering meetings with particular colleagues? Serving customers?) Meditate on how these behaviors might translate to writing life. How do you make it through these less-than-scintillating tasks?

4 Comments

  1. While I was writing my dissertation, my Dad told me it takes two things: 1. An iron butt, and 2. An iron will. Sounds like you are channeling the Eric Mount school of “get ‘er done.” I salute you for that with one caveat!
    After I finished my first book I really needed a BREAK from writing for a while. I messed around around here and there, but really needed some time to just recover and recalibrate. I don’t want to sound like a slacker (indeed one of my worst nightmares), but maybe your distracted brain is saying “can we just veg out for a while or do something totally different?” After all you did just send a novel off to an agent after herculian efforts to “get ‘er done.”
    And by the way we have a hummingbird out our way who routinely stops to look in our windows and linger a while when we’re outside to see what we’re up to. So, even hummingbirds take a minute to just let somebody else be the doer for a minute! And flying backwards isn’t a problem when your velocity is such that you’ll make up for lost time in nothing flat.
    With love from one iron butt to another!

  2. Marcia,

    You are a mistress of metaphor. You took the hummingbird “to the next level.” That reminds me of what else I read about this amazing creature: how much the heartbeat slows at night when s/he must rest. Sleep is more than not moving. Rest; dream; wander; imagine.

    I think I took your advice yesterday; I watched several episodes of the new TV show GRIMM and it did my soul a lot of good.

    Thanks for stopping by, fellow hummingbird. 🙂

    Lyn

  3. As I sit down right now to write, I am using one of my own tools to help me write: I think of my fellow women writers, sitting diligently themselves and making writing happen! Add a good cup of tea, and I think I might be able to do this!

  4. Oh, yes–great writing pals and tea are good motivators to the page! Wise choice. And a brave one, in light of all else you have to do.

    Lyn












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