There are two ways for me to write anything: proactively – by just doing it – or reactively – by removing whatever is keeping me from doing it.
The first way is the Western, logical, rational way; the shortest distance between two points.
But what if the frontal assault doesn’t carry the day? What if the battering ram fails to crash through the gate? What if the defenders are all awake and strong and ready?
Then I need stealth. Cunning. Treachery. Misdirection. Bribery and fraud and conniving at the back door. The tunnel under the border. The non-linear solution.
The hard way, but sometimes the only way.
And for this approach I need all the help I can get.
I know myself better than anyone else ever can. When I read a self-improvement book, I instinctively know which techniques have a chance, and which ones will never work for me. At my age, I’ve probably even tried each one already, and have found which ones have a fighting chance. Long-time illness brings in another subset of tried-and-true.
In this mode, reading about a ‘new’ technique is more of a process of reminding myself whether that technique has ever worked for me, and wondering why I’m not using it if it did.
For me, the proactive frontal approach requires timing and luck. First, all the things which make my brain work have to be just right: I need a good night’s sleep. I need just the right amount of food and the right kind of food. I need to move and stretch and flex. I need a certain narrow range of temperatures. I need all the pills to kick in. And I need all these things to come to a peak at the same time. If they do, and I’m paying close attention, and I don’t have the illusion of ‘Oh, I feel so good – this is the way I shall always feel – I have plenty of time!’ so I get right to work, then I have a day which slips by and produces happy output pages without making me feel as if I’m slogging uphill in the rain pushing boulders.
Reacting to the obstacles in my path by removing them is the harder way. I’m just learning to find a working way around the lack of synchronicity in all my good points. Oh, I’m still aiming for that sweet spot every day. I have my little morning ritual, and I adjust it as I think of new ways to make the peak wider. The latest little bit was the realization that 150 calories is not enough to work on for a couple of hours, that the protein shake needed a little supplementation by fat calories in the form of heavy cream. Why? Because I noticed that I was getting hungrier and hungrier as I tried to write. I won’t tell you how many months this one took to figure out – it’s embarrassing to be that dense, even if it does point out my stern determination over that whole period to stick to the eating plan.
Writing with brain fog
Procrastination is not my real problem – my problem is lack of a clear mind. Well, it has been until now. I’ve aimed for a clear mind, with everything possible in my control, expecting the clear mind to then deal with all the problems. As with all forms of reinforcement, the fact that it worked occasionally, and that all progress to date has been made during those lucid periods, locked it in as ‘THE solution.’
Well, I’m going to have to do better than that. I’m going to have to learn to use the sub-optimal time, because I have a lot more of that.
I have none of the problems many writers have: I have no children left at home, and the times I can help one of them are quite rare. My health – outside of the chronic illness and walking problems I ignore as much as possible – is good (if that makes sense). I have no financial worries: I don’t ever have to sell a word. I have as much of a social life as I can handle, and I make one or two small contributions to society. My husband is about to retire – and isn’t averse, in principle, to assuming some of the duties toward the house, yard, and paperwork that he has been unable to do due to work.
In short, my problems, barring the non-functioning brain, are the kind I probably shouldn’t complain about.
Not waiting for the ‘good times’: procrastinating effectively
They say opportunity and chance favor the prepared. Well, they also favor those who lumber on in less-than-optimal conditions, chipping away at things that need doing whether they feel like it or not.
As when I bulled through my thesis, all those years ago, by dint of determination, not skill, I am going to use a single book as my way to work. Every day, when I set my Freedom timer to block the internet and preserve the peace of that block of hours in the morning I call my writing time, I will allow myself to read to procrastinate all my little self wants – but only in that one little book. My choice? Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, a heavily annotated and underlined book on making good writing great, packed with ideas and examples and writing exercises.
I will essentially join the many writers making the extra effort this November with NaNoWriMo, but doing it my own way, by aiming to satisfy my pressing need for input of the written word by reading FIF until, each day, something sparks, and I find that day’s way to focus.
External obstacles, anyone?
The spousal unit will be retiring right before Thanksgiving; then he will be hanging around all the time. However well or ill that goes for the two of us, this is my last chance to see if I can set up a proper working schedule, before the end of the month, that takes into account my limitations, instead of hoping for magical improvement.
Obstacle #2 – the neighbor with the gas-power industrial-strength leaf blower – has just fired up his weapon of choice on this beautiful Fall Sunday morning which until now was quiet and peaceful. I say a little prayer in thanks for otherwise good neighbors – and a strong family man who carefully maintains the outside of his home on our little cul-de-sac – and reach for my solution of choice: ear plugs and industrial-strength ear protection. I am ready. I have FIF in hand, and have located my reading glasses. I’ll let you know how it goes*.
It should be an interesting month. If today’s effort is in any way predictive—the scene has finally broken and is coming together—this may work.
A final image: to find your path, it may not be necessary for the (brain) fog to lift; it may be possible to keep moving slowly forward if your flashlight can illuminate a little bit in the right direction, enough to avoid falling off cliffs.
* Worked like the proverbial charm today – I’ll call it ‘slow-brain writing.’ It was like pulling teeth, but it didn’t actually hurt – and more than 500 words got added to the ‘almost finished’ category for the scene.
I never did get the ‘clear mind’ feeling today – and yet I wrote. Woo-hoo!