Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Opening the Case.



I had a little heart to heart with my husband about the book I'm writing.

I'm finding it harder than hell to write at night. I work a full day — I write all day — and then I haul ass to pick up the kids on time, bring them home, feed them, play with them, do homework with them, bathe them, read to them, sing songs to them, stroke their hair until their eyes slowly start to droop, sneak out of their bedrooms and then softly close the door.

After that, I'm supposed to go downstairs and sit in front of a computer screen and pour my soul out onto the page and write the most brilliant prose you have ever laid eyes on. Suffice it to say, I'm finding this difficult to do. What I really want to do after all of that, is to sit slack-jawed and glazey-eyed at the pretty moving picture box in my living room until it is time to go to bed.

I've considered getting up an hour early to write but that hasn't worked out so well either. Getting up early is my imaginary time to work out. So the imaginary writing I might do conflicts with the imaginary spinning class I might take at some time in the near future around 6:30 a.m. Or the imaginary Cross Fit class I'll join at 6:15.

I could write during lunch at work. I know an hour a day doesn't really sound like much, but if you think about it, an hour a day is 30 hours a month, which is 360 hours a year. So if you consider the fact that I wrote for two hours Sunday night and produced ten pages, that  would mean I could write an 1,800-page book in one year. You know, my very own War and Peace.

My point is, by writing an hour a day, I could certainly accomplish finishing my little book in a year. I'm already 100+ pages in so it's not like it's out of reach. So why the hell am I not writing an hour a day? What's my deal?

My therapist and husband have both wondered if I fear failure too much to complete a book. I mean, what if I finished the damn thing and I couldn't even get it published? Could I deal with that disappointment? I think I could. But I have a history of being a bit of a self-punishing perfectionist, so they may have a point. Or maybe I fear success? Maybe it would mess with the carefully crafted low self esteem I've been working on all these years.

Whatever the case, I'm not doing it and I need help. I keep cramming and jamming all my writing in on the weekends and it's ruining all my fun activities like doing laundry, taking the kids to the gym and watching Breaking Bad on Netflix.

My husband pointed out that he felt the same way about practicing the trombone. He was a gifted player and practiced a bazillion hours as a child and in college where he majored in music at Northwestern University. I mean, this is no slacker counseling me, if you get my drift.

I was shocked to hear he struggled with practicing. I mean, he could practice for hours. Even now, he just recently took up the guitar and he can play for hours. He's always picking it up and playing it in the kitchen. He plays it in the bathroom while our daughter takes a bath. He plays it in bed. This guy has no motivation problem, so far as I can see.

It's me who's the slacker. But he assured me that it was a struggle for him too.

"I just have to open the case," he said. "Once you open the case, you're in. You get lost in the music and hours go by."

I knew he was right. That very same thing happened with me once I opened the laptop.

"All you have to do is open the case."

I just have to open the laptop and write the first sentence. And then I'm there. Two hours later and ten pages down and all it took was just opening the damn case.

I'm going to remind myself of that each day this week. What case is waiting for you?

48 comments:

  1. Awesome advice, for all aspects of life, thanks for sharing!

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  2. Good for you. I've found you just have to want to do it more than whatever else you're using as distraction. I also sit in front of a computer all day and want a break when I'm home. Because I'm not writing a brilliant book like you are, I often grant myself that peace. When I force it, it sucks. But when I feel I "have" to write and have no real excuse, that's when the pseudo-magic flows. When it hits you, hit the keyboard like a studly dude hits his trombone (no, that's not some weird sexual innuendo either.)

    Good luck!

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    1. Haha. I don't know that "studly" and "trombone" have ever been put together before.

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  3. I feel the same way. It's just the dread of "starting." So I project ten million steps down the line to where I can't possibly succeed, and so I can give myself permission to give up.

    Good for you for not stopping.

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    1. Yep. That's sounds like a familiar inner dialogue.

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  4. CHOOSE AGAIN AND STOP TELLING YOURSELF ANTHING NEG ABOUT YOURSELF YOUR BRAIN IS LISTENING ACCORDING TO DEEPAK.IHAVE TO RALLY MOTIVATON EVERYDAY.YOU SHOUD KNOW TTHIS BETTERE THN NTONE YOU HAVE A LOT OF CHATTERR GOING ON IN THAT PRETTY HEAD WITH THE GOLDEN BANGS.YOU GOT THIS WOMAN. HAVE FREN PEP TALK YOU WHREN YOGET THE WIDEEX OUT FOR THE FINAL TIME AFTER DISHES.

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    1. "Your brain is listening." Thanks, Momo. That's a good reminder.

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  5. Please let me know when you publish and when it goes on sale - I'd like to buy one! :)

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    1. Well, it may never get published. It might just sit in a box in my attic collecting dust. But I'm determined to finish it.

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  6. I have a "yes but..." question.

    Do you ever open the laptop, write a single sentence and then close it in disgust? (Asking for a friend) *grin*

    Seriously though - that's happened to me more often than I like. It's like - if I don't see those creative fairies flitting around my head *when I want them there* then I give up and go watch TV. Kind of self-defeating really.

    If it's happened to you, have you ever found a way around it?

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    1. Have you ever read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott? I often think of her chapter, "Shitty Rough Drafts." I just write through it, even if it sucks. I throw something down on the page and figure I can fix it later. The most important part is just getting something down. Something is better than nothing. Blank pages are the worst.

      I also read that Hemingway always finished his day's writing by stopping halfway through a sentence. That way when you go back to it the next day, you don't have to figure out where to start. You just finish the last thought you had.

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    2. I'll give it a shot. Push through the self-loathing and just write. Might work.

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    3. I thought that's how everybody does it. Laugh! We should put "Push through the self-loathing and write" on t-shirts.

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  7. This is exactly what I need to do. Except for me it is rip the laptop out of my husband's hands because he is playing another Facebook game. I just need to do it. The words are in me begging to pour out. This is going to be my new mantra. "Just open the case."

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    1. Haha. So your writing plan includes violence?

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  8. We're spending the winter in Tucson, away from our everyday lives. I have plans to start a book, to work on it in a disciplined way. So far I haven't "opened the case" at all. This post is a good one for me.

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  9. I got in a little funk over the holidays. Between having my kids for nearly two weeks and my parents for nine looooooong days and nights and then getting sick and still having a nagging cough, I got really lazy and unmotivated to do anything that didn't involve laying down! I just got out of it. Know what I did? I'll tell you. I opened the front door. That's all it took. I opened the door and crossed the threshold. Such an easy solution that I had resisted...

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  10. I have a smallish book to write this year, and this is good advice. I'm using a pc, so I think I'll turn it off at night and make my slogan "Just press 'on.'" Later it can mean "press on." Yes, I always cobble together a page or a chapter as best I can, knowing I will edit and rewrite more than once. My biggest problem/fault: I stop to think for a moment, and bang, I've switched to a computer game. Bad, bad habit, hard to quit. Advice?

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    1. I use the internet as a reward. "If I write this many words/pages, then I can go look at Facebook" or whatever your vice of choice.

      If you can't discipline yourself to do that, I'd say disconnect your computer from the internet or take it somewhere where you can't get internet. If that's not possible, then you're going to have to take to pen and paper!

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  11. I read this earlier and decided not to comment, but then my mind was invaded with your question, "What case is waiting for you?"

    There are so many cases waiting to be opened that I don't even know where to begin.

    Sigh.

    One step at a time I suppose.

    Very excited to hear about your book... put my name down for an advanced (signed, of course) copy!

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    1. I may have to print it at Kinkos for you, but you got it!

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  12. Your husband is right. Half the battle is opening the case, driving to the gym, pulling out the _________ insert issue of choice...

    Who knows why we resist?

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    1. I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons, including sheer laziness.

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  13. You wrote 10 pages in 2 hours? HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?

    ::smashes keyboard in frustration; walks away::

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    1. I had been thinking about the material for two weeks?

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  14. That is a very good question.

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  15. Majorly true, and good advice! Once I sit down and open the document, it's on.

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  16. Best of luck in your endeavor. It's kind of funny that you mention "Bird by Bird" in the comment, because I was thinking of the story behind the title while reading this blog. As I recall there was a huge school project surrounding birds that was left till the last moment and the question was, how do I finish this? The answer was Bird by Bird.

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  17. I was working on a book last year after I got laid off and I would come up with every possible "important" excuse to not sit down and write. It's so true though - once you sit down and get in the zone, it just flows. I can't wait to read your 1800 page tome. ;) I'm sure it'll be incredible.

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  18. Oh I love this Mandy! A very wise woman once told me, "Don't think about it. Just do."

    This was her post that I really liked about not procrastinating if you have a moment (ha! right.) to read it.

    http://fortytwothings.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/the-dawn-of-a-new-day/#comments

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  19. It's so good to hear that someone's doing exactly what she's supposed to be doing. I have seriously been slapping my laptop closed after reading your posts (for years) saying to myself, Why the hell does this woman not have a novel out yet??? (Pretty much every time.)

    And perhaps when you're struggling it's the best time to write because either: 1.) You have something very important to write and it's terrifying (so you should do it) or 2.) your work comes out not so good and then you either get to a.) work on the art of editing it (which can sometimes be just as satisfying as creating the spontaneous masterpiece) or b.) let it go and pat yourself on the back for practicing a good work ethic.

    (Did you see how many times I used the word "work" there?) :)

    I think this last thing, patting yourself on the back for just trying, is really hard...in writing, in anything, but it's really important. And I imagine we all get better at it with practice, too. (At least that's what a fair amount of the pros say in their memoirs. I am, by the way, totally not speaking from any personal experience with sane work habits or answering of callings here.)

    Anyway, based on this post and the fact that you already have 100+ pages, I feel that in just 30-60 minutes several times a week, even if that hour or so involves occasionally staring at a blank screen or notepad, you will finish your novel. It may even be important that you do so by not spending much more time than that unless you feel compelled because, as my Great Aunt Anna used to so wisely say, "You ain't got nothin' if you don't have your health."

    I also would love to read your novel---in any form. Just keep at it, even and especially when the nasty fear monster tries to scare you away, because you have to. You seem to know that now, which is so important and probably the biggest part of the battle. I'm also more than happy to join the chorus of people willing to remind you of this at any time.

    So proud of you, Mandy! Best wishes and love~

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    1. Thank you so much for all your kind words and encouragement. It really does encourage me to keep at it, because sometimes I think I'm nuts to even attempt it. The dark voices say, "Who in the hell is going to want to read this?"

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  20. I love this! I'm not even writing a novel, and I still struggle with getting myself to write a little bit every day, so that some day I can be prepared enough to write a book.

    But you're right, opening the case, the laptop, putting on gym clothes- that's all you really have to do.

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    1. Just a little bit each day. Not quite so daunting as our minds make it.

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